Good movement in the hips, or in any of the body’s many joints, is important for us to simple carry out the activities we either need or want to do whether that be participating in a sport or simply getting about your life. Being able to extend our hips well is particularly important in sporting activities, though just as relevant when it comes to walking, the problems that can arise when it is lacking may be more noticeable in the more extreme sporting environment but it is still important even if you never get above walking pace. An inability to extend your hip as fully as you need to will lead to compensatory movements at other joints in order to find the missing range of movement you need to get around. This may not prove to be problematic for most activities as your body is pretty amazing in it’s ability to adapt to these situations but the more extreme the demands you place on the body, be they one off forces or repeated exposure to the movement combined with the degree of limitation in the movement can result in it being an issue.
If we assess hip extension on the treatment table we may find that there appears to be good range of movement but when assessing under load, as in walking or running, we can find that this disappears and is quite obviously lacking. Once we get into a load bearing position it is not just the hip that comes into play but everything from the foot upwards, and at times what we wear on our feet, that has an input into just how well we extend our hips. The sedentary lifestyle that most people have result in large amounts of time being spent in a flexed hip position and very little time in comparison performing activities where the hips need to extend or be in a more neutral position. As a result of this the ability to extend the hip well is lost through, you might say, “lack of use”and we get comfortable with the flexed position and find it difficult to get out of it.
You get good at what you practice or perhaps you can get better at what you practice so one of the things we want to do is practice hip extension. Exercises such as glute bridges are a great starting point for working the hip extension movement and add in a strengthening component for the glutes themselves as well as the abdominal area. Dan John’s Goat Bag Swing is another very useful movement for teaching the hip extension pattern and whilst demonstrated with a kettlebell in the clip the movement can be performed just as productively without. To help make the movement a little easier it can be beneficial to stretch the hip flexor area first using this movement where the stretch is performed by activating the glutes, I find that contracting the abdominals aids in achieving the the posterior tilt that James talks about in the video, and is a great way of increasing the awareness of what a more posterior tilt feels like as you are attempting to mobilise the area by using the muscles involved in the hip extension pattern and can also serve to reduce any excessive anterior tilt pattern you may be in. Squatting as a movement and a strengthening exercise should not be neglected as it takes the hip through a huge range of motion.
Good abdominal strength is another component of being able to extend the hip well. If the abdominal/lumbar area is relatively weak the ability to maintain good pelvic and lumbar stability at end range of the walking/running gait cycle will be compromised. It’s not that we don’t want movement in the pelvis or lumbar area, that would make it pretty hard to move, more that we want to be strong enough through the whole gait process so that our torso doesn’t move about unnecessarily but it is particularly important at the end range as we go into full hip extension. We don’t want unnecessary movement happening that should be coming from another area as in where extending the hip we also internally rotate but if this is lacking it will be found elsewhere, possibly the tibia or perhaps in the form of excessive pronation in the foot. To improve the strength of the musculature involved in providing this stability exercises such the the glute bridge, planks, side planks are good starting points and can all be progressed as your strength develops. Once you start getting to the point where you can perform the more advanced versions of the these exercises, and the equipment is available, then things can be progressed to working in the half kneeling position and using exercises such as wood chops and pallof presses before finally moving to standing position. One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten about in this area are weighted carries such as farmers and waiters walk or suitcase carry.
So to recap and finish off we need to think of the ability to extend the hip well as a very important component of moving well. To achieve this we need to have both strength and mobility so that we can demonstrate it in real activities and not just on the treatment table.