Hip Mobility for Strength

Movement and “stretching” is underestimated and underappreciated, especially when “strength” is the end goal.  Generally it is not until mobility decreases and pain starts, is there a thought that stretching or something should be done.  This misconception and process is reactive.  Having both mobility and strength creates a stronger and more complete body. 

With this in mind one of the most important but overlooked joints are the hips.  Acting as a division between top and bottom, the hips need to be strong and mobile.  The hips are a ball and socket joint indicating the hips have greater freedom in movement…or at least they should be.  Unlike our ancestors much of daily life is spent immobile.  From home, to car, to work, and back it is unusual to be up and walking around much less work on full range of movement.  Due to the sedentary and restricted lifestyle tension is constantly being created and held.  Tension or pain is often felt in the lower back; however it should be acknowledge tension is also in the hips, shoulders and abdomen.

Unfortunately throughout life the transfer of forces from walking and living life are converted into tension and often held in the hips.  This tension can live days, months and even years unnoticed.  Slowly the body compensates for the tension resulting in body movement change.  Generally an “acute” event such as trauma occurs, in turn the compensation and tension is brought to light.  Pain is one of the greatest motivators; though at its core pain is merely an action signal.  If nothing is done to help resolve the issue pain will not only continue but runs the risk of getting worse. 

Now that this “new found” tension is found the question remains: What can be done to resolve this? 

Mobility work, stretching and strength are the keys to regaining life without pain.  The first two are overlooked until needed and strength training is assumed to be what is done by “lifting weights”.  This could not be furthest from the truth: strength is not just what can be lifted, but the ability to activate all muscles on command.  Mobility work/stretching is a wide world that helps the brain and body have a greater connection.  

Regaining mobility is a matter of repatterning or relearning movement.  With the hips being a critical joint it is necessary to relearn how to move the leg freely.  While it seems elementary and unnecessary to relearn this movement, it is necessary for the brain to understand where the leg is and how it is capable of moving.  While performing any of these movements it is imperative to never move into pain and be cognizant of how the leg is moving and the body responding.

It is important to remember to stay as relaxed as possible and maintain a neutral spine and NEVER move into pain.

Use a box, step, or other elevated surface.  Stand with one leg on the box and the other off, align the hips so they are parallel to the ground (one should not be higher than the other).  Let the leg and foot off the box relax.  While keeping the hips stationary (hips should not rock back and forth) allow the leg to move/swing back and forth.  The initial motion is small and it is common for the standing leg to get fatigued.  This exercise is not about having the largest range of motion, but rather allowing the body to understand the leg is independent of the hip and allow the ligaments, tendons, muscles and fascia to relax. 

After becoming comfortable with the first movement pattern, complexity is added by internally or externally rotating the leg from the hip.  It is common to try and rotate the leg from the foot leaving the hip stationary; this is not the goal however.  The whole leg should be rotated, look down at the knee this is a good indication if the leg is actually rotated or not.  By rotating internally and externally we are looking for the position that is the most DIFFICULT to hold.  While maintaining the leg rotation and keeping the hips parallel to the ground and stationary start swinging the leg.  Initially it is almost impossible to keep the body relaxed, leg rotated, hips square and the leg in motion, keep the movements small and with practice the difficulty will recede. 

These two movements may not seem important, but they are the start of regaining motion and easing tension.  The brain must feel and understand what is going on and how the body has learned to compensate for any change to occur.