Using the Core to Unlock the Hips

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Hip mobility is starting to become a bit of a buzzword in the fitness industry.

More people are squatting, cleaning, deadlifting, etc. than in recent memory and these lifts require the hips to get to a certain range of motion.

When we are trying to achieve parallel squats or trying to conventional deadlift with a neutral spine, most people struggle to get into these positions.

hip-mobility-squat

Most will instantly dismiss this as tight hips and start hitting the stretching mat or endless foam rolling.

The problem with this notion is that foam rolling tight hips should yield instant improvement in squatting ability.

There should be a noticeable, but not necessarily astronomic, difference in the pattern after rolling compared to before.

This is a simple test and re-test to determine if the strategy worked or not. If the pattern did not improve even the slightest bit, then the strategy is wrong.

A bad squat pattern that does not improve from rolling the glutes is not due to tight hips.

Some other reasons that parallel squats cannot be achieved could be a result of bony structure and experience with the movement. Simply put, if the person has never done the movement, it is probably going to look like crap. Teach them the movement and get them into the range of motion needed.

In this post, I discussed how structure affects the squatting pattern and not everyone will be able to hit a full squat.

Assuming the person knows how to perform the movement and they do not have any bony blocks in place, we can then look to the core for the root of our problems.

When we take a look at the joint by joint approach which determines mobile and stable joints, the hips are a mobile joint and the low back/pelvis is a stable joint. When we lack core stability, the roles reverse and the hips become stabilizers for the pelvis.

joint-by-joint-skeleton

This is how tight hips are not necessarily an issue in the hip. The dysfunction can feed its way down to from the core.

There are two ways to test this out and each can help direct the plan to open the hips up.

Do a squat and notice the range of motion with it. Then perform 2, 15 second side planks with a short break in between each. Perform the squat again and see if it improved.

If no improvement was seen, you can perform the same test with a regular plank.

This is a test that I saw on Dean Somerset’s blog and it works wonders. He went on to mention that the lateral core, as tested in the side plank, is responsible for hip internal rotation. A lack of lateral core stability decrease the hip internal rotation we have.

The plank, on the other hand, screens for anterior core stability which is responsible for hip external rotation. Those with a weak core in the front of the body will have issues with external rotation.

Performing these two tests will help determine if the core musculature is the cause of your tight hips. Again, the test and retest should result in instant improvements even if they are minimal.

When the hips cannot get into the range of motion that we want them to, it is too simplistic to dismiss the issue as tight hips. Most people to a good job of getting their hips loosened up with rolling and mobility work.

If the corrective strategy is not fixing the problem, it is the wrong strategy.

Unless you are working with specific populations known for tight hips like hockey players and sedentary populations, core stability is probably the most needed quality.

For those that have poor lateral core stability exercises like single arm carries, side planks, and overhead Pallof presses train anti-lateral flexion. This opposes the side bending movement.

If your anterior core is weak, there are a lot more options to work with. Planks, rollouts, and TRX fallouts all train anti-extension which will activate the anterior core most effectively.

20-TRX-Fallouts

TRX Fallout

It is important to avoid situps, crunches, and other forms of trunk flexion because they do not create stability while compromising the spine.

If you have trouble squatting to good depth, check to see if your core stability is up to par. If it is not, activate it before squatting. Perform a few planks/side planks as part of the warm up to unlock the hips and create a better squat pattern.