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 exercises to help you finally make the change.
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.
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
Step 1: Drop into a deep squat while holding rings as a counter balance
Step 1: Get in a wide stance like so...
Step 2: Go down into a deep side squat, to a depth that is comfortable.
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
When you start to gain more flexibility, you’re going to start to notice a few things happen.
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.
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!
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, make sure your rudders are doing their job!
(In other words... keep yo hips flexible fo' life!)
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.
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...
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
Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each leg or until the glutes are burning
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
Step 1: With your back foot elevated and two dumbells in your hand- proceed to drop into a lunge like so
For this exercise, complete 3 sets of 6-8 reps
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...
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!
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
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)
(This can be performed with Kettlebells, D-Balls, or Atas stones.)
Step 1: Pick up and hold whichever apparatus you choose.
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
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.
Want more hip mobility coaching? Head here.
Comment below with any questions or issues you might have... we're here to help!
Coach Garry has been a private Personal Trainer for more than 5 years, during which time he has held the titles Strength and Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer, and Fitness Specialist. With an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science, he specializes in human movement efficiency and injury prevention. His helps people train pain-free and competitively for a lifetime. Through different mobility and stability techniques, he teaches clients how to maximize their efficiency while performing at high levels of intensity.
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