Do You – Activate Your Hips

The importance of mobility to optimal movement has been demonstrated by numerous coaches and authors.  We understand that mobility is the potential of motion at a particular joint. We also understand that it is relative to stability, and that a greater need for stability means a greater need for mobility.  Lastly, we know that to achieve greater mobility we must take a holistic approach in attacking each of the components of mobility which include but are not limited to flexibility, Joint range of motion, muscle range of motion, extensibility, and plasticity.  Muscle function or the action of a muscle at a joint is generally viewed as relating more to stability than mobility.  For instance it is commonly understood that in order to achieve appropriate stability we need muscles to fire properly and at the right time.  However the same can be said when it comes to improving mobility. In order to achieve appropriate mobility we need muscles to fire appropriately and at the right time.  It isn’t a new concept.  I’ve seen many presentations expressing the idea of muscle function as a means for increasing mobility.  Mike Robertson calls it motor control; Charlie Weingroff calls these the mobilizers in his DVD Training = Rehab. The point is that we’re all saying the same thing. The function of these muscle groups particularly at the hip is important to mobility and movement.

When it comes to the hips one of the ways we improve mobility is through optimal function of prime movers. In the case of extension, the glute max must properly extend the femur at the hip joint. Whereas, hip flexion requires the psoas to effectively flex the femur at the hip joint. Any limitations in the ability of the psoas or glutes to exhibit function will result in a limited range of motion and a reduction of mobility in space.  This reduction in mobility can have a negative impact to fundamental movement patterns involved in locomotion and performance on the field.  It should also be mentioned that restrictions in mobility may also be the result of muscle length, stiffness, structure or joint restriction.  If limited muscle function of prime movers results in lack of mobility in space how can we improve their ability to perform their designated action?

I had the fortunate experience of interning at MBSC back in 07 when I first saw exercises which focused on accomplishing those tasks.  Coach Boyle termed these corrections activation exercises. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to share this thought process with various coaches at various levels.  Last year the Bills strength and conditioning staff and I spent a great deal of time with our players focusing on appropriate warm up activities to drive mobilization through activation of prime movers.  The exercises for this portion of the warm up included:

Glute Activation Exercises

  • Cook Hip Lift or the Leg Lock Bridge

  • Foam Roller – Short level Raise

  • Long Lever Raise

  • ½ Kneeling Partner Press Outs

Psoas Activation Exercises

  • High Knee Walks

  • Standing Hip Flexion

  • Lying Mini Band Psoas Hip flexion 

  • Seated Hip Flexion

This Off Season the Bills Strength and Conditioning staff decided to revisit our system of training.    In an effort to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our system at increasing mobility in the appropriate areas we decided to revisit some of the exercises we use in our warm up routine, lift routine and post – life routine.  What we discovered was that we could combine certain exercises and achieve our goal more effectively.  For instance, in the lying mini Band Psoas Hip Flexion exercise the focus is to place the knee above 90 or at a position where the psoas is likely to be the main contributor to hip flexion.  By activating the psoas we increase its ability to properly activate during movements that require hip flexion. In addition, by improving activation we also reduce the compensations that can result from a weak or inhibited psoas such as dominance from other hip flexors such as the TFL or Adductors.  Likewise, by activating glutes we can limit the dominance of synergistic muscles such as the hamstrings and adductors.  We do this by improving the ability of the glute to extend at the joint. The exercises we use to accomplish these goals are listed below.  These exercises satisfy our efforts to achieve proper function of the psoas and glute and also facilitate the key concept of “hip separation” in the sagittal plane. In other words, it improves their ability to demonstrate maximal closed chain extension and maximal open chain flexion of the hip.  In conclusion, these activation exercises can aid in variety of areas pertinent to optimal movement by driving mobilization of the hip through increase muscle function. And more importantly they are time efficient.   The following exercises are listed below.  

Phase 1

Foam Roller – Short Lever Raise + Mini Band Psoas Hip Flexion (Hip separation activation)

Phase 2

½ Kneeling Partner Press Outs + Forward Knee Lift (Press out and lift)

Phase 3

Standing Hip Flexion/ Extension (Standing sprinter pose)

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