Updated: Nov 22, 2018
Flexibility and Mobility For Lifters - Volume 4 - Hips
I'm back, and it’s that time of the week again where I'll tell you how to improve your range of motion at a joint. In the wise words of Shakira, the hips don't lie! Guessed what joint will be broken down for you yet? If you haven’t, well it’s the hip joint.
Now the hips are different to what we've talked about so far in this series, still being a synovial joint, the hips are made up from ilium, ischium, pubis and the femur. Being a ball and socket joint allows the joint to have more of a variety of movement compared to the knee and ankles, allowing: flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal and external rotation.
Look it doesn't matter if you want to snatch insane weights, be a beast on the field or just have a Kim K butt you need to unlock the power of the hips.
A warning here's the boring bit..... I know most of you guys aren't into anatomy, but knowledge is power!
Now a brief lesson on hip anatomy, the hip joint has 21 muscles that cross the hip and provide movement in all three planes of motion and help create stability.
Prime Mover - Gluteus maximus. No glutes, no glory!
Synergists - Bicep Femoris (long head), semitendinosus, semimembranosus and adductors. A set of well-developed hamstring is just as impressive as a massive set of quads right?
Antagonists - Psoas, Iliacus, tensor fascia latae, rectus femoris, sartorius, pectineus.
Stabilisers - Obturator internus, gemellus superior, gemellus inferior, quadratus femoris, these are the deep rotators of the hip.
Fixators - Transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal+external obliques, quadrates lumborum, erector spinae.
Prime Mover - Psoas major. Joining the upper and lower body together.
Synergists - Iliacus, tensor fascia latae, rectus femoris, pectineus, sartorius.
Antagonists - Gluteus maximus, biceps femoris (long head), semitendinosus, semimembranosus.
Stabilizers - Gluteus medius and gluteus minor.
Fixators - Transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal+external obliques, quadrates lumborum, erector spinae. You expect to squat big with just strong gluteus and quads?
Prime movers - Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus
Synergists - Psoas, piriformis, tensor fascia lata, quadratus lumborum and rectus femoris.
Antagonist - Pectineus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor Magnus and gracillis.
Prime moves - Pectineus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor Magnus and gracillis.
Synergists - Psoas, piriformis, tensor fascia lata, quadratus lumborum and rectus femoris.
Antagonist - Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus
Prime movers - Tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius
Synergists - Tensor fascia lata and gluteus minimus
Antagonist - Piriformis, iliopsoas
Prime movers - Piriformis, gluteus maximus, iliopsoas, gluteus medius
Synergists - Sartorius, long head of bicep femoris, adductors Magnus and longus
Antagonist - Tensor fascia lata
Now that we have gotten through that let's get into the post properly.
A simple but effective test for hip joint mobility is the Thomas Test. This test will identify if you have tight hip flexors and quadriceps. To perform this test, stand next to the edge of a massage bed or anything strong enough that is about hip height. Grab a knee and slowly fall backwards, so you are now laying on your back and trying to pull your knee as close to your chest as possible. You must relax the opposite leg as much as you can. If you can touch your knee to your chest, you have enough ROM for hip flexion. If your relaxed leg is unable to reach a 90-degree angle, then you may find yourself needing to stretch the quadriceps. Make sure you pull the knee straight, and the relaxed leg is laying straight. This test can also be performed with someone else to give you a hand with moving your knees into position.
Just squat! Have you noticed a theme that you must squat to help improve your entire lower body? I’ve suggested squatting for improving knees and ankles in this series, and I'm gonna make it a third time with the hips! Possibly the king of exercises, squatting is a must for hip development, as well as whole leg development. Your hips are strong and powerful and squatting which is basically flexing and extending at the hips is the perfect exercise to help develop this area. But let's make it a little more specific for the knees I got a picture of Jordan performing a high bar back squat but this time let's load the hips more with a low bar powerlifting style squat.
Squatting instructions - Place the bar across the rear delts this time, grip the bar with a comfortable distance apart (roughly just outside shoulder width) and engage the back and core to stabilise yourself, feet should be wider with this variation but stick with something comfortable. I like to go just outside shoulder width with my toes pointing slightly out. Break at the hips and knees, remembering the knees are allowed to track over the toes but with this variation, we are trying to sit back into the hips more so the knees will not travel forwards as much! Controlled decent until the hips pass the knee crease and then power up. Making sure the bar path remains over midfoot for the entire movement and keeping a neutral spine.
Next is an essential exercise for that humpday insta pic. Ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about none other than the glute bridge we have a saying at D.S HQ no glutes no glory. The glutes are powerful and essential in power and speed. These can be performed with feet elevated, single legged or with a barbell but to keep it simple I am suggesting a barbell glute bridge.
Glute Bridge instructions - With a loaded barbell position yourself so the bar is above your hips while you are laying on the floor. To ensure your getting maximum glute development from this exercise the knees joint should be roughly a 90-degree angle at the top. Bringing you heels to close to your body engages more quads and moving your heels further away will fire up the hamstrings more, there's nothing wrong with these variations but we are aiming for glute development, drive through your heels pushing your hips up and through, squeezing your glutes, pausing for a second at the top. Control the weight back down to the floor.
The third exercise I’d suggest is to hip hinge. Or what is known as a Romanian Deadlift. This is an excellent exercise for hip development, allowing you to learn how to hip hinge correctly, builds strong and massive hamstrings, glutes, erectors, traps, rhomboids and lats. But this exercise is specific to hip development than a standard conventional deadlift.
RDL instructions - Hold the bar with your standard deadlift grip but keeping hands pronated. Keep the back tight, engage the lats and keep the core tight, as you would with a deadlift, you will need to bend the knees for this too slightly. You will start the movement at the hip. Now lower the bar down, hinging at the hips, (pushing your ass back) moving all the way down to just below the knee/mid shin or where you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings. Stand up by squeezing the glutes and hamstrings through. Making sure you keep a flat and natural spine throughout the entire lift.
Stretching & Self Myofascial release:
Hip flexor stretch - The Thomas test, it may be a test for mobility but it sure as hell is one of the best hip flexor stretches I've experienced. For the stretch, it does require someone else to help and a high enough bed but follows the same instructions as the test. If you can’t do this stretch though, fear not there is an alternative. The banded hip extension. To perform this hook a band through the leg and step back to create tension. Squeeze the glute of the banded leg and keep the core tight. Slowly move your weight forward onto your grounded knee keeping the lead leg at 90-degree angle and maintaining a neutral spine. Hold for 60's and repeat.
Hip Flexor myofascial release - This one is simple, get a small to medium lacrosse ball and roll up and down on your hip flexors and adductors. Moving slowly up and down and to the sides, finding built up tension in spots and holding on them until they ease up, then move onto the next one and repeat the process for 2 minutes. It’s painful but effective.
Adductor Stretch - This one is easy to do, and all you need is a wall and a bit of space for yourself to lay down. Find a wall and next to it, making sure one side of your body is in contact with the wall. You will then roll over on to your back with your legs straight up in the air against the wall, and your body will be at a 90-degree angle. From here slowly relax the legs and let them fall apart, feeling a stretch in the groin and thigh area. Use your hands to push your legs back together once completing the stretch and roll back to the starting position to get up. I like to hold this stretch for at least 60 seconds just so I can really relax into and let gravity do its thing.
Adductor myofascial release - A great way to hit these muscles are with the foam roller. Lay on your front with one leg slightly out, opening up one side of the hips and place the foam roller on that leg. This is generally a tense area for most, so it’s likely it'll be uncomfortable, but move slowly and down finding a tense spot and holding it on there trying to add pressure through to it. Go through it 5 times just to make sure you've hit everything.
Glute Stretch - This stretch can be performed on a chair by sitting upright on the chair placing on foot over the opposite knee and holding the foot in place while pushing the knee down. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. When does this stretch aim to keep a neutral spine as flexing the spine reduces the stretch on the glute.
Glute myofascial release - Similar to the hip flexor one we are still going to use a small to medium sized lacrosse ball. For this one you will want to put your feet up on a bench, box or something to relatively high to elevate the feet. Now place the ball on your upper glue just on the outside. Roll towards the side you have the ball on moving through slowly, up, down and side to side hitting and holding on tense areas trying to relax in them. To take it a step further you can bring your knees closer to your chest, open up the legs wider. Again it will be painful but still worth it. Think of it as an excellent time to work on your breathing. We couldn't get any good photos that really show you guys how to do this so here's a picture of me working on the same area but using a roller instead. Personally, I think the lacross ball is better because it gets deeper into the muscle.
If your hips aren't working, then it’s likely something else won't be working correctly either. As like most joints, tight muscles/joints have a knock-on effect to other muscles…kind of like their link to one another and work as an intricate and complex system........ o wait. You’ll find it hard to squat correctly as the knees won't be as stable and potentially if it’s bad enough your knees will bow inward during the movement, which can lead to injuries, poor movement patterns, a whole list of problems. The lower back will not remain stable and crumble under pressure, as the psoas is linking the upper to lower body, keeping this muscle healthy seems pretty essential to be able to move optimally. You've also got a long list of injuries that can come from this like herniated disks, strained erectors just to name a few. As a lifter reading this, you may think you have some form impingement. You have 2 types of impingement, a cam impingement which happens because the femoral head is not perfectly round, which restricts it from moving smoothly in the socket. Or you have a pincer impingement which is excessive coverage of the femoral head by the acetabulum, where the femur will bump on the rim of the socket, this will damage cartilage. Maybe just try stretching out the hip flexors, and glutes first? To point out the obvious as well, everyday activities like walking, running, jumping getting in and out of bed will become difficult and tedious due to reduced mobility. But in all seriousness if you do have any issues you seem to be concerned with, visit a physiotherapist, physician who is qualified to point you in the right direction and get you on the road to recovery.