Sore, Tight Hip Flexors while Running and Biking

Posted Jul 15, 2010

I was doing so well into my half and possibly marathon training, until all of a sudden my hip started bothering me. I was able to isolate it to a group of muscles call the hip flexor and more specifically the psoas and abductors.

I've always had issues with my abductors and had about 2 months in 2008 that I couldn't run at all. Since then I had to make sure to stretch them out regularly. The Psoas, which is the muscle in the front of the hip and on top of each thigh is what started bothering me and was pulling on my abductors too.

Doing some research, I found some stretches, which resembled lunges and pulling you trunk toward your front bent knee. This seemed to help relieve the tension, but it kept coming back and becoming uncomfortable. I was already doing 9-13 miles on my long runs and hated to have to stop. I reduced my mileage and still saw no change.

Then I took a few days off, then a week, then about 2. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting better. One thing I noticed is over the weekend I would get better and then Monday, when I returned to work, it bothered me again, especially when sitting down. Then I started thinking that maybe biking was causing it.

Since the beginning of the year I've been cycling to work on a daily basis, to the point that it was about 3-4 months since I last used my car. But why did it start hurting now? Was it a combination of my increased mileage running and cycling?

Then I tried thinking what else I was doing different. About a month before, I had installed clipless pedals. Then about 2 weeks before the pain started bothering me, I started using the pedals differently, by pulling up on them a lot.v

I did some Google searches on "bike hip flexor" and found some gurus saying it's ok to pull up on pedals. BUT...then I found the occasional expert say NOT to do it. And the number 1 problem was straining your hip flexors, possibly leading to a hernia. I corroborated my story with my co-worker who bikes too and he 100% agreed that you shouldn't pull up on the pedals and that I could have gotten a hernia doing so.

That was the problem. As hard as it was for me to do, I stopped cycling to work. I found some hip flexor strengthening and stretching workouts online, mostly core and loosening exercises, and started doing those.

The uncomfortable feeling was still there, so I thought it safe to see my doctor, in case I did have a hernia. He checked me out and didn't find anything out of the ordinary. He actually encouraged I start running and biking again.

During this time I decided to do some formal running research. I've never had a coach and most of what I know I read online. A few forums pointed me to Chi Running and The Pose Method, both of which propose injury free running if you do their techniques. I decided to order Chi Running first. One piece of advice he gave was to only run, because other activities could injure you and affect your running.

Since my goal for the year was to do the half, I decided to take that advice to heart and stopped everything else. The most he said to do was core workouts, so I kept those in my workout mix.

It probably took about a month for my hip flexor to feel better and the Chi Running plus core exercises definitely helped. I'm now using Chi Running to help with my running progress, improve my technique and to prevent further injuries. I already feel the difference.

Something else I learned is about my abductors and the reason they were always tight. In Chi Running, he says if you walk or run with your feed splayed out, they cause extra strain on the abductors. About 4 years ago I sprained my angle in a snowboarding accident and for about a year I was walking stiff legged. I was suspicious but never totally realized that my left leg was pointing outward this whole time. I even so a chiropractor to see if her noticed something, and he was no help at all. It was actually worse when I was walking. With this in mind, I've been training myself to keep both legs pointed forward and walk as if I'm on a tight rope. This has helped greatly and now when I feel something in my abductors, I just make sure I'm walking straight and it helps.

I haven't started biking again, but plan too once I feel 100% and will lay off the clipless pedals for awhile. I'll write up more about my experience with Chi Running one of these days!

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