The last article was all about one of the simplest yet one of the most powerful joints in our body: the knee. Make sure not to skip it because like all things in our body, joints are related and today we are moving further at our next stop: the hip.
As it was mentioned in the last article, the hip is one of the real powerhouses when it comes to weightlifting. When we talk about squats, pulls off all sorts, and especially the base movements( snatch and clean and jerk) the hips with their muscles are the prime movers. Have you ever questioned yourself why weightlifters are known for their overdeveloped glutes and legs? Exactly, weightlifting as a sport is based primarily on EXTENDING the body with a ton of weight in your hands, and the main movement that is based on is hip extension. The hips act not only as a foundation of strength and power but as stabilizers too, but we will talk about it later.
Assessing the hip
The hip joint is compromised of four bones: the femur, pubis, ilium, and ischium. The pubis, ilium, and ischium are connected by the triradial cartilage and are, in a way, very similar to the suture joints of the skull.
Being so complex, the hip joint allows for a multitude of movements. Raising the leg straight in front is called FLEXION while doing the opposite, pushing your leg back is called EXTENSION. These 2 movements are foundational for any athletic ability, like running, jumping, lifting weights, etc.
If you push your leg away from the other, that is called ABDUCTION, and if you pull it closer to the other leg that is called ADDUCTION. These are also critical movements not only for force production but for stabilizing everything you do, from walking to squatting 300 kg.
Now the hip allows for a great range of rotation too, if you keep your leg straight but rotate it inwards, that is called INTERNAL ROTATION at the hip. If you rotate it outwards, that is called EXTERNAL ROTATION at the hip.
As it was mentioned, flexion is when you bring your leg upwards. This movement is fundamental for getting into low catching positions and of course producing a lot of force. Flexion intolerant people will find out that they cannot keep a straight lower back when getting into really low squat positions, so flexion is an important link in this chain of movements.
The Thomas test is used to assess the flexion range of motion at the hip.
You will need another person for this test. The one that is assessed is asked to lay in a supine position( facing up, on his/her back), on the table, with the hips at the edge of the table so that the legs are off it. The one that is assessed will now flex one leg, helping it with both his arms with the goal of touching the knee to the chest. First, we test one leg, and then we test the other, as there can be slight differences because of the dominant leg and/or previous injuries or just plain and simple mobility discrepancies between the two legs.
The standard will be to touch the knee to the chest without the other leg rising off the table, without excessive arching of the back.
Extension, the opposite of flexion is when you push the whole leg to the back. This is also a fundamental movement but more on the side of good force production, as you need good hip extension mobility to finish the third pull and throw the bar on your shoulders/overhead, depending on the exercise that we talk about.
You will need another person for this test also. The one that is assessed is asked to lay in a prone position( facing down, on his/her belly), flat on the table/ground. The one that assesses will now put his/her hand on one of the thighs of the one assessed and will ask him to push his leg up towards the ceiling. First, we test one leg, and then we test the other, as there can be slight differences because of the dominant leg and/or previous injuries or just plain and simple mobility discrepancies between the two legs.
The standard will be to raise the leg like 10-20 degrees without arching your lower back excessively. This is more of a muscular test but can be a good mobility test also.
As it was mentioned, ABDUCTION is when you push your leg away from the other leg. This is an important movement but here you will only need the minimum amount of it to be able to lift your heavy stuff. Of course, you will not need to be able to do the splits, but having a bit of wiggle room will always help you get into a deeper squat position or in deep catching positions.
Another person is needed. The one that is assessed will lay on one of his/her sides, with his/her legs straight. The leg on the opposite side will be tested. The person that is assessed will be now asked to abduct the leg that is over the other. The one that assesses will now place his/her hand on the thigh of the one that is assessed and will apply resistance at the top point of the range of motion. Both legs will be twisted.
The standard/the goal will be around 50-75 grades of abduction and to resist maximal resistance applied in the highest point.
Adduction as we spoke is when you bring your leg closer to the other leg, or even crossing it over. This movement is important for force production when you get out of a deep squat or a low catching position. Usually, it is limited by the overactivity of the muscles that are used when we do ABDUCTION.
Again, another person is needed for this test. The one that is tested will lay on one of his/her sides with the top leg abducted maximally. Now the one that assesses will take his/her bottom leg and will raise it up, towards the leg that is abducted. Ultimately, resistance will be applied to the inner thigh of the bottom leg, the one that does adduction. Both legs will again be tested.
The standard/the goal is, as the top leg is already abducted to 25-30 degrees, to meet it with the bottom leg. As we apply resistance to it, it should hold steady.
Internal rotation is, again, when you turn your foot inwards. This motion basically forces production 101. All the structures that produce force and can resist very heavy loads will eventually seek internal rotation and compression. If you have an internal rotation deficit or mobility problems here, it can really show in all of your lower body lifts.
Testing internal rotation
Another person needed, as usual. The one that is assessed will be placed in a supine position( facing up, on his/her back) on the ground/on a table. One of the legs will be flexed to 90° with the knee bent. Now the one that assesses will come and passively internally rotate the leg( with his/her other hand on the athlete’s knee) to its maximum point.
The standard/goal will be around 45 degrees of internal rotation, with a minimum of 30 degrees.
External rotation is the opposite when you turn your foot outwards. This movement allows not only a stable and strong fully extended position but also is required to have that deep deep catching positions or even that crisp ass to grass squat that you are looking for.
Testing external rotation
Another person needed. The one that is assessed will be placed in a supine position( facing up, on his/her back) on the ground/on a table. One of the legs will be flexed to 90° with the knee bent. Now the one that assesses will come and passively externally rotate the leg( with his/her other hand on the athlete’s knee) to its maximum point.
The standard/goal will be around 60 degrees of external rotation with a minimum of 30-40 degrees.
What I will present to you are general exercises that will target one/more of the movements patterns at the hip. These are really general ones but feel free to explore for more or for variations of these, as the idea is the same.
This one takes care of hip internal rotation but also external rotation too. It is a really efficient movement because it kinda rotates the hip bones on the femur, as opposed to the femur in the hip bones.
Basically, you want to get besides a pole/box/anything really for support. Now remain on just one leg, and hinge back with the hips, the other leg should be straight pointing to the back. Imagine your support leg as a pivot and you just slowly rotate your body towards it and away from it. 1 to 3 sets of 5 slow reps a couple of times a week and you should see improvements in no time!
2.Hip 90/90 rocks
This one is kind of a shotgun: internal rotation, external rotation, abduction, flexion, extension. Such a cool movement!
You just sit on the ground with your legs flexed a bit and feet flat on the floor. Now just externally rotate one leg as you internally rotate the other. Rock to the other side slowly sped 2-3 seconds in each position. Try to not overarch the back to compensate. 1 to 3 sets of 8-10 rocks like this should do the job.
This one addresses specifically the extension and external rotation part but kinda helps the flexion too.
You just lay in a prone position( facing down, on your belly) on a box/table so that your pelvis is on the edge on that and your legs point to the ground, with your knees bent. Grab a good hold of that bench/table/box and now fully extend the legs until they are straight and your lower back arches a bit. Hold for 1-2 seconds and come back to the initial position. Do this for 1-3 sets of 12-15 reps.
All the exercises above will help you improve your hip mobility, even if you have stiffer hips. Just start with what you can do and gradually over time just increase the range of motion and difficulty of the movements.
Do them regularly for some significant amount of time and you will see improvements. The hips are one of the most, if not the most, important joints in weightlifting, do not neglect your hip mobility!