Weak hip muscles can cause the painful, common condition "runner's knee" (patellofemoral pain), according to a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. To help avoid this and a range of other problems, from bursitis to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, build strength and flexibility in your hips.
For a yoga-based workout, try Jill Miller's Yoga Link: Hip Helpers, a DVD that includes a 58-minute workout with unique exercises to challenge your core, hips and legs, and workshops on breathing and standing poses ($20, pranamaya.com).
Or mix these stretches into your routine after a run:
Hip Flexor Stretch:
Sit in a high kneeling position. Bring your right leg in front of you, bending your knee into a lunge position. Keep your left leg on the floor behind you. With your torso straight, slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the left hip area. Hold 30 seconds or longer and switch legs. Repeat several times a week.
Hip Crossover Stretch:
Sit with both legs in front of you. Cross right ankle over left knee (pictured). Keeping your ankle in constant contact with the knee, twist your torso to the right, pressing your left arm against your right knee and moving your right hand behind your back. Hold 30 seconds or longer. Slowly return to your original position and switch sides.
Read This. Running Well, a new book by Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors, offers tips on how to run smarter and faster while avoiding injury. Beautifully illustrated, Running Well devotes an entire chapter to cross-training and its benefits. $19, humankinetics.com
The Right Kicks. Running shoes are designed to provide cushioning and stability as you move forward in one direction--but they aren't ideal for cross-training. For non-running workouts, try Nike's new Sister One, a women-specific shoe designed for movement in multiple directions. Utilizing "Fly-wire" technology based on engineering principles of a suspension bridge, these shoes offer support for activities ranging from aerobics to lunges. $110, store.nike.com
Build Strength. Use a resistance band (find one at spri.com) to perform this hip-strengthening exercise: Attach tubing to a door hinge at ground level, face away from the door and secure the end of tubing around the right ankle. Stand tall with arms out in front for balance; tubing should be taut. Bring the right foot up as if marching; pause, and return to starting position. Repeat 15 times and switch sides.
Linda Melone is a California-based freelance fitness writer and certified personal trainer. Visit her at lindamelone.com.