“My hip flexors are so tight” is one of the most common complaints of the gym goers, runners, and athletes that our physical therapists hear at Made 2 Move. Hip strength is obviously important for sports and running, but strong hips are also vital for simple, daily tasks like going from seated to standing and vice versa.
Thus, when training for longevity, hip mobility, strength, and stability are all factors that should be emphasized. How can you train your hips to be strong and mobile? Training the hips doesn’t have to mean a drastic change in your current programming. It could just mean adding an exercise or two here and there, varying your “big lifts,” or extending your warmup to include a few hip focused exercises. Below, our Made 2 Move team will delve into bulletproofing those hips!
Why are my hips tight?
Commonly said in the world of physical therapy, “a tight muscle is often a weak muscle.” The hips are often a neglected part of a training program because they’re not muscles we can really see, and this leads to weakness through the hip muscles.
The extended amount of time we spend seated at a desk or in the car can also cause feelings of hip tightness.
Aimless programming could cause hip tightness. If you’re running every day, but aren’t strength training, this could cause hip tightness. If you’re strength training every day, but leg day only includes squatting and no posterior chain work, this could also lead to hip tightness.
Under-recovering, in which certain muscles are overworked and aren’t allowed time to rebuild, could cause hip tightness.
While these are all factors that may contribute to feelings of tightness, what is the sensation of tightness actually telling us? Similar to pain not being indicative of tissue damage, tightness through an area in the body does not indicate actual tissue tightness or limited range of motion. Tightness, like pain, is another one of our lovely brain’s protective mechanisms. If we strengthen the muscles that feel chronically tight, the brain won’t be as quick to create the sensations of tightness. Thus, the threshold with which we perceive and interpret “tightness” will be higher.
So what can I do for my hips?
We train our biceps and glutes but how often do we include exercises that specifically target the hips? Two simple points are outlined below that should be emphasized when training the hips (or really any muscle group.)
Studies show that just 8 weeks on a hip flexor strengthening program improved 40 yd dash, shuttle run, and vertical jump height. Additionally, strengthening our hips will not only strengthen the hips but also the lower back. This is a crucial point for the many patients we see at Made 2 Move that experience chronic low back pain.
Muscles like the iliopsoas and iliacus are primarily hip muscles but they’re also back muscles as they originate in the lumbar spine and insert in the hip joint. Hip tightness can contribute to low back pain, experienced by so many Americans that it accounts for 264 million missed worked days per year- that’s two full days of work for every full time worker in the U.S.
Hinging, squatting, posterior chain work, and single leg work should all be emphasized when working on hip strength. Hinging includes deadlifts, RDLs, good mornings. Squatting can be goblet squats, dumbbell squats, or barbell squats. The GHD machine is a great tool to use for posterior chain work. If you don’t have a GHD machine, many exercises can be done with a partner holding your ankles or a low barbell in the rack holding your ankles.
Another strengthening tool that could be incorporated into a warmup is SKIPPING! This sounds odd but doing A-skips, lateral A-skips, B-skips, and power skips can not only build strong hip flexors but also serves as an effective warmup tool to elevate your body temperature and heart rate. Skipping is also just fun!
#2: Work through FULL and VARIED ranges of motion
Allen Hedrick, MA, CSCS, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo discusses the importance of performing multi-joint exercises through full ranges of motion. When you squat, deadlift, or lunge, aim to move through the full range of motion, as this will not only increase the workload but also improve your mobility through that movement pattern.
Squatting and hinging are great tools we use at Made 2 Move to increase hip strength, and varying the way in which you do them will provide even more benefits. Think you’ve mastered a movement? One of the simplest, yet most challenging ways to vary movements is to do them single leg. For squats, try single leg squats or cossack squats. For deadlifts, try single leg RDLs.
In addition to our “big lifts” (hinge, lunge, squat), it is also important to move through funky ranges of motion that we rarely get into. This could look like duck walking or simply sitting in the bottom of your squat. Hold on to the rig or a band attached to the rig if you have trouble getting into the bottom of your squat. Hip mobility exercises, like the 90/90 stretch are also great tools.
Strengthening and mobilizing our hips will do more than just strengthen and mobilize our hips. It will strengthen your back which can decrease back pain. It will strengthen your legs which can decrease knee pain. Strengthening can also help desensitize our brain and body to the sensation of tightness, making us feel stronger and more mobile. Most hip exercises also simultaneously strengthen your core, which is always a bonus.
How do you know if your hips are weak? Are you experiencing pain or tightness through your low back, hips, or knees that could be attributed to hip weakness? We have therapists at all four of our Made 2 Move locations ready to help! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org today to set up an initial consult today to assess and strengthen those hips.