By Bill Bolster / November 10, 2016
This post builds on my first entry. In order to improve our movement, or any range of motion, we must learn to control our joints in new positions. We have to assess our joints independently, rather than immediately focusing on the movement as a whole.
Why is improving hip flexion important?
Let me make this clear: It’s not just hip flexion that’s important. Every range of motion is vital to a particular movement. We will just continue with hip flexion to build on our squat example.
If your goal is to squat below 90 degrees, yet you only have 90 degrees of hip flexion, you’ll never accomplish that goal until that’s improved. You can “practice” your squat technique until you are blue in the face. It will not change. You may very well get below 90 degrees, but it won’t be correct. It’ll be uncomfortable and probably ugly. Oh, and you’ll eventually have pain, and likely get injured.
The same inference can be made for deadlifting, lunging, etc.
Want to move properly? Assess what is required to perform a movement correctly, and focus on correcting those requirements.
Ok, so how do I fix it? (I know, get to the point)
In an ideal world, you’d be able to actively bring your knee up to your chest (roughly 135 degrees of hip flexion). Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Most of us sit at a desk, in our cars, at school etc. and struggle to achieve just 90 degrees of active hip flexion due to inactivity. However, there is good news. For most of us, this can be reversed. For the grand majority, if I were to take an X-ray of your hip joints, I’d find nothing wrong. No bony obstruction, no arthritis, no structural reason as to why your hip joints don’t move properly. So what’s the problem? Very simple, the tissue and nervous system has changed around the joint. We’ve adapted to our lifestyle. We sit all day, and our bodies have grown accustom to this new ‘normalcy’. With that being said, we simply need to start stressing our tissues in new positions, and guess what, our bodies will again adapt.
In the video:
This is a great exercise to improve your hip flexion, and subsequently your squat. Find an object, preferably a box (24” in the video), which allows you to isolate hip flexion. Ideally, the object is a height that will allow for some improvement. For example, you can see I have the ability to pick my foot off of the box initially (increase my hip flexion). I am in control of this movement. The whole purpose of this exercise is to regain control of the musculature in greater ranges of motion. Starting at a height that is too difficult (inability to lift the foot off the box) defeats the purpose; we’re looking for gradual improvements.
- Lift the foot (flex the hip) off of the box and hold for 5-10 seconds. Make sure you keep the plant leg as straight as possible.
- Gradually increase your range by increasing the height of the box, in this video I use a small plate, and repeat the lift.
- Eventually you are going to get to a height that you can no longer lift the foot off of. That’s ok. At this point simply focus on activating the musculature; the strength to lift the limb will come in time. This is how your ranges will increase.
This exercise seems simple, and in theory it is. However, your hip flexors will likely cramp and spasm. The hip stabilizers on the plant leg will likely cramp. This gives you insight into your limitations. As your tissues grow accustom to new ranges of motion, the spasm will dissipate. Try this twice per week. It will take time to see improvements, but every inch you regain, you own. Much like weightlifting, it takes time for the tissue to adapt and grow. This is no different.