If you want to crush your next set of squats or pull a deadlift PR, one of the most important things you should be working on is your hip mobility.
I know that seems backward. Shouldn't we be working on building pure strength?
While us athletes and gym enthusiasts love to challenge ourselves by lifting heavy weights, the importance of mobility and flexibility can't be understated. Not paying attention to our joints and tendons while constantly working on increasing strength can lead to suboptimal athletic performance (at best) and injury (at worst).
If you’re finding that you aren’t able to move up in weight without compromising your form, or you just can’t get into the right positions to increase your strength, you might need to give more time to mobility drills and stretching.
Mobility is especially important in the hips since you’re likely pulling much heavier weights with your legs than most of your other muscle groups and your performance is directly affected by the flexibility and range of motion of your hip joints.
Why is Hip Mobility So Important?
In short: limited range of motion is going to compromise any type of movement, whether they're engaging your hips or another part of your body.
When it comes to hip mobility specifically, having "tight" hips can limit how deeply you can squat, which directly impacts how much strength you can build (the deeper the squat, the more muscles are recruited, providing more opportunity for strength building).
Not to mention, tight hips can also prime you for injury, especially when you start adding more challenging weight. Think of the old bamboo analogy: bamboo is one of the strongest materials because it is also bendy - it can handle a lot of weight without breaking.
You can think of flexible, mobile hip joints and muscles like bamboo; able to stretch under weight, but not break. On the flip side, tight hip joints can be compared to large branches - they might be "strong," but add to much weight and, because they aren't flexible, they're liable to break.
So, how can you get started with hip mobility?
The key is to start slowly, especially if you have never worked on mobility before. Our bodies are pretty adaptable, so don't worry if that first session seems extremely tight - you'll loosen in no time.
At least once a week, or before you do heavy leg days, work through these mobility drills to open up tight hips and improve your flexibility.
If your hips are especially tight to begin with, you might have some difficulty getting into these positions at first. Luckily, that’s what they are here to fix! Get into the positions as best you can and hold the stretches to increase your flexibility, taking care not to "push" too hard into the movements. If you can only get halfway into the exercise, then that's your starting point. Over time, your range of motion and flexibility will increase.
It helps to get in a quick warm up before jumping into these: think jumping jacks, jump rope, or any other activity that gets your blood pumping to warm those muscles.
Work out your hip’s inner range of motion with this exercise. Start in a low squat position with your hands on the ground behind you holding your weight. Rotate one knee inward towards the ground, then repeat the movement with the other.
Stand with your legs very wide apart and feet firmly planted. Slowly shift all your weight to the right leg, leaning into it while straightening out the left leg. Your right knee should be bent forward but not over the toe, and you should feel the stretch in your inner groin. Hold for ten seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat on the left side.
Take those lateral squats one step further. With your feet planted wide, get into a low squat. Shift all the weight to one side, stretching out the inner hip, and hold. Return to center and repeat on the other side.
Start by lying on your back with feet on the ground. Cross your right ankle over the top of your left thigh so that your legs make a “figure 4.” Grab the back of your left thigh with both hands and slowly pull it towards you. You should feel a deep stretch in your hips. Hold and repeat.
Start on all fours with your knees wide and set out to the side (think like a frog's legs). Move slowly and with control back and forth, focusing on the movement of your hip flexors. You can also move to your forearms for a deeper stretch.
Get into a deep kneeling lunge with your back knee on the ground and front foot as far forward as is comfortable while still keeping your shin upright. Lean into your front leg, moving forward and backward, and repeat on the other side.
Start in a kneeling lunge. Cross the front leg in front of your body at a 90-degree angle so that your shin is flat on the ground and extend the other leg back. Lean as far forward as you can, keeping your knee at that 90-degree angle. Hold and repeat.
Sit upright with your legs in front of you and the soles of your feet touching. Pull your feet in as close to your body as possible. You should feel a great stretch on both inner thighs. Work to get your knees as open and close to the ground as possible.
Incorporating these mobility exercises several times per week will help you squat deeper, lift heavier, and prevent immobilizing chronic hip pain down the road.