11 Exercises to Boost Hip StrengthSaturday, April 1st, 2017, 2:14 am
When discussing muscles involved in the pedaling motion of cycling, most people think of quadriceps and hamstrings. While these muscles certainly play an important role, the many muscles of the hip also deserve attention, and the weight room is the perfect place to keep them functioning properly.
Before discussing different strength and mobility exercises, we should first look at activation exercises for your Gluteus Maximus (referred to as the glutes) muscles. The reason for needing to activate your glutes is simple—as a population, we spend way too much time sitting, and as a result, what happens is what noted spinal researcher Stuart McGill terms gluteal amnesia—your glute muscles can “go to sleep” and not function properly.
When your glutes aren’t functioning properly, other muscles (hamstrings and lumbar extensors) are called in to do the job of the glutes, mainly hip extension. Think of hip extension as the downward action of pedaling.
The problem is that these muscles aren’t designed to be prime movers—they’re designed to support the action of the glutes. Inability of activating the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating), hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength).
So, to activate your glutes, try the single-leg hip lift. Here’s how it’s done:
Single Leg Hip-Lift
Lie down on the floor with your legs bent as shown and lift one foot off the floor. Lift your hips up in the air, concentrating on contracting your glute muscles (think pushing through your heel). Make sure you keep your toes of the working leg up as shown. Pause for a second or two and lower. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps each side.
This exercise can be done anytime, but works particularly well before a strength workout to “wake up” your glutes, especially if you have been sitting for a while.
Keeping your hips mobile is important for overall hip function and athletic performance. Mobility refers to the ability of your joints to move through a pain-free, unrestricted range of motion. As cyclists, hip mobility is critical since pedaling occurs in one plane of motion, and, after miles and miles in the saddle, hip tightness and restriction may develop. Here are a couple of movements that you can do to work on your hip mobility:
The traditional split squat is a great exercise to get started on hip mobility. To make this exercise even better, concentrate on contracting your glute on the trailing leg to help stretch your hip flexor. Try 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps per side.
Stand with your feet approximately double shoulder-width apart. Shift your weight to one side and drop your hips down and back, keeping your knee over your toes and your weight over your bent leg. Pause for a 2-count, return to the starting position and repeat to the other side. Aim for two or three sets of 8-12 reps per side.
If you are currently doing a regular strength-training program, chances are you’re already doing some foundation exercises for your hips. Squats, lunges, leg presses, and step-ups all work the prime movers of your hips.
Along with these exercises, it’s also important to do some supplementary exercises to work your hip’s supporting muscles. You’ve probably heard of your shoulder’s rotator cuff. Well, your hip also has a cuff, or a group of muscles that help stabilize and support movement. For these exercises, you’ll need a mini-band, a longer thera-band or tubing (both are sold at many sporting goods stores, or can be purchased online), and a cable-column unit.
Place a mini band around your ankles and spread your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your legs relatively straight (you want the motion to come from your hips) and toes pointing forward, walk forward 10 steps, then backward 10 steps. Take a short break and then walk to the right 10 steps, then to the left 10 steps. Again, focus on keeping your legs straight and toes pointing forward.
It is very important to start with a light-resistance band. You’ll be working the smaller hip stabilizers, so you don’t need a lot of resistance.
You can also do the same movements described above with the mini band around your thighs as shown below. This changes the angle of pull on your hips, which will work them a bit differently.
For this one, you’ll need a large band or piece of tubing. Step on the band and spread your feet shoulder-width apart. Form an “X” in front of you with the band and stand up nice and tall with your shoulders down and back. Keeping your toes pointing forward, take 10 steps to the right, pause and then return.
4-Way Cable Hip
You’ll need a cable column for this one. Attach the cable to an ankle cuff and secure it around your ankle. With this exercise you’re focusing on four movements—flexion, extension, abduction and adduction. Try and stand up straight while doing the exercise. If you have to lean excessively, reduce the weight. You’ll find that not only are you working the muscles of the leg that’s moving, the muscles of your stance leg will work quite hard stabilizing and balancing. Try 10 reps each direction.
Modifications to Traditional Exercises
Our hip joints are very mobile and allow for movement in three planes of motion: the sagittal plane (flexion and extension), frontal plane (lateral movements), and the transverse plane (rotation). Knowing that, here are several modifications you can make to your traditional exercises to work your hips through a more complete range of motion.
- Lateral Lunges
- Rotational Lunges
Step Up Variations:
- Lateral Step-Up
- Rotational Step-Up
Now that you have an understanding of these exercises, let’s discuss how to integrate them into your strength-training program. You don’t need to do all of them in a single workout; instead, pick one prime movement and one supplementary movement.
For example, one workout you may want to do lateral lunges with mini-band ankle walks. Another workout you may choose rotational step-ups with the 4-way cable hip exercise. The activation, mobility, and flexibility exercises can be done more frequently and not necessarily as part of a stand-alone workout. There’s no one-right way to incorporate these exercises, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
One word of advice, however: the supplementary exercises (mini-band walks, X-band walks, and the 4-way cable hip exercise) work on the smaller hip muscles, and in the case of the 4-way cable hip, balance. Focus more on form and control rather than trying to add a lot of resistance. Your hips will thank you!
For more information about strengthening your hips, please visit Active.com.
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