Last week we covered the hip joint. We showed you a screen to test our hip mobility called the Thomas test. As we mentioned in the ankle mobility post – most restrictions are due to either joint immobility or soft tissue tightness (stiff muscles and/or fascia).
Today I wanted to share a few of my favorite tools. I also want to share with you my 4-step process in dealing with hip stiffness.
- Foam Roll
- Posterior-Chain Activation
A restriction in joint mobility should be the first area to address if you have it. During the Thomas test, a “pinching” sensation felt in the front of the hip when pulling your knee to your chest indicates possible impingement. This sensation is felt when the femur hits the joint “blockade,” halting the movement at the hip joint. These types of restrictions will not resolve with conventional stretching and foam rolling. Therefore, any pinching sensation in our hip joint must be addressed first before moving onto possible soft tissue stiffness.
One of the easiest ways to improve joint restrictions on your own is to use a band for mobilization. The rubber material of the band is elastic and strong enough to affect the tough joint-capsule of the hip.
Band distraction joint mobilizations assist with the way our bones glide over each other. A joint glide is sustained while the athlete actively moves into the specific range-of-motion we are trying to improve. During the squat, the end of our femur glides backwards in our hip joint as our thigh moves towards our chest. The goal is to alleviate any painful or pinching feelings deep in the joint.
I have linked below a brilliant video from “Mobility WOD” – it is a fantastic video well worth your time having a watch of for a great set of exercises and explanation of this.
You may have noticed our information board on foam rolling (if you haven’t take a look the next time you are in).
Once joint restrictions have been addressed the next step is to relieve any soft tissue stiffness. The easiest way to start is with using a foam roller.
Our goal with the foam roller is to decrease the stiffness the Thomas test was able to expose. This means addressing our hip flexors, quads, and lateral hips. Start by moving slowly up and down the lower leg muscles until you find a tender area. Pause on this area and ‘tack it down’ with your bodyweight for ~10 seconds before moving again.
You want to use the foam roller to knead your tissues, rolling back and forth in small rhythmical movements. Lying on the roller and moving quickly in large passes will have little effect on your stiff tissues. You can also add in active knee movement during this pause to increase the effectiveness.
Once foam rolling is complete, stretching the muscles is the next step. My first go-to stretch for opening up our hips and improving our mobility prior to squatting is called the “World’s Greatest Stretch.” (I do a regression in class warm ups known as the “Spider Man Rotation”.)
This stretch has 4 parts to it. First, start by assuming a deep lunge position with your left leg forward. Squeeze your glutes and drive you hips toward the floor. This movement should cause a stretch to be felt in the front of the right hip. Second, drop your left elbow to the ground. Hold for 5 seconds. Next, use your elbow or hand to drive your left knee out to the side. Make sure to keep your foot firmly planted on the ground. Finally, rotate the entire upper body up and to the left, ending with the left arm in the air. This last movement helps address the mobility of the thoracic (mid-spine) that is also prone to stiffness.
Another stretch I like to use is the kneeling hip flexor stretch. This is a great tool for addressing the muscles in the front of our hip. The hip flexors and/or quads can become excessively tight as an adaptation to sitting all day.
Posterior Chain Activation
The inability to properly activate the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) during the squat is a common issue.
The movement I want to show you today is called Unilateral Abduction. The layman term for this exercise is ‘banded lateral kicks.’ To start place an elastic band around your ankles. Next assume an athletic single leg stance. Once in this position, push the hips backwards and allow the chest to move forward. This small movement allows us to engage our posterior chain and remain balanced.
Once we are in position, kick the non-stance leg out to the side and back in a slow and controlled manner. The distance the leg moves out to the side is not our main concern. Focus on keeping the stance leg in a stable and unwavering position during the entire exercise. This exercise not only primes the glutes for the squatting we will perform after, but will help address core and knee stability problems. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
After you have addressed your stiff hips, its time to check and see the progress you have made. Always employ a test-retest strategy when performing mobility exercises. This allows you to see if the tools you are using are effective in addressing the change you desire.
Performing a deep bodyweight squat is a great way to assess any changes. Do it in your warm ups before your classes or your workouts at home. Can you see and feel any differences? If so, great carry on! If not – have a word with one of our coaches to see if we can help you further!