Stretching helps to improve muscle length but most runners are looking to loosen up muscles by helping muscle fibers glide better. This is accomplished through rolling. If you are generally a stiff person by all means, stretch. BUT, if you're an athlete or a runner who had a muscle or a joint suddenly tighten up on you, you can probably benefit from strengthening. Strengthening will provide stability to the region which allow the muscles and connective tissue to relax.
In the past several days I noticed my right hip is acting up again only when I carry JuJu (14lbs) in her Ergobaby. Mostly, my hip feels sore and stiff. I figure once I return to a consistent core workout routine the hip tightness will go away. Side note- I have a tendency to skip my core exercises as my run milage goes up. The next day while I was rocking JuJu to sleep, I notice my right hip wasn't moving. My right hip felt stuck when I moved side to side with my feet turned out.
Why it's important for running?When the leg lands on the ground a load is place upon it. Your body weight shifts slightly over that leg and rotates over it. The rotation in the hip is internal rotation. Ok, so why is external rotation important? External rotation is needed to internally rotate. Put your hand on a table and lift one finger up and let it hit the table. Now, use the other hand to lift one finger and let it hit the table. Notice the difference in power. The opposite motion in needed to generate power in the direction you want.
Stability is a key factor in how loose or tight a joint or muscle is. Strong muscles provide stability to joints and surrounding tissue. Weak or inhibited muscles do not provide enough stability to the region and the body will reflexively tighten to provide stability.
In my case, external rotation was limited which most people would stretch. Since I want to strengthen my muscles I decided perform strengthening in the opposite direction of the limitation, internal rotation. The improve mobility may be an affect of autogenic inhibition. Autogenic inhibition is when the sensors in a muscle are activated during a high stress load to shut down the muscle. It is a protective mechanism to avoid tearing a muscle. In my case, activating the muscle will trigger it's relaxation. Strengthening in the opposite direction helps re-train proprioceptors of the muscles to work in a greater range of motion allowing for improve stability.
ExercisesHere are a few exercises I performed accentuating internal rotation of the hip. The end of the video shows my hip mobility post exercises. The above video ( purple tank) was filmed earlier in the day. There is a big change in right hip range of motion.
Forward lunges with rotation - Lunge forward and use your arms to rotate the body towards the front leg. This places the front hip in internal rotation.
Side lunges with internal rotation - Perform a lateral lunge with foot pointed in. This will also create an internal rotation at the hip. For greater internal rotation, reach your arms toward the leg.
Cross body lunge - As you lunge forward turn your hips inward. This will create an internal rotate of both hips. This is the best exercise for runners as it most replicates what the hips do in running.
Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
So when you feel like your muscles are tight and stretching isn't helping, try performing strengthening exercises. Stretching is a short term solution to a long term problem. Strengthening is a key component to keep muscles relaxed.