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Best Exercises To Use For Improving Hip & Pelvic Stability

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 25 October 2017
Hits: 34909

We have discussed countless times how important it is to maintain or improve your hip mobility, for hip stiffness is attributed to many of the common injuries seen in the lower limbs and also the back. Just stretching the hips may assist in improving mobility but will do very little to correcting stability problems, or weakness within the hip region. Clicking or clunking sounds in the hip, osteoarthritis and weakness are a sure sign your hip is unstable and needs a corrective strategy using exercises, not stretching. Every year we see more and more people in our rehabilitation program with all types of injuries and pain, and on our first assessment there is very little hip mobility, and a complete loss of stabilizers through the pelvis and lumbar spine. As a result every day movement patterns of squat, lunge and bend have compensatory movements within them creating all types of injuries away from the hips. Treatment from medical professionals do very little to help these people as they continue to concentrate on the area in pain, all the while neglecting the fact that the person's hips have become rigid and stiff. This article we are going to show you how to firstly mobilize the hips but more importantly teach your body the correct way of stabilizing this very important joint.

What Is The Role Of The Hip With Movement?

I mentioned in the introduction that the hip is a big cause of many injuries. From ACL tears, to herniated discs in the lower back, the hip is a huge part of the problem. This joint is very similar to the shoulder in that it is responsible for providing multi directional movements used in sports, but also for many everyday tasks. Even simple tasks such as walking require a huge involvement from the hip for mobility, but also to absorb our body weight and remain stable. The simple movement of standing on one leg increases the weight on the hip by two and a half times the body weight and walking up stairs increases by three times! And running and jumping even higher again.

If you have a problem at your hip you are set up for a stack of future problems. See the video below for a quick example of how this works.

As with the shoulder, there is multiple muscles that attach to the hip that provide many different functions, sometimes for providing better balance and strength, and at other times required to provide freedom of movement and range of motion. Many people can train for strength or flexibility but understanding how to maintain stability is a key ingredient often missed. And it is in this area of exercise, that many of the answers to common injuries are found. Firstly let's explain the role of the hip within movements.

Take a look at the picture below.

Firstly you can see from this picture how every second joint needs a completely different role to the one above or below. This is a concept developed by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle and it provides great insight into where to look, and more importantly what to do. You will notice joints like the ankle, hip and thoracic spine require flexibility and mobility, where others like the knee and lumbar spine need stability and strength. Here is a summary of how it works.

  1. Feet - The feet have a tendency to being lazy, and easily losing strength and motor control. The feet need exercises to make them stronger and more stable.
  2. Ankle - The ankle tends to develop stiffness very easily and needs more focus on mobility in order to provide all the multi directional movements of the lower limb.
  3. Knee - The knee is basically a hinge joint and incapable of multi directional movement like the ankle. It needs Stability and strength work to ensure it does not get injured as in ACL tears.
  4. Hip - This joint is often the cause of many problems. Like the ankle it provides multi directional movements but for reasons we will look at shortly they have a tendency towards stiffness and as a result benefit from flexibility and mobility work.
  5. Lumbar Spine - The lumbar spine needs stability to prevent unwanted flexion or extension. A bit like the knee joint this is just a hinge and incapable of rotation.
  6. Thoracic Spine - Requires mobility and like the hips is pivotal in providing the athletic rotational movements in tennis, golf etc.
  7. Glenohumeral Joint - Requires a mixture of stability and mobility. This along with the scapula are a unique joint in that they require both. Another reason why they are often injured and difficult to treat.

Secondly you can see four pictures to the left of sports and general moving. All four of these movements require a different function of the hip where both mobility and stability is present. In many cases people lack the mobility as we now know this is essential to the hip complex. Based on this all you need to do is get good hip flexibility and mobility right? Not quite. Some people actually have too much mobility which is how instability that creates stiffness and wear and tear, eventually leading to osteoarthritis. So it is a combination of restoring mobility and following up with stability to make sure the joint can effectively control the ball in the socket.

I will repeat that for you, for this part is crucial to understand.

YOU MUST RESTORE MOBILITY BUT INSTANTLY FOLLOW UP WITH STABILITY TRAINING TO EFFECTIVELY STABILIZE THE JOINT!

To restore mobility you just need to do some stretches right? Well it is not that easy, for lying on the floor doing stretches will not change a movement like a lunge or a bending pattern that requires some degree of stability in conjunction with being flexible and mobile. This is the fundamental flaw of most health treatments that focus solely on manual therapy and stretching. For the person may appear to be improving greatly on the table or on the floor, and perhaps they are, but when they stand up the body has not been taught a better way to stabilize and just resets back to the old settings of stiffness. This is also why people repeatedly keep hurting themselves, for they think it is all good once the pain has gone and go back to what they were doing and just end up in the same place. You must teach your body how to move better, by remaining mobile in a position that also requires stability. It is your job to teach your body how to "switch on" the stabilizers and not resort back to using the hips to do the work again.

A great quote that sums this up by John Gibbons, author of the book The Vital Glutes is: "Tight muscles show themselves lying down, whereas weak muscles show themselves standing up".

Ideas on how to mobilize your hip are in the videos below. And I encourage you to read our detailed article "Are Tight Hips The Cause Of Your Back & Knee Pain" for more ideas on how to do this.

So What Are The Best Hip Stability Exercises?

I hate using the word "best" as to be honest there is no one size fits all best exercise, only the best exercise for you. But to give you an idea of what we regard as our "go to exercises" here is a list to consider. Just bear in mind you still need to consider things like foot stability and ankle mobility as these joints play big part in creating compensation at the hip. But for the sake of keeping this article simple we will look solely at the hip and pelvic area. Let's start with the simplest drills first. Also I must define stability really means. Many people confuse exercises like planks, crunches and various Pilates exercises with stability.

True stability is all about TIMING! Being able to react with perfect reflexes to be able to maintain joint alignment ready for efficient and smooth movement. This is the secret to teaching the hip how to keep the mobility but maintain the stability of the joint at the same time. So many people neglect this training or just completely misunderstand it and create more problems than they solve due to the fact they are using exercises to create stiffness and not stability. Below is a good video that explains this concept for you, but you also might want to read our article "Stability Training & What It Really Means".

Stability Exercise 1 - Inner Unit Function

This is the easiest place to start and really ensures that you know how to create stability at the pelvis using your abdominal muscles and not your hips. The two exercises in the videos below teach you how to activate your inner unit stabilizers. The lower abdominal exercise is much harder when hip stiffness is present as the hip muscles have learned to become the stability to the pelvis. Every time the hips try to fire up to create the stiffness in the spine they move the pelvis into anterior tilt and as a result you lose your lumbar spine stability. The harder you try the worse you make it. The only way to stabilize is to use your inner unit and gently posterior tilt the pelvis into the floor.We find 8/10 people fail this test and can take up to a month to really grasp the concept of using the abdominal muscles to do the work and not the hips.

Do not under estimate the importance of breathing with these exercises too. Far too many people fail this for they do not how to breathe correctly to activate these muscles. Read our article "Do You Know How To Breathe Correctly When Exercising" for more detail on this.

Stability Exercise 2 - Reverse Clam & Closed Clam Exercise

This is an interesting exercise that I learned in the book from Dr Evan Oscar "Corrective Exercise Solutions To Common Hip & Shoulder Dysfunction". Many people are very familiar with the clam shell exercise used to isolate the glutes and provide the external rotation of the hip. And while this is a great exercise and a form of stability training itself, I found his explanation for using the reverse clam shell fascinating and put it into practice in my own training with great affect. These exercises assist in regaining internal rotation which for some is the reason for instability. The closed clam shell improves hip centration by activating the hip flexors and abductors external rotators all at the same time. Quite an unusual exercise but can be effective in the beginning to learning better stabilization for the more complex movements to come.

Stability Exercise 3 - Horse Stance & Prone Jackknife

Again another very familiar exercise to many people and one that is highly under rated. This is where "reflex stability" comes out for the first time and you begin to see cracks appear in how a person maintains stability during movement. I like to add the challenge of extra instability by placing a BOSU under the client's knee and asking them to find a way to stabilize. It is amazing how difficult people can find this exercise and they must go through the struggle to learn how to effectively move without falling over.

The prone jack knfie is a unique exercise in that it forces you to find stiffness at the lumbar spine with much more pronounced movement at the hips than the horse stance as both hips are moving. This exercise is often referred to as hip disassociation for you must separate the hips from the mechanism of stability in order to it right. Below is a video that shows you good form versus bad form where the hips are working too much as stabilizers.

Stability Exercise 4 - Inline Lunge

Have you noticed, we are gradually working our way up to standing? Again this is another exercise that looks really easy, but if you have hip stiffness, you will be in for a real surprise when you keep falling over. This is excellent to use in combination with lunges for the person who struggles to maintain optimal form and technique. The hips MUST not stiffen here or you cannot move. A great exercise with the older client who has lost significant balance and that reflex timing to thrust the hip forward when they encounter a slip. People with lower back pain usually have great trouble with this as the hips have stiffened up so much to provide trunk stability they cannot move their legs without falling forward.

Stability Exercise 5 - Toe Touch Drill

We are now at a stage where we are trying to stand on one leg. This exercise is critical to get to very early on, even if the other exercises are still not yet perfect you MUST start learning how to use this, and master it. For the simple fact is you still walk, so you are using this pattern anyway, so you may as well start learning how to do it right. This particular exercise is very difficult for the person with lower limb injuries like knee pain. The stiff hips force the femur into excessive internal rotation causing a chain reaction of faulty alignment that places the knee in a poor position, along with the ankle and also the feet. This is one of our key exercises for piriformis syndrome clients who struggle to activate the glutes in a single leg stance and is pivotal to the success of the program.

Again as I mentioned earlier please do not neglect the impact poor foot stability and ankle restriction can have on creating hip problems. Make sure you read our article "Why Poor Ankle Mobility Can Create A Chain Reaction Of Dysfunction" for more detail on this. I have included a video below next to the toe touch drill that gives you some great examples of how to improve foot stability in conjunction with hip mechanics.

Stability Exercise 6 - Multi Direction Lunge

This exercise now forces the hip into movements in 360 degrees with the lateral movements external rotation the most difficult for people with hip instability to master. If you play sports mastering this exercise is a must. Again many of the knee injuries will occur in the lateral movement meaning there is a dysfunction that must be corrected here to ensure you no more further injury will happen. This exercise starts of being a flexibility and mobility challenge, before progressing to a coordination, stability and eventually a strength challenge. There is just so many benefits to learning this exercise that it must be a part of all programs, for all people no matter what age.

Free Reports To Download To Assist You In Moving Better

As we have covered a stack of information here and really just skimming the surface of what you need to do there is some great Free Reports you can grab below that give you additional detail on other exercises and methods to improve your ability to move better. Click the image of the report you need and download straight away.

Specific Injury Online Programs

Throughout the article I mentioned several times specific injuries that will require more in depth assessing and programming. Injuries common to hip dysfunction are back, knee and also piriformis syndrome injuries. We have online video with detailed PDF reports you can download with specific exercises, assessments, stretches, mobility drills and step by step programs for getting rid of these painful injuries. Click on the image below of the program you require.

Conclusion

I hope this article gives you some great insights and ideas on how you can go about improving your hip and pelvic stability to not only reduce pain but be able to move more efficiently. Far too many people believe that osteoarthritis is due to old age, when in fact it is an affect of instability wearing out the joints, and the hip is one of the most beaten up joints in the body. Learning how to look after this joint is critical for preventing back pain, knee pain but also being able to play sports with rotation like golf and tennis. Static stretching will have little affect on improving your mobility if the body does not learn how to effectively stabilize itself, and you cannot do that with planks or lying on your back doing crunches. You must learn how to apply reflex level movements that incorporate multiple muscles in the right order to have any chance. The efforts in doing so are well worth it.

If you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our Personal Training or Rehabilitation programs click the image below to request a free consultation and I will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a time.