Chubbs was right. It’s all in the hips!
Hip strength is extremely important for your musculoskeletal health. The hip muscles are connected from your pelvis to your femur. This connection means they will not only have an influence on your hips, but also effect your back and your knees. In other words, your hips help stabilize and translate forces from your legs to your trunk and vice versa. In addition to this anatomical/biomechanical relationship, our society has a very high prevalence of back and knee pain. So maybe instead of another “core” program or a new squat technique we really just need some hip strengthening. This post will discuss the importance of hip muscles, the effects of hip strength, and how to start strengthening them.
It’s Hip to be a Glute
When it comes to preventing injuries and increasing athletic performance, the hip muscles are hard to beat. They have a great influence on 3 planes motions and are heavily used in everything from walking to hitting a tennis forehand down the line. The Gluteus Maximus and the Gluteus Medius are the 2 main muscles of the posterior hip that can easily be strengthened to improve performance and prevent injury.
This muscle is the most powerful external rotator of the hip and has a major role in controlling the hip as a pivot in the sagittal plane (hip hinging). Because of the size and orientation of this muscle it is very important for supporting the hip in all planes of motion.
- Primary – Hip External Rotation, Hip Extension
- Secondary – Hip Abduction
This muscle is essential for controlling the hip and trunk motion in the frontal plane. It prevents the trendelenberg gait pattern (walking like a penguin).
- Primary – Hip Abduction
- Secondary – Hip External Rotation, Hip Extension
Hip Muscles Importance
These muscles preventing your hip going into a flexion/adduction/internal rotation moment. When this position occurs with movement it is often called Dynamic Valgus. Throughout the day (walking, sit to stand, stairs) and in athletic activities (agility tasks, jumping) your hips are at a great risk for this movement dysfunction. Failure to have adequate hip strength to prevent dynamic valgus can potentially lead to various injuries (IT Band syndrome, ACL tear, hip impingment, low back pain, etc.).
Effects of Decreased Strength/Motor Control of the Gluts
At the Knee
The knee is basically a simple hinge joint. It flexes and extends. If your hips aren’t strong enough to support the reactive forces that accompany movement it will compensate with excessive motion at the adjacent joint. This means that when your hips fail you begin to introduce rotation and side bending into a hinge joint (the knee). Once a joint begins to function in a different way than its structure it is just a matter of time before it breaks down.
At the Back
Think of the pelvis as a shelf for the lumbar spine. If that shelf is tilted one way (from weak hips) then your spine will have to compensate and bend to maintain an upright posture. This leads to excessive compression on the spine and prevents its normal motion. You cannot have dynamic trunk/core stability without dynamic pelvic stability.
Why Hips Are Weak
Don’t take it personally. You can blame it on the most probable reason why your hips are weak – our society. The increased amount of time in the static sitting posture puts the gluteal muscles in a lengthened position. This position stretches the muscle out, thus causing decreased contractile potential (decreased strength). In other words, your gluteal muscles go from tight effective movers to a thinned out weak tissue.
The problem is further worsened because your body is much smarter than you are. It adapts and begins to compensate with other muscles to achieve the necessary movement. This is a natural survival mechanism. However, once this compensation is set in, you will be strengthening the compensatory muscles instead of your gluts every time you exercise. Add this to the fact that most of our motion occurs in the sagittal (front-back) plane and you’ve set yourself up to turn your strong gluteal muscles into soft cushions.
How to Strengthen Them
Here are 4 basic hip strengthening exercises. This is a good base to start from before progressing to intermediate/advanced exercises. Never sacrafice quantity for quality. Perform exercises in a slow, controlled manner. Stop immediately if you experience any pain.
Powers, Christopher M. “The Influence of Abnormal Hip Mechanics on Knee Injury: A Biomechanical Perspective.” Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy (2010)
Nadler SF, Malanga GA, Feinberg JH, Prybicien M, Stitik TP, DePrince M. Relationship between hip muscle imbalance and occurrence of low back pain in collegiate athletes: a prospective study. Am J Phys Med Rehabil (2001)
You can get the exercise bands here. Start with green and work your way up.
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