There are four ball and socket joints in your body. All of which are designed to have 360 degrees of motion.
Let me repeat, you have joints in your body that are connected to your body via a ball of skeleton.
You’re probably thinking, yeah... so what?
Let’s think of your ball joint in your hips like an airplane, more specifically the wing rudders that do all the steering.
Now imagine that one of those rudders isn’t functioning properly, maybe it cant get full range of motion, maybe the controls aren’t working, or better yet, maybe the rudder hydraulics aren’t strong enough for the task at hand.
What do you think will happen?
Well I can tell you this much... the airplane is not going to be flying properly (or safely) and the pilot is going to have to make some major compensation maneuvers to fly straight and not crash.
Which brings us to our topic today: the two ball joints that connect your legs to you pelvic bone, aka your hips.
Hip Mobility: Why You’re Struggling
If your hips aren’t performing at full capacity just like those rudders, you’re going to run into some mobility issues. You’re going to have to make some compensation maneuvers when you move through space... which after many years and repetitions can have some devastating effects, ultimately leading to your plane crashing!
However, in this hip mobility article, we aren’t going to let that happen to you.
Read on, and you’ll leave here with a systems checklist list for your hip routine - just like an aeronautical engineer has for his airplanes.
I’ve included some of the best hip mobility work to help you finally make the change - minimal equipment needed!
Step 1: Hip Flexibility (Not Just Stretching)
So let’s start with the foundation - or step one on our systems checklist which is flexibility!
Remember how we said your hips are attached to your pelvis via a ball?
Well that ball wants to be able to move and express itself in a plethora of range of motion (ROM).
Let’s start with our example athlete - we’ll call him Half Repping Harry.
Harry has been doing CrossFit for two years and still can’t squat below parallel.
Harry always complains about his knees hurting in squats or wrists aching when he does fronts squats and he can’t comprehend why his clean and snatch PR’s aren’t anywhere near his half rep squat PR’s.
If you’re a coach, I’m sure you might be picturing exactly who I’m talking about…
So, Harry? Are you ready to make your squats look like one of those top Olympic Lifters whose butts almost leave skid mark on the ground every time they squat?
Then you’re in the right place.
I’ve created a hip flexibility video for you (below) to give you 3 drills that are going to trick your brain into squatting deeper, make your hips open up, and get you started on the process of squatting better - making sure those rudders have full range of motion.
If you’re strapped for time, here are pictures and coaching cues of the three hip mobility exercises from the video that you should start implementing right away.
Hip Mobility Exercise #1 - 90/90 Stretch
Step 1: Start with both knees creating 90 degrees, demonstrated below:
Step 2: Bring chest towards knee, keep back straight and hinge from the hips. Do not round spine. Feel stretch in the glutes and side of the hip.
Step 3: Rotate back over the rear leg. If left foot is back, turn over your left shoulder, lean back and place that left hand on the floor
- Make sure back knee stays on the ground
- Feel the stretch in the front part of your hip
- Complete 10 reps on each side
Why we like this hip mobility exercise:
- This stretch does multiple things all in one, so it is great bang for your buck.
- We get good hip flexion and work on gaining full external and internal rotation. If any of the three are limited, it can prevent you from getting full depth in your squat.
- Super simple yet super effective.
Hip Mobility Exercise #2 - Deep Ring Squat Stretch
Step 1: Drop into a deep squat while holding rings as a counter balance
- Be sure to make sure heels stay down
- Get hip crease below the knee
- While in stretch exhale each breathe out hard and empty out your lunges each time
- The exhales will engage the abdominals and help you create a posterior tilt in the hips
- Hold for 15 deep breathes
Why we like this hip mobility exercise:
- This one is a great way to teach the brain to get into the deep squat and if you are an athlete who is stuck in over extension, it will teach your hips how to get a posterior tilt.
- Loading and holding your body with the rings will help create a counterbalance for you if you struggle with gaining depth and allow you to get deep in the squat.
Hip Mobility Exercise #3 - The Cossack Squat
Step 1: Get in a wide stance like so...
Step 2: Go down into a deep side squat, to a depth that is comfortable.
- Be sure to keep the heel down and knees tracking over the toe
- The leg out to the side is there for balance while getting a stretch in the groin
- If you can’t get deep while keeping the heel down, hold onto a doorway or on a pull up rig to use as a counter balance
Step 3: Switch to the other side while staying in a low squat and do the same on the other leg. Complete 10 cossack squats while holding for 3 seconds on each side
Why we like this hip flexibility exercise:
- This exercise allows us to load one leg more so we are getting a stretch through load.
- It also allows us to work on ankle mobility at the same time since we are isolating the one leg
Your Hips Mobility & Flexibility: Why It’s Important
When you start to gain more flexibility, you’re going to start to notice a few things happen.
1. As your squat gets deeper, your PR’s are going to go down.
Because now you are going to have a longer distance to move that weight, which means you are going to have to produce more force through more range of motion.
So as you start your hip mobility journey, don’t expect to be able to lift the same numbers you could when you were lifting in a shortened range of motion.
But don’t fret - because something else that is awesome will start to happen. Which brings me to our next point.
2. Your OLY PR’s will start to go up!
Why? Because now you are able to catch that clean or snatch in a deeper squat, meaning you don’t have to make the bar travel up as high to catch it!
Not only that, during front squats you will now be able to mimic the exact squat you do in the clean. So you’ll be strengthening in better positions that are going to have a greater carryover effect to your olympic lifts, and thus improve your PR’s.
More flexibility means more capacity to strengthen in the positions required to execute high level OLY lifts!
3. Hip Aches and Pains will start to melt away.
Why? Well for one, now you’ll start to be able to squat without looking like a lawn chair
What will this do? It’s going to help you squat more upright, taking pressure off of your wrists and elbows during a clean or front squat.
It will also help your shoulders feel better in your snatches because if you start catching snatches in a more upright position, you’ll be able to receive the bar in a much better shoulder position.
When we “lawn chair squat” in our snatches, our shoulders are more inclined to roll forward. Combine this bad position with multiple reps and you have a recipe for some angry shoulders.
You never see a high-level olympic lifter receive the bar in this position, because it is not ideal for maximum efficiency and power.
If none of that wets your whistle, then at the very least, do it for your knees! If your hips, which are prime movers, don’t have all the range of motion that their supposed to, you’ll be pulling compensation maneuvers like that pilot, and who is going to receive more of that blow? Your knees.
So if you want to help keep your knees around for the long term, work on loosening your hips.
(In other words... keep yo hips flexible fo' life!)
Step 2: Hip Stabilizer Performance
Alright Harry, now that you have flexible hips... what’s next?
Well, your hips have something called stabilizers. Think of these as the controls for the hydraulics that move the rudders.
They are what make the movement precise and accurate. Just like our stabilizers do for our hips.
If we have lots of ROM but no control, this too can also be as equally bad as having tight hips.
It could lead to excess movement in your lower spine, increased load on your spine and knees in all theses new ranges, and lead to nagging aches and pains in the hips if they aren’t stabilizing with precision.
Step 2 on your hip mobility systems checklist:
Gain control of all the new range of motion in your hips.
In the video, we dive into 3 hip mobility exercises that are going to re-teach your stabilizers how to work in the new ROM, and we also get to see Coach Ben struggle with some of these movements!
Here are the three hip exercises in picture form for you...
Hip Stability Exercise 1 - Side Box Step Offs
Step 1: Stand up tall with one leg off the side of the box - make sure you start with hips locks out.
Step 2: Proceed to lower your self like you are going into a squat and lightly tap the outside heel on the ground
- Maintain control throughout the whole range of motion
- Stack your knees so that they don't go in front of your toe line
- Keep your heel down and chest up
Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each leg or until the glutes are burning
Why we like this hip stability exercise:
- It develops the often underdeveloped glute medius
- It creates good single leg stability and control
- A good starting progression for the pistol
Hip Stability Exercise 2 - Single Leg Deadlift
Step 1: Stand with one kettlebell in your hand with hips locked out
Step 2: Proceed to lower the weight to the ground with a straight back while keeping the knee “soft” . Do not keep the knee locked out
When executing this exercise - start light and work your way up to a comfortable weight
You should be able to feel the exercise in your hamstrings and glutes, if it’s in your lower back, shorten the range or lower the weight.
If it's painful on your hamstrings, shorten the range of motion to take out some of the tension to shorten the range of motion - lower the KB to a 45 bumper plate or some sort of small ledge.
For this exercise, complete 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Why we like this hip stability exercise:
- It is very important to train single leg exercises in the double leg positions and lifts that we do.
- It helps create structural balance between the adductors and abductors
- Helps prevent groin pulls and will help you learn to control your new mobility
Hip Stability Exercise 3 - Bulgarian Split Squats
Step 1: With your back foot elevated and two dumbells in your hand- proceed to drop into a lunge like so
- When executing the bulgarian split squat - be sure to keep you knee tracking inline with your toes
- Allow your knee to come towards the end of your toe line to mimic more of a single leg squat
- Executing this movement will help you work on knee tracking for your two legged squats
For this exercise, complete 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Why do we like this Hip Stability Exercise:
- This exercise mimics the squat very well but only on one leg
- It will help work with knee tracking and strengthening glutes and quads
- This will provide more stability and control in your squats
Here’s what’s cool about training hip stabilizers. In the gym you may be consciously thinking about them... but once you go any apply that to sport and movement where you’re not thinking about them, you’ll find that the new movement and stabilization you trained will start to become subconscious.
That’s when the magic starts to happen. You can start training harder, putting on more volume, doing more, because your body and hips are moving more efficiently.
You’re going to be able to fly just like that well oiled jet! With no faulty rudders holding you back!
Not only that, they will help take unwanted movement and torque out of the knees, you’ll start loading your glutes more instead of your lower back and you start to feel right as rain.
Now for the fun part…. you’ll be able to start slabbing on some serious strength, in the appropriate fashion.
Which brings us to step 3 on your hip mobility checklist...
Step 3: Hip Strength
Make sure you have some seriously strong hips.
Because the hips are your big weight bearing joints, for them to stay healthy, they like to be loaded and moved for life.
Your hip strength is like the hydraulics that control the rudders. It is what produces the movement.
Because let’s face it; if your hips aren’t strong, you will be that old person who has a tough time getting up and down, can hardly move, and can no longer do the things they want to.
You’ll turn more into a puddle jumper instead of a big ole’ Boeing 757.
Did you know though that there is more to hip strength than just big movements like squats and deadlifts?
Look at any big time lifter, or high-level athlete, and they are always adding extra movements and auxiliary lifts to make sure all their prime movers in their hips are developed appropriately and have adequate strength.
If we do single leg and muscle isolation movements, you will actually make your hips stronger, which in turn will make your squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, OHS, thruster, all go up!
Let me show you three of our favorite side-strength exercises that you can easily throw into your weekly routine after a heavy day of squatting. Let’s make sure those hips are stttrrronnnggg!
Hip Strength Exercise 1 - Dumbbell Hip Thrust
Step 1: Put upper back on bench and DB in hip crease
Start with locked out hips, like so...
Step 2: Dip slightly
Step 3: Drive hips towards ceiling and lock them back out in position 1.
When executing this exercise, if you feel it in your lower back and not your glutes, that means you usually are using to heavy of a weight. If need be you can use body weight.
For this exercise you will complete 3 sets until failure. The glutes are a slow twitch muscle so they must be trained till fatigue for maximum development
Why do we like this hip strength exercise :
- It trains all three gluteal muscles and helps develop and isolate the glute maximus
- If you are an athlete who has weak or inactive glutes, this will help develop them like doing a bicep curl for your biceps, if we can isolate them, make them stronger, it will only make your squat stronger
Hip Strength Exercise 2 - Glute Ham Developer
Step 1: Have a partner put a foam roller underneath your ankles and your knees on a pad. Start with hips locked out and belly button pulled in:
Step 2: Tilt forward slowly while controlling the descent with the hamstrings.
Step 3: Once you feel as if you can’t control the descent anymore, proceed to fall into the push up position
Step 4: To get back up use a push-up-like motion to help assist you in coming back up while also pulling back up with the hamstrings. Use as little or as much push-up as you need to get back up.
Step 5: Finish in the locked out position, like so:
When completing this exercise - be sure to only do it until sub failure.
Your hamstrings will feel like they are ripping if your hamstrings are weak. Try to go light on them and not control as much of the ROM if you it feels like this.
For this, 3 sets until sub failure reps. (Right before the failure position)
Why we like this hip strength exercise:
- It strengthens the hamstrings and glutes at the same time, it will help protect your knees and hips when squatting and provide a better and strong reflex in the bottom of the squat
- All of these things will help increase your squat number
Hip Strength Exercise #3 - Midline holds
(This can be performed with Kettlebells, D-Balls, or Atas stones.)
Step 1: Pick up and hold whichever apparatus you choose.
- While executing this exercise, be sure to keep belly button pulled in and chest upright.
- If you keep the weight in front of your body you should feel your erector spinae in your back working to hold you upright.
- For this you can hold till failure or take the weight for a walk till failure.
Why we like this Hip Strength exercise:
This exercise will strengthen your midline which will help take pressure and load off of your hips. Training this upright position will help you from folding in on a squat and collapsing your chest on the way up during heavy weight
So there it is, your hip systems checklist:
- Hip Flexibility
- Hip Stability
- Hip Strength
If you can execute these things and go ALL IN on making sure your hips are performing as they should be, you’ll be on your way to better fitness, better movement, and a better quality of life.
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