We have all experienced some kind of pain in our bodies in our life, some more than others. It could happen at anytime and anywhere: the gym, on a run, doing yard work, playing sports, or slipping and falling. We are not made of steel. Bones can sometimes bruise or break, and muscles, tendons, and ligaments can get strained or irritated. There is nothing we can do about it except prepare our bodies the best way possible with proper nutrition, exercise, flexibility, and a little luck.
If you were to assess your body for aches, pains, and tightness where would you feel the tightest? Where do you have pain now? Do you walk with a limp? Do you have any shoulder, back, or knee pain/tightness? Have you been injured before and are not 100%. I bet a vast majority of you have some level of tightness in your hips. We, as a western culture and a very advanced society, sit way too much and are not as active as the rest of the world. Hence, we are by far the fattest country in the world. Long commutes, desk jobs, excessive TV watching, and inactivity are just some of the things that have contributed to the demise of our hips. Weak hips can lead to knee, ankle, hip, and shoulder pain. Weak hips can also mean you’re most likely have poor balance (seniors for example), which leads to poor power output, no good if you’re an athlete.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine told his primary care physician that “being weak is dangerous” after his doctor told him to stop lifting weights because it was dangerous. The doctor then told him to just run long distances, which is actually worse for your body than lifting weights. I concur with my friend. Being weak is very dangerous because weakness causes pain and dysfunction in the body and weak hips throws your entire body out of alignment.
The hips are very powerful muscles in the body and have multiple jobs and responsibilities. The Range of Motion (ROM) in the hips is flexion, extension, abduction/adduction and rotation. Multiple muscle groups attach and then extend upward and downward from your hips to the lower and upper half of your body. These muscles can be grouped based upon their location and function. The four groups are the anterior group, the posterior group, adductor group, and finally the abductor group. Think of your hips as a central hub for your bodies musco-skeletal system. When there is too much congestion in the hub (i.e tightness) then the body’s movement patterns are effected. Clean up the source of the congestion (tightness in hips) and there is a positive effect throughout the body because muscles work more efficiently.
For example, tight hamstrings and backs, that are muscular in nature, are adversely affected by poor hip mobility and activation. Hamstrings for example become tight not because of the hamstring itself but because of the hips and how their ROM may have been compromised or weakened. Low back pain, which millions of people suffer from, can be linked to poor hip activation and mobility, if it’s not a disc issue.
Hip replacement is a common surgery in the US. I have 3 friends who have had hip replacement surgery. Patella femoral knee pain has a direct correlation to hip weakness specifically the glute medius, which stabilizes your leg and externally rotates your hip. Poor hip mobility can cause upper body injuries in the shoulder of athletes who play throwing sports. We have a number of muscles as you can see that attach at the hip so it’s important we keep them working properly by training them correctly.
Our hips do everything but do we adequately train them to work optimally? If you want to move better, feel better and lessen your overall muscular pain and tightness. Lengthen and strengthen your hips by training them in multiple loaded planes. When I look back at all my training programs and workouts, I realized I was neglecting the hips in two primary ways. Not enough Hip Abduction/Adduction in my training or programing and not enough glute medius activation. Most of my loaded hip strength work has been done in one plane of motion (Dead Lift, Glute Ham Raise, Hip Thrust, KB Swing). I didn’t train the frontal and transverse plane as much as I should with the correct exercises. In order to adequately train the hips you have to attack them in all 3 planes of motion but with various loads, intensities, and modalities. This means that weight training alone is not enough to activate your hips. Bands, KB’s, body weight, and free weights must be used correctly if you want to activate your hips.
So, what is the proper sequence to re-activating our muscles? The standard protocol is to isolate the muscle, then activate the muscle and finally integrate the muscle dynamically through movement patterns. In order to activate the hips properly then an exercise program must incorporate exercises in all 3 planes of motion. Most men neglect this fundamental pattern because it is not seen as a macho exercise and I am just as guilty. Hip Abduction is traditionally done at gyms while sitting in a machine that looks like it should be at the doctors office. Women dominate this exercise, but it should be performed by everyone but with one caveat. The machines at the gym do not activate your glutes when your hips abduct because you’re sitting down. It’s important to have your hips in extension and your glutes activated when abducting your hips (integration). We do not want to train our hips without full glute activation all the time. Also, Hip abduction targets your stance leg and activates the glute medius. The Glute Medius stabilizes and externally rotates your leg. If you have poor balance the glute medius is probably the culprit. If you spend most of your time sitting then your glute medius is adversely affected and weakens, which causes poor balance and knee pain.
Glute bridging with a band around your knees then performing hip abduction is a great way to activate your glute medius and glute maximus. This is a challenging exercise, which you will feel immediately. Try doing it for 3x30 seconds maintaining the bridged position. This exercise should be a staple for our aging population. They have poor balance, bad hips, and very minimal hip mobility because of the excessive sitting. They should also train in the frontal and transverse plane because most everything they do is in the sagittal plane. In part 2 of It’s Hip to be Hip, I will cover some exercises you should be doing to properly activate and increase your hip mobility.
By: Todd Gates, Founder & President, MCore FTS
March 28, 2016