Happy Hips

Even though hip mobility is an important part of daily life, it is something that many people don’t think about. With most people sitting for extended periods of time most of the day, our hips are not getting the proper use they once did. However, reclaiming and maintaining hip mobility is not a hopeless task. Through conscious effort it is possible to improve our hip mobility and keep our hips mobile as we age.

As an intro to what hip mobility is and how it affects us I ask that you look at the video below of a baby performing a perfect squat. As will be explained in this article, performing a squat correctly not only requires good hip mobility and helps prevent you from injuring other parts of your body (such as your lower back).

What is Hip Mobility?

Unlike our knee and elbow joints which are hinge joints and operate in 2 planes of motion (think opening/closing a door), our hip and shoulder joints are ball and socket joints meaning that they can rotate in all 3 planes of motion. Your hip can move your leg forward and back, but also side to side, as well as parallel to floor when in a standing position.

A mobile hip should be able to flex (i.e. bring the knee toward the chest), extend (think sticking your leg out to superman behind you), abduct (or move the leg away from the body) and adduct (or bring the leg back to the body). Different muscles surrounding the hips are responsible for these movements and as a result it is important that the strength and length of these muscles remain appropriately balanced. For example, when we sit a lot the muscles that flex our hips like our hip flexors can become tight and the muscles responsible for extending our hips like our glutes will become weaker. This results in muscular imbalances that can affect our postural alignment and also the range of motion through which we can move our hips.

Why is Hip Mobility Important?

You can be a professional athlete, a weekend warrior, an average joe or even a couch potato and hip mobility will still be important to you.  Poor hip mobility is correlated with both lower back and knee pain and reduced lower body power [1]. Regarding the former, go look at the video of the baby squatting again. Watch the position of the baby’s torso as she squats down.  Even as her bum almost touches the floor the position of the baby’s torso remains erect. Now try it yourself.  Set something on the floor and see if you can pick it up using similar form to that of the baby. Unless you have been focusing on engaging your hips when you pick up items chances are you will bend over to grab the item just as the man on the left does in the image below.

This image from Spinal Symmetry shows different ways to lift an object from the ground [2]
When we lift objects improperly it is our back that bends when we should be activating our hip flexors and glutes.  This not only can injure our back (or other parts of our body), but also limits our ability to lift. And while this may not seem important if you aren’t a weightlifter or moving boxes, whether it be picking up children from the ground or moving some flower pots this is probably applicable to you somehow.

It is also applicable to many other movements. The larger range of motion your hips have the greater your power output can be. If your hip mobility is limited, it also limits your ability to participate in physical activities that require vertical jumping, sprinting, squatting, lifting and other basic explosive movements [1].

As you age, hip mobility remains important so that you can sit down and get up and even for maintaining stability when walking or going up stairs.

What can you do to improve and maintain your own hip mobility?

There are many different things that you can do to maintain and improve your hip mobility.  A good place to start is by trying to reduce how sedentary you are.  This can be as simple as adding 30 minutes of additional walking throughout the day.

Another easy modification to your life that you can make to improve your hip mobility is to reduce how much you sit during the day.  If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk you may want to switch to a standing desk.  If this isn’t an option for you, force yourself to get up more while you’re working whether that be to throw something away, talk to someone or answer the phone

If you feel like some of the muscles associated with your hips are tight you may want to try some stretching and self-myofascial release (foam rolling or rolling with a lacrosse ball). Check out some of the links below for stretching exercises.

For strengthening your muscles associated with hip mobility check out the video of the baby squatting one last time and see if you can identify for yourself what makes that baby a successful squatter. Understanding what it looks like to engage your hips is the first step to being able to consciously monitor and therefore improve/maintain your own hip mobility. Try some squats yourself and make sure that you’re engaging your hips and then go on to try some other exercises with hip engagement.

Links Associated with Hip Stretches and Self-Myofascial Release

  • Self’s 8 Hip Stretches Your Body Really Needs article explains not only what to do to stretch, but also tells you what muscles you will be stretching.

https://www.self.com/gallery/hip-stretches-your-body-really-needs-slideshow

  • If you want to be walked through your hip stretching routine you can check out GMB Fitness’s Hip Mobility Routine Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG9qbvAN3gQ

  • For myofascial release, you can check out Joe DeFranco’s “Limber 11” (flexibility routine). Although, he is in great shape and has been doing exercise for a while, his instruction is very detailed and slow paced making it good for both very physically literate individuals as well as individuals newer to exercise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSSDLDhbacc

*Make sure that if the activities above are different from what you have been doing that you check with your doctor before engaging in them.

References:

[1] http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-importance-of-mobility-the-hips/

[2] https://www.spinalsymmetry.com/single-post/2016/07/19/How-to-lift-correctly-Part-1

[3]https://deeprecovery.com/is-myofascial-release-real/

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