The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Is Leg Strengthening Needed for Runners?

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Move more

Thursday, Jul 11, 2013

After a long run, the last thing many runners think about is hitting the gym for a lower body weight routine. However, research indicates that it may be worth rethinking. Most of the time, the benefits of running and other forms of exercise outweigh the risks.  As was discussed in the blog, Exercise: Why Risk the Injury, active individuals have a 17%-19% lower chance of injury during non-sport or non-leisure time activities than those who are inactive.  Nonetheless, injuries still exist in activity (Howard, 2011).

The knee joint is the most often injured joint for runners (Taunten, 2002), two common examples of which are patellofemoral pain syndrome and iliotibial band syndrome. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is often characterized by pain under and around the kneecap while iliotibial band by pain on the outside of the knee.

Finding one solution to the aforementioned injuries may be difficult as there could be a number of factors causing the injury, but research has shown possible links to the muscles on the outside of the hips (Ferber, 2010; Ferber, 2011; Beazell, 2009; Van der Worp, 2012). If the muscles on the outside of the hip, called the hip abductors, are weak, it may cause the knees to cave inward. Strengthening the hip abductors may alleviate and/or help prevent injury as the hip muscles help stabilize the leg during running.

A 2011study showed just this. The study, lasting only three weeks, included hip abductor strengthening exercises and reported a 32.69% increase in strength over baseline values in individuals with patellofemoral pain syndrome (Ferber). The study also reported decreased pain levels. A case study by Beazell (2009) showed similar results in three weeks. As reported in a previous study by Ferber (2010), significant strength improvements of the hip abductors of those with iliotibial band syndrome pain were seen in five weeks. After five weeks, 22 of the 24 patients in the study demonstrated a 34.9% to 51.4% increase in muscle strength and reported to be free of pain while running.

So if you think you may be in need of some hip abductors strengthening (and most of us do) here are a few examples:

  • If working out at a gym, look for a Hip Abductor machine and begin adding to your routine.
  • If bands are available, place a band around the feet or ankle and move laterally by side stepping. Move one leg, and then follow with the other leg. Finish by returning to the starting position by moving the opposite direction.
  • If no equipment, hip abduction in a side lying position can be done. To perform this exercise, lay on the ground on the side of the body with the legs stacked on top of one another. Keeping the knees extended, lift the top ankle upward to the sky as far as comfortable, but under control. Then lower to the starting position slowly and repeat.
If just starting a running or workout program, in addition to adding hip strengthening exercises to your routine, it is also important to consider a few other safety tips. Check out our previous article, Most Important Risk Factors for Exercise Related Injuries, for five easy to implement tips to help keep you running injury free.


Beazell, J.R., Grindstaff, T.L., Magrum, E.M., Wilder, R. Treatment of lateral knee pain by addressing tibiofibular hypomobility in a recreational runner. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2009 Feb;4(1):21-8.

Ferber, R., Noehren, B., Hamill, J., Davis, I. Competitive Female Runners with a History of Iliotibial Band Syndrome Demonstrate Atypical Hip and Knee Kinematics. J of Orthopaedic & Sports Phys Ther. 2010; 40(2):52-58.

Ferber, R., Kendall, K.D., Farr, L. Changes in Knee Biomechanics After a Hip-Abductor Strengthening Protocol for Runners With Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. J of Athletic Training. 2011; 46(2):142-149.

Howard, E. (2011, May 30). Exercise: why risk the injury?

Taunton J.E., Ryan M.B., Clement D.B., et al. A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2002; 36:95-101.

Van der Worp, M.P., Van der Horst, N., de Wijer, A., et al. Iliotibial Band Syndrome in Runners: a Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2012 Nov 1;42(11):969-92.