8 Hip Exercises to Combat Hamstring Strains and Piriformis Syndrome

Hamstring injuries are a pain in the butt — literally.

Made up of three muscles that run down the back of the thigh, hamstrings are central to knee flexion and hip extension. That means that they play a central role in human propulsion. Injuries to the hamstring and related muscles, tendons and ligaments can spell disaster for your running.

Hamstring strains and piriformis syndrome are two of the most frequent issues runners encounter in this area. And those lead to pain where the hamstring attaches to the lower part of your backside. Pain and tenderness are common with this type of injury and are often worse when you do speed work or run up hills.

On the other hand, piriformis syndrome tends to hurt a bit higher up in the gluteal muscle. It’s generally a shooting pain that can radiate down the back of your leg, caused by the piriformis muscle pinching the sciatic nerve. You’ll most often feel it when you’re doing things like climbing stairs or sitting for long periods of time.

When it comes to addressing these types of injuries, research suggests that strengthening the area is key, particularly after healing and rehabilitation. Strength exercises have also been identified as being an important preventative measure runners can take. In general, most of the clinical evidence suggests that focusing on building strength in the glute and hip muscles is especially important.

Stretching and foam rolling have also been cited as necessary to include in the treatment and prevention of issues related to the hamstrings and piriformis. Keep in mind, however, that a runner can do more harm than good in strengthening and stretching injured areas, so be sure to address any existing ailments and allow for proper healing before implementing these measures.

If you’ve had hamstring and piriformis issues in the past or you suspect you have tightness and weakness in these areas and are hoping to prevent future problems, consider starting with the following routine. Just a handful of stretching and strengthening moves executed a couple of times a week will help bulletproof your body against these kinds of injuries.

Foam Roll Glutes
Sit on the foam roller, focusing on your right glute by leaning slightly to that side. Cross your left leg over your right, resting your left foot on your right knee. Put your hands on the floor behind your body to brace yourself. Slowly roll up and down along the glute and then switch sides. For the full treatment, continue rolling down your hamstrings, stopping above the knees.

Piriformis Stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Bring your left foot up and rest it on the right knee. Then pull the right leg toward your chest, hold for 5–10 seconds, release and repeat on the other side.

Donkey Kicks
Get on the ground on all fours with your hands and knees shoulder-width apart. Lift your right knee off the ground as you kick your foot upward so your thigh is in line with your back and the bottom of your foot is facing skyward. You should feel your core, especially your glutes, engaging during this motion. Bring your leg back down, repeat 10–15 times and switch legs.

Glute Bridges
Lie on your back on the ground with your arms at your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your backside off the ground until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Push your heels into the ground, and feel your glutes stabilizing your body. Hold for two seconds, lower your body back down and repeat 10 times.

Single-Leg Deadlift
Standing on your left leg, bring your right leg into the air and slowly move it behind your body, keeping it straight. Holding good posture through your shoulders and back, bend forward from the hips and reach your hands toward the floor. Stand back up, and repeat 10–15 times per side.

Walking Lunges with Twist
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a light medicine ball or dumbbell at midchest. Step your right leg forward, and, as you plant your foot, lower your body into a lunge. Your right knee should be at a 90-degree angle and aligned with your right ankle. While you’re in that lunge position, twist the medicine ball to the left, rotating your torso. Slowly come back to center, stand up and repeat with the left leg. Continue for 20 meters.

Single-Leg Sit-to-Stand
Standing in front of a chair, put your hands on your hips and raise your right leg off the ground. Slowly squat with your left leg, focusing on utilizing your glute muscles. Sit for a second and then stand back up via that left leg, returning to your original position. Repeat 10–15 times, and switch sides.

Step-Ups
Stand in front of a platform, placing your right foot flat on top of it. In a controlled motion, push down with your right foot, and lift your body up. Engage your abdominal muscles, and maintain good posture. After you return to the original standing position, switch sides and repeat 15 times per side.

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Mackenzie Lobby
Mackenzie Lobby

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.