As trainers, coaches and athletes, we’ve learned that our bodies are complex machines and must be trained as such. In the quest for peak performance, strength and fat loss, we’ve come to fully appreciate the benefits of body weight and free weight exercises. This could mean starting out with push up variations rather than putting a 130 lb newbie on the bench. Similarly, you could try performing a single body weight pistol squat before pulling out the knee wraps & maxing out on the leg press. The theory being, that if we use our body as a unit at home, on the field and under the bar, it must be trained that way-as a unit. In doing so, you or your clients will progress to more intense multi joint exercises like the squat, clean, and push press. Each of these multi joint movements has a specific kinetic chain. This kinetic chain can also be described as a muscle contracting domino effect throughout the body. Learning to contract your muscles in the right sequence is what dictates good form and makes an exercise like the squat functional and safe.
When there is an injury, knot, or tightness in a particular muscle your kinetic chain will be interrupted. The tight area will strain with little or no muscle contraction. This interruption of sequence forces the body to “jump the track” to the next phase of the movement while recruiting stronger muscles to pick up the slack for the non-contracting muscles. It’s a detour, so to speak, but it’s the body’s most efficient route to finish the lift at that time. This is where form breaks and a new or additional injury can potentially occur. This can also happen if there is a weak (relative to the other working muscles in the movement) zone or any imbalance from one side of the body to the other. But since tightness creates a weakness which can cause an injury, we’ll start there. One of the most common kinetic chain corrupters is tight hips.
The most obvious sign of having tight hips is pain on one or both sides during hip involved movements. If you’re a beast and you feel no pain or are just plain used to it, here are some more specific signs of less than optimum hip health.
* Difficulty or inability to flare the knees out of a medium-wide stance squat
* Difficulty performing full range lunges with your body upright
* Losing explosiveness out of squat or lunge
* Having trouble locking out at the top of a dead lift
* Having trouble firing out of the bottom of the box squat
If you think all these things are difficult and it’s just a sign of training intensely, please read on. It’s important to be able to recognize a problem or weakness so that you and/or your clients continue to improve and meet your goals. If you’re still not sure then here are three quick movement tests you can do just about anywhere:
Body Weight Bridge
Lay back on the floor. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Press through the heel, squeeze your butt and bridge your hips up creating a plank position from the shoulders to knees. Ideally you would be able to create a straight body line from shoulder to hip (no higher). If you feel pain in the hip area or are unable to complete this movement into the plank position then you have tight hips.
Body Weight Bridge 1
Body Weight Bridge 2
Wide Stance Wall Squats
Face an empty wall with your toes no more than an inch away from it. Before beginning, be sure to clear the area behind you or your client in likely chance of losing balance and stepping backward. Though an awkward movement, the wall squat leaves no room for cheating yourself out of good squat form. Place feet outside shoulder width and turn toes slightly outward. Sit back and slowly pull your body downward keeping the knees flared out over the toes. Do not stand wider than you can get your knees. If there is pain or tightness in one or both hips, you must work on hip mobility.
Wide Stance Wall Squat 1
Wide Stance Wall Squat 2
Stand in a split lunge position with your front foot firmly on the floor and your back foot elevated on a step or low bench. Your back heel should be off the step and your front knee slightly bent. Keep your chest up and shoulders back. Lower your hips, allowing your trailing knee to lower to a point just before it touches the floor. Press firmly through the front heel and return to starting position. Be sure not to lean forward as this will cater to tightness and not allow the hip to stretch.
Split Squat 1
Split Squat 2
If you failed one or more of these tests then I think you know what that means… that’s right-90min Hot Yoga Classes 3-4x a week.
Make some reasonable changes to your daily routine and some necessary changes to your training. Here are some examples of common causes and suggestions for improvement.
This could be a client with a sedentary career sitting in front of a computer all day or a commuter spending long hours in the car. Perhaps a high school or college athlete that sits in class all day and tends to get tighter than others. Less chronic incidences can include having to travel to games or meets or take a long plane flight. Either way, ditch the chair whenever possible and as soon as possible. Try using a hands-free head set or blue tooth and get out from behind the desk. If you’re traveling, buy a short foam roller. If you’re a traveling athlete then bring the short foam roller and get in a good dynamic warm up before activity.
Inadequate Warm Up Before Training or Competing
This is self explanatory. If you’re in a rush, the last thing you want to skip out on is your basic warm up. I say your because everyone is different and the more attention you give to maintaining your flexibility, the less tedious and long your warm up will seem. Make sure you, your client or your athlete has a planned warm up. This keeps you from rushing through random movements or wasting time trying to figure out what to do next.
Don’t Be A Lazy Ass
Literally. Make sure you’re using your Glutes to their fullest potential. When squatting, dead lifting or even lunging, use a flat shoe (Chuck Taylors are great). Wearing a flat shoe helps you keep your bodyweight over your heels and use as much of your posterior muscles as possible aka your butt, hams and low back. You can practice or teach glute activation with exercises like the kettlebell swing, the pull-through and body weight bridge as discussed above.
Inadequate Active Recovery
This could be Big Pete at the gym hitting a new 1/4 squat PR and calling it a day. But he’ll feel like he got hit by a Mac Truck tomorrow morning. Why? Because an ammonia induced touch down dance after a PR does not classify as appropriate active recovery. Make time for accessory work that compliments your training and specific mobility needs. If your sessions have a strict time limit, try an extra workout 24 hours after a max effort to boost your recovery time.
Finally, I’ll discuss some logical suggestions on how to modify your training without compromising it. Begin with a planned warm up. Before a session it is always best to choose dynamic (movement) stretches as opposed to static (holding a single position for time) stretches. You can use the three movements discussed above for moderate reps using only your bodyweight in a circuit. Again, any other hip mobility movements you’ve learned along the way will do just fine. Whatever hits the spot, so to speak.
Now that you’re ready to train, consider training the box squat as your max effort lift. I say this because the box squat is very easily and safely modified to slowly increase and monitor your hip mobility. Good mobility in the squat is necessary for being able to keep your knees out, take a wider stance, and get to or below parallel (depending on your goals). If you are very tight, then start with a higher box and a medium stance. Never stand wider than you can get your knees. Also keep in mind you should be wearing a very flat shoe to ensure you’re getting as much posterior chain involvement as possible.
So you have a set stance (as wide as you can stand while keeping your knees even with the toes) and a box high enough for you to sit far back on, under control. This is your starting point. As you train this lift, every three to four weeks, lower the box a half inch and take a slightly wider stance. Remember the knee rule! This will gradually and safely increase your range of motion. One last suggestion-in order to preserve all your hard work, it might be a good idea to train your abs standing or with Janda sit ups to exclude hip flexor involvement. Hey, in the end, every bit of effort amounts to your success. Reading about what to do isn’t enough. Have the willingness to do it.