Do you own your hips?

"It's all in the hips" - Chubbs


One of the common movement errors we've been seeing in the clinic and during the recent tennis screens is a lack of full hip extension.  In other words, many people are unable to fully straighten their hip without compensating from other areas.

What does this mean?

It means there are 2 possible reasons why you can't straighten your hips without compensation:

  1. A mobility restriction in the front of the hip (hip flexors)
  2. A lack of strength in the back of the hip (glutes).

Why does this matter?

This is important because hip extension is essentially what makes us human.  It's what makes us bipedal.  Strong glutes pull our bodies upright and help us move forward in life.  If we were to diminish the size and strength of the glutes we would devolve back into quadruped animals.  And how could we use our smartphones if we had to use our hands for locomotion?

 Technology leads to increased time in a flexed posture...where the glutes don't exist ( image source )

Technology leads to increased time in a flexed posture...where the glutes don't exist (image source)

This lack of hip flexion may not be a problem if you're okay with a Wall-E type of existence.

But what if you want to be active and play sports?

The glutes are a major muscle for any athletic activity.  

 All the greats have one thing in common - strong hips (image  source )

All the greats have one thing in common - strong hips (image source)

Some of the important functions of the glutes:

  • Controls and creates a massive amount of rotational force
  • Generates explosive forward and upward propulsion
  • Translates force from the legs to the core
  • Aids in spinal stabilization
  • Influences knee and ankle positioning

Needless to say, if you don't have your glues then you're going to have some trouble.

The best case scenario is that you're not a good athlete and do what you can without strong hips.

The worse case is that you are a good athlete and are compensating with other parts of your body (ankle, knee, back, shoulder, neck) to make up for the lack of hip control.

The latter is what often brings people into the physical therapy clinic.

How do I know if I own my hips?

The best thing you can do is get a thorough assessment from a physical therapist.  This will not only help identify hip tightness or glute weakness, but it will also determine other factors that are influencing this impairment.

How to do I fix this?

A shotgun approach to resolving this dysfunction would be to simply stretch the front of the hips and strengthen the back.

Easy enough, right?

Not really.  The key to accomplishing true hip extension and glute strength lies in the details.

I see many people trying to improve this at the local gym.  However, I often want to hand them my card because most people are just placing a ton of stress on their lumbar spine.

How do you avoid placing stress on the lumbar spine?

Be aware of your pelvis position before the movement (as well as throughout)

3 Exercises to Improve Hip Extension

Here are 3 exercises that teach pelvis positioning, hip flexor mobility, and proper glute contraction.  

Again, the devil is in the details.  Be aware of your body and positioning.

Mindless exercise will become painful exercise with time.

1) Hip Flexor Stretch

 Save your back, avoid this mistake

Save your back, avoid this mistake

Own the first stretch in the video before moving onto the advanced version.

2) Bridge Progression

 A common error, especially in those who tend to be flexible.  Focus on keeping the core engaged by bringing the ribs down as you use your glutes to achieve full hip extension.

A common error, especially in those who tend to be flexible.  Focus on keeping the core engaged by bringing the ribs down as you use your glutes to achieve full hip extension.

Go slow and be mindful.  Most people progress to fast and perform these variations without being able to stabilize their pelvis and truly use their glutes.

3) Hip Thrust Progression

 A more common error for those who tend to be more "tight".  It's important to assess your hip flexor mobility first, then make sure you only extend your hips as far as you can without extending your back.

A more common error for those who tend to be more "tight".  It's important to assess your hip flexor mobility first, then make sure you only extend your hips as far as you can without extending your back.

This exercise may seem odd (the name of it doesn't help either).  However, it creates the most amount of force in the glutes when compared to other common exercises (squat, deadlift, etc.).  If you truly want stronger glutes, performing this exercise correctly should be a goal.

Bottom Line

Your hips are important.  From standing up out of a chair to hitting a running forehand, you need strong glutes.  Without them you'll compensate.

Even if you're not worried about the athletic potential you're missing out on from weak hips, you should at least be worried about the future injuries and decreased life longevity.

So give these exercises a shot.  If you have any trouble, let us know and we'll help give you back your hips.