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Posted on 03-01-2017

Welcome to spring everybody! We made it to March, which means the deepest, darkest part of winter is (hopefully) over. It's the time of year that everyone shakes the cobwebs off, brushes the dust off of their running shoes, and (also hopefully) starts getting outside and exercising again. For that reason, we will be talking about the hips today. Why the hips? Because good hip strength and mobility is essential in keeping you from getting injured and improving your fitness.

What do I mean by hip strength? I'm talking about good strong glutes. All six of them (see above). Your glute muscles do the very important job of extending your hip (think pushing off while walking or standing from a seated/squat position), keeping you upright while standing on one foot, keeping your leg and knee in good alignment, and controlling rotation around your hip and pelvis. So if you’re lacking in the glute department, your foot, ankle, knee, hip, and low back are all being compromised.

Strong glute muscles are required to do a good squat, lunge, anything jumping or running related, and to do anything where you’re standing on one foot, including walking. If you can’t squat or lunge, then you’re probably doing all the lifting and bending forward you do with your lumbar spine, which puts you at higher risk of a low back injury. Similarly, if you don’t have strong enough glute muscles, you will be unable to properly align your hip and knee while walking, which means you’re putting extra stress through your knees. Extra stress through your knees leads to degeneration, which leads to knee replacements, and you don’t want those. For those of you laughing at me and saying “Dr. Drew, I don’t walk or squat or lunge or run or jump ever, so I guess I don’t need strong glutes right?”, that means you’re not exercising at all and you have an even bigger problem.

Why do we need good hip mobility? For all the same reasons I’ve already talked about. You need good mobility in the hips in order to extend properly during running and walking, to get into a good position in a squat and lunge, and to properly align and load your hip and knee. If you have bad hip mobility, even if you’re trying to lift and bend properly, you’re going to put your back, hips, and knees in bad positions and put yourself at higher risk of injury.

Here are a couple of my favorite exercises/stretches for the hip:

1) Glute bridges: bridges work on good hip extension, glute activation, and even low back stabilization! What else could you possibly want from an exercise? Well it's your lucky day, because if you try single leg bridges, you get the added bonus of improving rotational stability in your glute and low back. All that from lifting your hips up off the ground! Talk about bang for your buck!

2) Lunges: the reason why I love lunges in particular is that you can't cheat. You've got to do them right on both sides, the position of lunges mimics walking and running, and they do a great job targeting the glutes and hamstrings. I love lunges in (almost) all their forms, but definitely start simple and incorporate some challenges when body weight gets too easy (it won't start out too easy I promise)

3) Figure 4 stretch: this stretch will target your piriformis and help improve your hip rotation. You need good hip rotation to do a good squat, and you need to be able to do a good squat to lift things up off the ground.

4) Hip flexor stretch: This is one of my favorite stretches, especially after spending a lot of time sitting. Most of us sit for most of the day (see all previous blog posts), and it's really hard to sit without your hips in flexion. A good hip flexor stretch will help you improve hip extension, which you also need to be able to walk, run, and most other athletic activities. It also just feels really good, which is as good a reason as any to start stretching.

For those of you who have seen Happy Gilmore, just remember what Chubs tells Happy when he’s learning how to putt (and for those of you who haven’t remember what I am saying right now): it’s all in the hips, it’s all in the hips.

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