Hips Don’t Lie: They’re Stronger Than You Are

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by MISSY ALBRECHT, DPT, CSCS, FMS| Physical Therapist/Coach

Hips Don't Lie: They're Stronger Than You Are

Do your homework! [Y]ou should be improving your hip extension mobility to allow your body to achieve full hip extension at the top and relieve your low back and other areas that are working overtime for your missing hip flexibility.
Do you know what’s stronger than you? I’m not talking about that person in class whom you envy because s/he lifts heavier weights and gets better times on the WODs. I’m talking about something that is stronger than you. That’s right — there’s something that’s stronger than you. Stronger than I am. Stronger than everyone. And it’s that pain-in-the-butt muscle that you have been trying to fix/stretch/mobilize FOREVER… and you think it’s giving up and relaxing, but it’s just not. That muscle is stronger than whatever you’re trying to do. So you give up and hope that the workouts will just fix the muscle, especially when you continue to lift heavier weights and WOD faster, but in reality it’s not fixed until that muscle (or group of muscles) relaxes and allows you to get into a good position. So what happens when it’s not fixed and you continue to WOD in poor positions? Eventually, your body will breakdown somewhere and injury will occur.

Side note #1 (on WODing with poor movement): Dysfunctional movement isn’t always painful, and functional movement isn’t always pain free. You can’t always use pain as your guide to whether you’re doing something right/wrong.

Got Hip Mobility?

Got Hip Mobility?
One of the most common problems fitting this description is hip extension (i.e. open hips at the top of a squat, deadlift, etc.). Many people are missing that hip extension at the top of a movement, usually due to tight anterior hip muscles and maybe some poor movement patterns. When you do a squat, deadlift, power clean, kettlebell swing, etc. and can’t open your hips at the top, you end up pulling with your back to stand up all the way. This in itself is dysfunctional because over time your back gets tight and your spine gets overworked. And once you’re doing this for months, it’s hard to change this movement pattern because your brain has been programmed to think this is good movement. In reality, you should be improving your hip extension mobility to allow your body to achieve full hip extension at the top and relieve your low back and other areas that are working overtime for your missing hip flexibility (such as the thoracic spine and ribs). No matter how hard you try to squeeze your butt and open your hips at the top, your tight anterior hip muscles are stronger than your abdominals and will win this battle.

Winning the war: [Y]our tight anterior hip muscles are stronger than your abdominals.
Sometimes it doesn’t even present as trouble opening hips at the top of the movement. The other relevant concern is when athletes are unable to keep a stable midline during movements. I’ve talked about endurance in these muscles and learning how to activate them, but a big issue here is when you’re trying to fight your tight anterior hips in order to get your midline stable. Try to imagine a tug-of-war and look at the image below to help imagine what’s going on: You start the top of your deadlift with a tight midline as best as you can. We will assume you have great activation and practice so you can maintain the tight midline throughout the entire movement to the ground and back up, until you get to the top of the deadlift where your hips have to open. You squeeze your butt while trying to keep your abdominals tight, but you just can’t seem to finish the movement. As you try to open your hips your anterior hip muscles start to pull your lower back forward into an arch, and you try your best to keep your midline in a good position, but in the end your tight anterior hip muscles are stronger than your abdominals.

anterior_pelvic_tilt1

Trying to activate your abdominals well in this position is impossible.

Tight Ankles>Glutes

Boo tight ankles… hooray mobility! If you run out of ankle mobility (dorsiflexion) as you go down in your squat, the only way you will be able to get to full depth is with the arches of your feet collapsing or by turning your feet out.
Let’s tackle another example to send this point home: knees caving in during a squat. This is a very common problem and really annoying to deal with during a workout (in my opinion). Plenty of athletes try and try to press their knees out during a squat, and it just doesn’t seem to happen. Sometimes it is a strength issue (weak glutes or poor activation), but more often it seems to be a mobility issue. Two areas in particular are stronger than your ability to squat: ankles and hips. If you run out of ankle mobility (dorsiflexion) as you go down in your squat, the only way you will be able to get to full depth is with the arches of your feet collapsing or by turning your feet out. Both of these compensation strategies cause the knees to cave in no matter how hard you try to push them out. Your tight ankles are stronger than your glutes. Now if we look at your hips (internal and external rotation), the same thing can occur: if your hip joint is so tight in either direction, your leg is going to travel the path of least resistance, which is knees caving in. Yep, your tight hips are, again, stronger than your glutes.

Side note #2:  Putting a band around your knees during a squat will help cue your glutes, but it will not fix your mobility issues and will still allow your knees to cave in.

Get at the Source of the Problem

Let me be clear: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of fixing mobility issues first. Stop driving yourself crazy by trying to strengthen your abdominals and glutes, then wondering why they feel strong(er) but you still can’t get into that good position while you WOD. I have tried this already and consequently driven myself crazy until I realized the need to fix the underlying issues. Now I’m singing in my head during the workouts instead of yelling at my body to do things it just can’t do. If you’re experiencing any of the examples above, please come to Mobility so we can help you!

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