The End of Static Stretching to Improve Hip Mobility

  • hip mobility
2017-07-10T02:14:06+00:00 By |

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Why do people automatically assume that endless amounts of static stretching and foam rolling will provide them with transferable benefits in the gym, sport and their daily lives? The stretching myths need to be dispelled, especially as it pertains to the most commonly stretched area of the body, the hip.

From attempting to get out of lower back pain to targeting more and more hip mobility to improve squatting and other functional movements, people gravitate towards stretching, but is it really doing them any good?

We have Dr. Zach Long here on DrJohnRusin.com because he wants to put a stop to static stretching of the hips, and rightfully so! He has a better way to improve positions and alleviate pain, and it doesn’t involve sticking lacrosse balls in your butt or holding painful static stretches for minutes at a time. Enjoy.


Here’s What You Need To Know…

1. Many people use foam rolling and static stretching to alleviate tight muscles, but the fact of the matter is that these practices make little to no useable change to the the muscles or movements they control in the short and long term.

2. If you really want to improve your “hip mobility” you better look outside the hip and start targeting stability of the pelvis and spine instead of adding endless mobility to one of the most mobile joints in the body.

3. When it comes to alleviating lower back pain and hip dysfunction, gaining and maintaining pelvic alignment in the neutral zone is pivotal. And guess what, it will improve your strength performances as well.

4. Dynamic stability is the new mobility, so here’s the most effective program that will open up your hips without ever holding a static stretch ever again.


Stupid Static Stretching

The fitness world has come a long way in our understanding of the importance of mobility work and the impact it has on athletic performance and training. It’s safe to say that “mobility” exercises and tools like the foam roller are becoming commonplace in gyms, CrossFit boxes, and on the playing field worldwide.

Unfortunately, most athletes performing these mobility drills have yet to figure out that much of their mobility work does not actually result in real performance gains!

Sadly, their mobility work does not address the true root of their problems and their constant stretching, foam rolling, and joint band distractions get them nowhere. The hips are the greatest example of this problem, with athletes everywhere wasting hours on  useless mobility work! Let’s stop wasting time and start seeing objective results from corrective exercise and training, you know, the kind that shows up in PRs instead of in fluffy feel good effects.

It’s time to quit the static stretching of the hips and start refocusing your “mobility” work on more effective exercises and techniques that will not only improve your mobility, but your athletic performance as well! And did I mention that we can achieve this in a fraction of the time? Yeah, better listen up.

Where Hip Mobility Exercises Have Gone Wrong

hip mobility

Because of the inherent stability of the hip joint provided by the ball-and-socket, many athletes and coaches spend far too much time trying to improve hip mobility by performing stretching and soft tissue work. Months of intense stretching techniques provide little actual change in available motion and only serve to waste time and create pain in the athletes.

Instead, small stability changes at the pelvis can provide drastically fast improvements in performance. Contraction of the muscles around the pelvis can result in changes in pelvic positioning and thus available hip range of motion. For example, a posterior tilt of the pelvis will put the hips in a position advantageous to improve hip flexion mobility, while an anterior pelvic tilt will result in increased hip extension. It’s important to remember that it’s not all about the hips.

The hamstrings are the perfect example of the effects pelvic positioning can have on mobility. I’ve yet to meet an athlete who doesn’t claim to have “tight hamstrings”. Even the elite gymnasts, dancers, runners, and yogis believe that their hamstrings should be further stretched in order to maintain and enhance mobility.

In an anteriorly rotated pelvis, the hamstrings will have increased tension placed on them, thus resulting in a perceived decrease in flexibility. More often than not, simple core stabilization movements will provide immediate improvement in their perceived tightness or chronic hamstring muscle strains.

To test this directly, have athletes perform a straight leg raise while lying on their back. Quite often, simply cueing the athlete to “push your rib cage down” or “flatten your lower back into the floor” will result in a posterior pelvic tilt that instantly improves “hamstring mobility” and decreases the perception of hamstring tightness and muscle strain.

This simple repositioning of the pelvis can provide more gains almost instantly than months of static stretching, manual therapy, and self-myofascial work combined. This effect can also be seen when working to improve hip extension, rotation, and functional patterns such as the squat.

The Hip Mobility Solution 

The self-sufficient solutions to hip mobility deficits are simple. Perform movements that challenge the available active hip range of motion, while engaging the core to stabilize the pelvis. As the athlete learns to better control the core and pelvis, mobility will drastically improve and be transferable into function.

Hip “mobility” work done this way will have two effects.

First, it will reposition the pelvis to a more neutral position, allowing for improved mobility within the hip socket.

Secondly, it will serve as a “reset” to muscle tone around the hips. Often times, the body realizes it does not have the needed stability around a joint due to muscle weakness. The body’s response is to increase the tone in a muscle to provide some false-stabilization. The hip flexors (like the hamstrings) are another muscle group that often feels tight in athletes but when proper core stabilization movements are performed, this increased muscle tone instantly vanishes and mobility problems are gone!

Your New Hip Mobility Regimen

The following exercises should be a strong component of any athlete’s hip mobility work, as they will produce faster results than the typically prescribed foam rolling and stretching routines. Lets break these down one by one with a video and my notes on what makes each movement so powerful:

The Reverse Active Straight Leg Raise

Coaching Notes: The Reverse Active Straight Leg Raise is an excellent movement to improve hip flexion and active hamstring mobility. The athlete begins lying on his or her back with both legs vertical and knees straight. One leg is kept in this vertical position (this can be done by using a stretch strap or not using one to increase the challenge) while the other leg is slowly lowered to the floor. The key point of performance is that the lower back remains flat on the ground, ensuring that the core is actively engaged to stabilize the spine and pelvis.

Single Leg Hip Lift

Coaching Notes: Up next for those with hip flexor tightness, the Single Leg Hip Lift and Psoas March variations can be incredible exercises. To perform the Single Leg Hip Lift, the athlete lies on their back with one foot flat on the floor and that knee bent to approximately 90 degrees. The other leg is pulled towards the chest and held in the athlete’s arms. Next, the athlete lifts his or her hips up as high as possible without arching their lumbar spine. The athlete should consciously focus on activating his or her glutes throughout the entire movement.

The Psoas March

Coaching Notes: The Psoas March is an amazing exercise for quickly eliminating hip flexor tightness as it retrains the psoas’ role in spinal stability. The athlete lies supine with a resistance band around both feet. While focusing on maintaining a neutral spine, the athlete lifts one knee towards his or her chest, stopping at ~90 degrees of hip flexion, and then returns to supine. This is then repeated on the opposite leg.

The Goblet Squat

The Goblet Squat may be the most powerful mobility exercise specific to the squat. By holding a weight in front of the body, the athlete is able to better sit back into the squat, maintain a neutral spine and pelvis, and reach better squat depths. When performing Goblet Squats to work hip mobility, we suggest performing a slow negative and pausing for several seconds in the bottom of the squat.

90/90 Breathing with Hip Internal Rotation

Coaching Notes: The 90/90 Breathing with Hip Internal Rotation is another fantastic drill for quickly changing hip mobility. This has repeatedly helped improve rock-bottom squat depth and decreased hip pinching in the elite Olympic weightlifters and CrossFit athletes that I work with.

Start with the athlete lying on his or her back, their feet up on a wall and their hips and knees bent to ninety degrees. After raising the hips slightly off the ground, they inhale through their nose, focusing on filling their stomach with air before allowing the check to rise. As they exhale, the rib cage is pushed down. This movement puts the spine in a neutral position and the pelvis slightly posteriorly rotated. After several breaths, the athlete then lifts one leg off the wall and repeatedly internally rotates it while continuing the breath cycles.

The Anti-Stretch Hip Mobility Program

For an athlete looking to optimize hip mobility and performance, I highly recommend that they do each of the above exercises three to four times weekly, usually as part of their warm up. And hell, if more attention is needed to improve these positions, work this exact program into a cool down after a workout or a stand alone session later on that day.

  1. 90/90 Breathing with Hip Internal Rotation
    • 5 breaths followed by 20 internal rotations per side
  2. Reverse Active Straight Leg Raise
    • 2 sets to moderate fatigue each leg
  3. Single Leg Hip Lifts
    • 2 sets to moderate fatigue
  4. Psoas March
    • 2 sets to moderate fatigue
  5. Goblet squats
    • 2 sets of 10 reps with 5 second negative and three second pause in the bottom

Alright guys, there you have it! A full “hip mobility” program that is geared towards improving your motor control, stability and of course your movement abilities as a whole, without the need to stretch out that always tight piriformis!!

13 Comments

  1. Jeromy April 26, 2016 at 8:58 am - Reply

    When you talk about hamstring tightness and mobility wouldn’t pressing your back flat against the ground cause you to loose your lumbar curve going beyond a neutral spine which preserves lumbar curvature? I don’t believe you want to learn to loose your lumbar curve in order to gain ROM correct?

  2. Matt April 26, 2016 at 9:57 am - Reply

    If static stretching is such a waste of time, why is it that I notice dramatic differences in my mobility depending upon whether I’m consistent or not with my post workout stretching routine?

    I’m the most flexible and mobile I’ve ever been in my life right now, and the difference is that I’ve been diligent about stretching at the end of my workouts.

  3. Matthew April 26, 2016 at 11:44 am - Reply

    To Matt , if you are familiar with Rusin’s blogs, it seems he likes to put a catchy title that sounds controversial, then the article proceeds to basically say that context is everything, x, y, or z isn’t necessarily bad, but the way people perform it can be. I can agree that a lot of static work and myofascial work people do is done incorrectly, so in essence it becomes a waste of time, but at the same time you will probably find a post by Rusin in the past or in future that promotes an excellent static stretching or myofascial technique, but he will clarify the most optimal way to perform it (which most of the population likely doesn’t do). This style of writing can be annoying, but it probably gets people to read it. I wish he would just title things “10 things people do incorrectly and how to fix this” rather than “this is worthless…., 10 paragraphs later, no it’s not if you do it this way”.

    They should have chosen a different static stretch as their title photo(the couch stretch), that thing did wonders for me when I first discovered it, and I’m pretty sure that the inability or ability to perform it can say a little bit about your lower body health, so I certainly don’t find that one a waste of time, especially when I made huge gains by a couple minutes a day doing that, and have seen others do the same. Pulling your heel to your butt as you shift around trying to gain balance is probably a better definition of a waste of time static stretch, which is a static stretch that has low demands on stability.

    It is getting universally known that proximal stability improves distal mobility. So in essence one of the best ways to improve your mobility in your limbs is to simply increase the stability of your core (hips, torso and all the musculature involved). Most people don’t have the pelvic and core stability they think they have, which is why their body responds as being tight. Does that mean stretching and SMR is worthless? definitely not, but I agree that most people could use a lot more stability in their core and could probably benefit a lot more just by simply moving like they were a kid again, or doing some greater ROM strength training prior to spending a ton of their time doing aimless rolling and stretching.

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  10. Michael June 23, 2017 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Question: I am working with physical therapist for past 6 months due to pinched nerve which led to mico discectomy surgery. Things have progressed 5 months after surgery but I have a problem I am getting brutal muscle tightness in my hamstrings and calves in both legs, worse on the right causing heel pain. previously I had pelvic shift forward, tight hips, would pelvic tilt being causing my problem?

    They are working in getting my core activating along with back and glute, abductor hip exercises to reduce weakness in left hip from pinched nerve.

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 IMPROVE YOUR MOBILITY BY 30°
 INJURY PROOF YOUR WORKOUTS
 
  AVOID SELF SABOTAGE

Sign up for the FREE 3 Day Strength-Overhaul
START NOW

 IMPROVE YOUR MOBILITY BY 30°
 INJURY PROOF YOUR WORKOUTS
 
  AVOID SELF SABOTAGE

Sign up for the FREE 3 Day Strength-Overhaul
START NOW
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