The True Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexor stretch has become a very popular stretch in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so considering how many people live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt.  However, this seems to be one of those stretches that I see a lot of people either performing incorrectly or too aggressively.  I talked about this in a recent Inner Circle webinar on 5 common stretches we probably shouldn’t be using, but I wanted to expand on the hip flexor stretch as I feel this is pretty important.

I’ve started teaching what I call the “true hip flexor stretch.”

I call it the true hip flexor stretch as I want you to truly work on stretching the hip flexor and not just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.  It’s very easy for the body to take the path of least resistance when stretching.  People with tight hip flexors and poor hip extension often just end up compensating and either hyperextend their low back or stress the anterior capsule of the hip joint.

I explain this in more detail in this video:

 

The good thing is, there is a simple and very effective.  Once you adjust and perform the true hip flexor stretch, most people say they never felt a stretch like that before, hence the name “true hip flexor stretch.”

 

True Hip Flexor Stretch

To perform the true hip flexor stretch, you want to de-emphasize hip extension and focus more on posterior pelvic tilt.  Watch this video for a more detailed explanation:

 

Key Points

  • There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch.  When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching your hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris.
  • Keep it a one joint stretch.  Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee.  This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch.  They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
  • Stay tall.  Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip.  Most people are too tight for this, trust me.  You’ll end up stretch out the anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
  • Make sure you incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt.  Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt.  This will give your the “true” stretch we are looking for when choosing this stretch.  Many people wont even need to lean in a little, they’ll feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
  • If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder.  Many people have a hard time turing on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it is key.
  • If you still don’t feel it, lean in just a touch.  If you are sure your glutes and abs are squeezed and you are in posterior pelvic tilt and still don’t feel it much, lean in just a few inches.  Our first progression of this is simple to lean forward in 1-3 inches, but keep your pelvis in posterior tilt.
  • Guide your hips with your hands.  I usually start this stretch with your hands on your hips so I can teach you to feel posterior pelvic tilt.  Place your fingers in the front and thumbs in the back and cue them to posterior tilt and make their thumbs move down.
  • Progress to add core engagement.  Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement.  You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground.  Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.

 

 

I use this for people that really present in an anterior pelvic tilt, or with people that appear to have too loose of an anterior hip capsule.  In fact, this has completely replaced the common variations of hip flexor stretches in all of our programs at Champion.  This works great for people with low back pain, hip pain, and postural and biomechanical issues related to too much of an anterior pelvic tilt.

Give the true hip flexor stretch a try and let me know what you think.

 

 

How to Perform Lower Body Plyometrics

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Perform Lower Body Plyometrics is now available.

How to Perform Lower Body Plyometrics

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Perform Lower Body Plyometrics.  In this presentation, I demonstrate the different types of plyometric exercises you can perform for the lower body and show some of my favorite progressions.

This webinar will cover:

  • The different types of plyometric exercises you can perform for the lower body
  • How I progress from two leg to one leg drills
  • How I progress different planes of motions
  • The keys to choosing the best exercise for your goal

To access this webinar:

 

6 Hip Mobility Drills Everyone Should Perform

Recently, I have seen dozens of social media posts with “advanced” hip mobility drills that made me stop and think…

Should we actually be seeking to perform these advanced variations?

I would argue most people still need the basics, and should incorporate just a handful of more simple drills as the foundation of their mobility drills.

The internet is famous for sensationalizing the drills that look “fancy” rather than the ones that are likely the most effective.  It’s probably another case of the Pareto Principle, where 80% of the drills seen online should only be performed 20% of the time, and conversely, 20% of the drills seen online should be performed 80% of the time!  Heck it may be even less than that when it comes to hip mobility.

To make matters worse, the more advanced hip mobility drills are probably inappropriate for most people.  In my experience, limitations in hip mobility seem to be more related to the individuals unique anatomy, boney adaptations, and alignment rather than simple soft tissue limitations.  So, forcing hip mobility drills through anatomical limitations is just going to cause more impingement and issues with the hips, rather than helping.

Sometimes less is more.

 

My Favorite Hip Mobility Drills

I wanted to share my favorite hip mobility that I use with most of my clients.  I think you should really focus on these hip mobility drills before proceeding to more advanced variations.  If these don’t do the trick, it’s probably best that you seek out a qualified movement specialist to assess the reason behind you hip mobility limitations, rather than forcing more drills.

 

Quadruped Rockbacks

The first drill is a quadruped rockback.  This is one of my favorite drills for the hips, and feels great to loosen up the adductors and hip joint into flexion.  Plus, I do these barefoot to get more dorsiflexion and great toe extension.

 

Adductor Quadruped Rockbacks

The adductor quadruped rockback is a variation of the rockback that involves straightening out one hip.  This takes away a little bit of the hip flexion benefit, but enhances the effect on the adductors.  Performing this on both sides is the best of both worlds.

 

True Hip Flexor Stretch

The true hip flexor stretch is probably the most fundamental hip mobility drill we should all be performing.  I started calling it the “true” hip flexor stretch because the more common versions of this do not lock in the posterior pelvic tilt and just end up torquing the anterior capsule.

 

Posterior Hip Stretch

The posterior hip stretch feels great on the glutes and hits the posterior hip area, which is often tight.  Many people feel like the can get into a hip hinge much better after this drill.

 

Figure 4 Stretch

The posterior hip is a complicated area of muscles, I often pair the figure 4 stretch with the posterior hip stretch above to get different areas.  For me, I simple go by the feedback from my client on what feels more effective for them.

 

Spiderman

The Spiderman hip mobility drill is likely the most advanced of this list, which is why I have it last.  This is something I don’t always perform right away, but is a goal of mine to integrate with everyone eventually.  This requires more hip mobility that the others, so acts as a nice progression to put these all together.

 

How to Get Started with Hip Mobility Drills?

So wondering how to get started?  Start with the quadruped rockbacks and hip flexor stretch.  Those two are very foundational and will be the most impactful for most people.  Once you get those down, progress to the posterior hip stretch and figure 4 to hit more of the posterior aspect of the hip.  Lastly, progress to the Spiderman drill.

I honestly don’t think you need much more than that, and if you seek to get too aggressive with hip mobility drills, you often make things worse.

 

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

how pelvic tilt influences hamstring and spine mobilityHow many people come to you and complain that they have tight hamstrings?  It seems like an epidemic sometimes, right?  I know it’s pretty common for me, at least.  

Many people just tug away at their hamstrings and aggressively stretch, which may not only be barking up the wrong tree, but also disadvantageous.

I have really gotten away from blindly stretching the hamstrings without a proper assessment, as I feel that pelvic position is often the reason why people think they are tight.  This is pretty easy to miss.

In the video below, I want to explain and help you visualize the how pelvic tilt influences hamstring mobility and spine position.  Often times the hamstrings feel “tight” or “short” when in reality their pelvic position is just giving us this illusion.  I talk about this a lot with clients at Champion and often find myself making these drawings on our whiteboard.

Keep this in mind next time you think someone has tight hamstrings or has too much thoracic kyphosis.  Often times the key is in the hips!

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

 

Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

If you are interested in learning more, I have a couple of great webinars for my Inner Circle members that you may find helpful:

Hip Variations and Why My Squat Isn’t Your Squat

Today’s article is an AMAZING guest post from my friend Dean Somerset.  I’ve been talking a lot lately about how hip anatomy should change your mechanics and why exercises like squats should be individualized based on each person, but Dean blows this topic out of the water with this article.  If you love this stuff as much as I, check out the link at the bottom for Dean and Tony Gentilcore’s new program, The Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is covered in the program.

 

Hip Variations and Why My Squat Isn’t Your Squat

In a recent workshop, I had a group of 50 fit and active fitness professionals and asked them all to do their best bodyweight squat with a position that felt good, didn’t produce pain, and was as deep as they could manage. As you can imagine, looking around the room produced 50 different squats. Some were wide, narrow, deep, high, turned out feet or some variation all of the above.

Did these differences mean there was a standard everyone should aim for, and those who weren’t there had to try to improve their mobility or strength or balance in that position? Maybe, but there’s probably a bunch of other reasons as to why 50 people have 50 different squats.

A standard requirement for powerlifting is to squat to a depth that involves having the crease of the hips below the vertical position of the knee. That’s probably the only known requirement for squat depth out there. The universal recommendation of “ass to grass” depth being the best thing since sliced bread may sound nice on paper (or in Instagram videos or Youtube segments), but it might be something that’s relatively difficult for some people to achieve, and for others it could be downright impossible, regardless of how much mobility work or soft tissue attacks they go through. The benefits of a deep squat seem to only be reserved for those who have the ability to express those benefits by accessing that range of motion without some other compensatory issue.

Let’s just consider simple stuff like anthropometric differences between individuals. Someone who is taller will have a bigger range of motion to go through to hit a parallel position than someone who is shorter, and someone with longer femurs in relation to their torso length will have a harder time maintaining balance over their base of support compared to someone who has shorter femurs. A long femur could be any femur that comprises more than 26% of an individual’s’ total height. So someone who is tall and long femured will have trouble getting down to or below parallel due to simply having the limb lengths to allow the bar to stay over the base of support during the squat motion without losing balance one way or the other.

Not as commonly known is the degree of retroversion or anteversion the femoral necks can make. The shaft of the femur doesn’t just always go straight up and insert into the pelvis with a solid 90 degree alignment. On occasion the neck can be angled forward (femoral head is anterior to the shaft) in a position known as anteversion, or angled backward (femoral head is posterior to the shaft) in a position known as retroversion. Zalawadia et al (2010) showed the variances in femoral neck angles could be as much as 24 degrees between samples, which can be a huge difference when it comes to the ability to move a joint through a range of motion.

hip variations squat

The acetabulum could itself be in a position of anteversion or retroversion, and this difference itself could be more than 30 degrees. This means the same shaped acetabulum would give someone who has the most anteverted acetabulum 30 extra degrees of flexion than someone who had the most retroverted acetabulum, but would give them 30 degrees more extension than the anteverted hips.

There’s also the differences in centre-edge angles, or the angle made from the center of the femoral head through the vertical axis and the outer edge of the lateral acetabulum. Laborie et al (2012) measured this angle in 2038 19 year old Norwegians, and found that it ranged from 20.8 degrees to 45.0 degrees with a mean of 32 in males and 31 in females.

hip anatomy squat

Now to throw even another monkey wrench into the problem, there’s the simple fact that your left and right hips can be at different angles from each other! Zalawadia (same guy as before) showed that the angle of anteversion or retroversion of the femur could be significantly different from left to right, sometimes more than 20 degrees worth of difference.

squat anatomy

All of this can have a direct effect on their available range of motion. You can’t easily mobilize bone into bone and create a new range from that interaction, so if one person has hips where the bony alignment and shape doesn’t causes earlier contact in a specific direction compared to someone else who has a different shaped and aligned hip structure, it’s going to show in their overall mobility.

Elson and Aspinal (2008) showed that there can be a massive variation in both passive and active movements of the hip across age ranges and gender differences. They showed a true hip flexion range of between 80-140 degrees (mean of 25)with no lumbar rounding, a strict active straight leg raise with no lumbar rounding range of 30-90 degrees (mean of 70), and active leg raise with lumbar rounding of 50-90 degrees (mean of 86). This means someone in their sample managed to get 60 degrees more hip flexion than someone else in the sample. There was also a range of between 5-40 degrees of hip extension too, and across an age range from 19-89 years old, that’s a notable difference, especially if you work in general populations where everyone walks into the gym and over to the squat rack.

D’Lima et al (2000) found that hip flexion ROM could be as low as 75 degrees with 0 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion, but as high as 155 degrees, with 30 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion. An increase in femoral neck diameter of as little as 2mm was able to reduce hip flexion range by 1.5 – 8.5 degrees, depending on the direction of motion.

So essentially, your ability to achieve a specific range of motion is as much up to your unique articular geometry as it is to your strength and mobility. In many cases, it’s entirely independent of your strength and mobility, and no amount of stretching, mashing, crushing, or stripping will improve it. In many cases, trying to achieve that range of motion that’s outside of your joints ability to achieve will cause less desirable results, like bone to bone contact and irritation (potentially leading to things like femoroacetabular impingement), or compensatory movement from other joints like the SI joint or lumbar spine.

So with as much involved with the structure as I’ve presented here, and how impactful it can be to the end result of total motion of the hips during exercises, how can you determine whether it’s a limiting factor or not? If you happen to have X-ray vision you can do a good job of this, but you’d likely be charging a heck of a lot more money than you are right now for your services.

What we have available is a detailed assessment that focuses on a combination of features.

Involving a passive assessment to assume a theoretically available range of motion and shape of movement capability, an active assessment to see how they can use that range and whether there’s a difference between the two, and then determining strength or motor pattern aptitudes for the movements can be the best tools we have at our disposal, and then coaching the movement until their face sweats blood.

By using multiple approaches to assessing available and usable range of motion, you can get multiple views into a room that can paint a broader picture of what’s available. If the person has the ability to easily let their knee drop to their chest on your treatment table and squat to the floor, there’s obviously no restriction to their range of motion. If they have trouble breaking 90 degrees, even if they move wider through abduction and external rotation, their active range is limited through multiple tests, and their ability to show you a squat shows a lumbar flexion at around 90 degrees of hip flexion as well, the odds of you mobilizing that tissue to produce a significantly bigger range may be limited.

 

Passive Assessment of Hip Structure

 

Active Hip Flexion Capability Against Gravity

 

Active Rockback for Hip Flexion without Gravity Influence

 

Supported Squat Assessment


If all of these tests show a specific limitation to the range of motion consistently across all situations, it could be assumed that there would be a structural limitation versus passive insufficiency, weakness or other considerations. If active testing is limited but passive or supported assessments are fine, there could be a strength or motor pattern limitation holding the movement back.

Now sure, there’s a lot of brakes that could be restricting that range, from things like scar tissue to guarding and some soft tissue restrictions. Doing some work to help reduce that can help improve overall range of motion, but in some cases will be limited to just minimal gains. In some situations, trainers or therapists may work on improving range of motion for weeks or months and see no improvement, and in many cases the deck would be stacked against them seeing any improvement at all.

customized squat pattern

As mentioned earlier, there could also be an asymmetric structural element at play, which may necessitate an asymmetric setup for the movement where one foot is either turned out more, held slightly forward or back, or even turned into something like a one-heel elevated squat. The difference between this and a lunge is merely how far back that elevated foot is relative to the other foot, but again it’s taking advantage of potential asymmetries in structure and allowing an asymmetric set up to be more congruent with the individual.

Another way to think of it is if we have a potentially asymmetric structure yet force a symmetric set up on it, we may be creating an imbalance or compensative element in our training versus preventing it.

The Complete Hip and Shoulder Blueprint

complere shoulder and hip blueprintThese and many more elements are discussed in Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint, a new continuing education resource from Tony Gentilcore and Dean Somerset. This digital video product is 11 hours of lecture and hands on where they break down pertinent anatomy, considerations for program design, and delve into assessments, corrective options, and training considerations for these 2 highly involved complex structures.

The series is currently on a launch sale pricing, and the entire package is available for only $137 versus the regular pricing of $177. The sale is on from November 1 through 5, so act quickly to get your copy.  Click below to learn more or check out the below preview video!

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Should Everyone Deadlift?

Many people have called the deadlift, “the king of all exercises.”  And rightfully so, as there may not be a bigger bang-for-your-buck exercise out there.

In my opinion, the deadlift is the most underutilized exercise in rehabilitation.  Perhaps the move is intimidating?  Perhaps people are afraid of barbells?  Perhaps people are worried patients may hurt their backs?  Perhaps rehab professionals don’t know enough about strength and conditioning?

I always say that I am a much better physical therapist because I am also a strength coach, and always keep learning from many great strength coaches.

As the gap between rehab and performance continues to narrow, the deadlift may be the final exercise to cross the chasm.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the deadlift, however, we also need to understand the the conventional deadlift is not for everyone.

 

Why Everyone Should Deadlift

should everyone deadliftOne of the most important trends in rehabilitation and strength and conditioning over the last decade or two has been the move away from muscle-based exercises and shift towards movement-based exercises.  Rather than work on quad strength, work on squatting, for example.  (Photo credit by the man, the myth, and the deadlift legend Tony Gentilcore)

The deadlift is essentially a hip hinge pattern, which is extremely functional and equally elusive for many people.

Put simply, people can’t hinge anymore!  It’s amazing.

As our society changes and relies more on poor posture patterns, prolonged seated periods, and things like excessive use of smartphones, I’m amazed how it seems even kids can’t touch their toes anymore.

Working on a poor hip hinge pattern is extremely helpful for so many different issues that I see every day.  From back pain, to knee pain, to even poor sport performance.

We have become so anterior chain dominant.  Luckily, the deadlift hits the entire posterior chain in one big lift.  

So the the deadlift really helps with the hip hinge pattern, but there are so many other benefits including working on better posture, glute development, lower extremity power development, a stronger core, stronger lats, and even enhanced grip strength.  

You can see why it’s such a big bang-for-your-buck exercise.

 

Why Everyone Shouldn’t Deadlift

Wait a minute…

I just spent the first half talking about how beneficial the deadlift is for so many people.  Why shouldn’t everyone perform a deadlift?

Let me clarify – I’m talking about the conventional barbell deadlift.

Take a step back and remember that we are more concerned about movements, than muscles, right?  So luckily there are many variations of hinging, and even deadlifts, that can be utilized to achieve all the above great goals.

Perhaps the deadlift is so underutilized in the rehab setting because everyone just looks at the conventional barbell deadlift.  That’s like going straight to the top, saying that there is no way you can perform that exercise, then just scrapping all forms of deadlifts and hip hinge exercises.

Most people that walk into the door at Champion have no chance at being successful at a conventional barbell deadlift.  Among other things, you need:

  • Good mobility
  • An understanding of the hinge pattern neuromuscular pattern
  • The ability to load, essentially lift a weight with intent

Most people don’t have at least 2-3 of these qualities.

We’ll try to get them there with the right blend of mobility drills, corrective exercises, and manual therapy, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to start deadlifting.  We just need to start at a more regressed level.

So, don’t immediately scrap the deadlift, find a way to incorporate it.  Work within your mobility and limited range, try a variation using a kettlebell or sumo stance, and use submaximal loads until you can groove a proper hip hinge pattern.

deadlift variations

One of my favorite resources on deadlift technique and variations is this excellent article by Mike Robertson.

As you improve, you can incorporate more advanced forms of the deadlift, but don’t simply scrap the deadlift until then, modify!

 

3 Ways to Modify a Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

If you want to learn more, I have an Inner Circle webinar on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift, the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and really underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform them.

To access this webinar:

3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform is now available.

 

 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

3 ways to modify the deadlift so anyone can performThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift: the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and especially underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform.


This webinar will cover:

  • Why deadlifts are so important
  • The 3 most common reasons why people can’t deadlift
  • How to regress and vary the movement
  • How to include at any stage of the rehab and performance spectrum


To access this webinar:

 

How Neural Tension Influences Hamstring Flexibility

Many people think they have tight hamstrings.  This may be the case for some but there are often times that people feel “tight” but aren’t really tight.

I’ve been playing around with how neural tension influences hamstring flexibility and have been having great results.

Watch this video below, which is a clip from my product Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement, to learn more about what I mean.

 

How Neural Tension Influences Hamstring Flexibility

 

Learn Exactly How I Optimize Movement

Want to learn even more about how I optimize movement?  Eric Cressey and I have teamed up on Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement, to show you exactly how we both assess, coach, and build programs designed to optimize movement.

Click the button below for more information and to sign up now!

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