Personal trainers know that the secret to effective training often lies in the hip. Your hips can generate amazing power, and everything from your joints to your muscles are critical in this juncture of the lower body.
Hip flexion brings the legs and torso together while hip extension opposes this movement. Hip mobility also includes hip internal rotation, external rotation, abduction, and adduction—more on this later. As a ball-and-socket joint, the hip can move in multiple directions along multiple planes.
Injuries in the hip can be debilitating for other links of the kinetic chain, such as in the lumbar spine, problems to the legs and knees, and many other issues beyond the hip joint itself.
The hip is a connection point for the lower body. The right leg and left leg connect at the pelvis, as does the spine. Muscles like hamstrings and rectus femoris (quads) work with glutes and lower back muscles to keep everything aligned and in place.
There are so many different joints and components like the hip capsule that are tiny yet essential for function. As you might have seen with some elderly people, the hip can often determine whether or not a person will be able to even walk.
This is why it’s so important to be careful when engaging the hip, especially when it’s tight or tender—there’s so much that can go wrong.
Ensuring the hip flexor muscles are developed is going to be essential to most client programming, an elemental feature that can unlock excellent training techniques and more sophisticated movements.
Here are the basic terms and what they mean:
This is what happens in movements where your knees come up to your chest. Think things like sit-ups, riding a bike, running, squatting, etc.
This is the opposite of flexion. Because it’s an opposing motion, many of the movements are the same as hip flexion. For instance, in running, picking up your foot is flexion, and pushing off the ground is your extension.
This is the twisting of your hip from the outside to the inside of your torso.
This is the twisting of your hip to the outside of your torso.
This occurs when stabilizer muscles like glutes and tensors rotate the leg so that the right knee or left knee turn away from the center-line of the body.
This is when stabilizer muscles rotate the leg so that the knees point toward the center-line of the body.
If you’ve ever had an intense lower body workout, chances are that you’ve felt hip tightness. This is because there are so many individual muscles, joints, and tissue ligaments that all work together to make the lower body function.
Hip flexibility is what allows humans to walk on two feet, and negotiate obstacles in the world. So when there is an issue like tight hip flexors, it tends to be a pretty immediate issue that needs resolution.
Left untended, these issues can become much worse and lead to more dramatic problems.
One of the best ways to prevent this is by focusing on flexibility and doing various exercises to help.
Having issues with hip pain is no picnic, and can often mean that something more serious is going on. If your clients are feeling prolonged pain when performing hip exercises, it might be necessary to talk to a doctor, and sometimes even see a physical therapist.
Whereas you can’t do much about medical concerns, you can do a lot to prevent them from being a problem.
There are a lot of factors to consider when assessing the client’s kinetic chain. When you watch how they perform movements, you can assess things like proper hip rotation, how their own particular pelvic tilt impacts their movements, and modify whatever is needed to address the problem.
Hip stretches, hip mobility drills, specific hip exercises, and some mayo-fascial release techniques using foam rollers will help clients improve.
There is a lot you can do in this section. Mainly, you want to make sure you aren’t pushing your clients too far with how they stretch. Pulling a muscle in the hip can be especially debilitating, so it’s essential that everyone is careful when getting started with hip flexibility.
For this stretch, you will step out with your left foot or right foot and bend that knee 90 degrees, with the opposing leg straight. Rest your hands on top of the bent knee.
From this position, apply pressure downward from the pelvis as if it’s trying to touch the ground. This will open up the hips and give clients an amazing hip flexor stretch.
Hold this position for 20 seconds, and shift to the other leg.
In this stretch, you begin seated with your legs extended out in front of you. Cross your left leg over your right leg. Then, place your right elbow against your left thigh and twist your torso to look behind you.
Hold this for 20 seconds, and then switch. This stretch will help with your exterior hip muscles.
Here, you will sit on the ground, and place the soles of your feet together. Bring them in as close to your body as feels comfortable, and gently press your knees to the ground.
This will open up the muscles necessary for adduction and abduction that we mentioned earlier.
For this, take your foam roller and lay it on the ground. Then, lay on the foam roller so it’s perpendicular to your body, placing your pelvis on the roller itself. Using your hands and arms, roll your body back and forth over the foam roller.
Make sure to roll it all the way up to your stomach, and all the way down to your thighs. Do this for 60 seconds, take a break, and then repeat.
This will be the same as above, but instead of facing the ground, you will face to the side. The goal here is to get the same back and forth roll on the exterior muscles and joints of the hip.
Do this for 60 seconds, take a break, and then repeat.
Many of these will seem familiar, or at least be variations on familiar exercises.
Also known as sumo squats, the goblet squat is where you hold a single dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest while performing a squat wider than you normally would.
This exercise engages your hip flexors and works to strengthen not only your primary hip muscles, but also the supporting musculature in the upper leg, like the glutes.
Start shallow and get deeper as you develop more mobility.
Most of us are familiar with stepping forward into a lunge, but a lot of times, reverse lunges often go overlooked. They feel strange, and for good reason — this exercise is actually hitting areas of your hips and stabilizers that usually aren’t engaged by normal squats and lunges. This makes them perfect for strengthening the hip overall.
It’s so important with exercises like a kettlebell swing to have great form so that you do not injure yourself. However, there are few other exercises that will use the “hip hinge” and really develop power in the lower body.
To begin each rep, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grip the kettlebell with both hands in between your legs.
While maintaining a straight back as you would in a squat, engage your glutes and core to propel the weight to the height of your face. Going above the head with your swing can be harmful to your shoulder mobility for little additional gain (safety first!).
Then, guide the kettlebell back down between your legs, and fire off another rep.
This is a dynamic exercise, so it’s meant to be explosive.
Like the reverse lunge, the side lunge often feels uncomfortable because of under-developed hip muscles.
For this, start as you would any other lunge, but instead of stepping to the front, you step out to the side.
This opens up the hip and enables you to strengthen supporting muscles.
The most important part of this is increasing your client’s mobility while avoiding injury. It might appear like slower progress, but in reality, it’s a foundation. Without a strong foundation in the hips, later problems can compound themselves.
For instance, as someone increases their load in squats or lunges, they will likely (in the beginning) favor their larger muscle groups to push through the exercise. Eventually, though, the lack of hip development will show itself.
This is especially true for athletes who rely on agility work, such as tennis to basketball. Tight hips can be a recipe for disaster if not tended to properly.
Learn more corrective exercises and how to best incorporate them into a client’s program with ISSA’sCorrective Exercise Specialist course. You will learn corrective exercises that correspond with the most common movement dysfunctions.
The ISSA's Corrective Exercise Course will help you learn how to identify and correct the most common movement dysfunctions that you are likely to see in a wide range of clients.