"Open your hips!"
"Squeeze your butt!"
Ever heard your coach tell you to do these things during your workout, especially with barbell work? Ever wonder what they are trying to get you to do?
This is where most of the power comes from (or should come from) during explosive movements such as the box jump, kipping pull-up and Olympic lifts. Ascending from the bottom of a squat, locking out the deadlift, and generating a good 2nd pull in the Olympic lifts all require powerful hip extension.
Primarily, the gluteus maximus is responsible for producing hip extension. This is the large muscle of your buttock region. Have a look at any sport which requires explosive efforts (think Rugby, Olympic Lifting, MMA, sprinting) - I will bet that the top athletes have extremely well-developed glutes in order for them to excel at their sport.
So where does it go wrong?
Thanks to technology and our sedentary lifestyles which involve a lot of sitting, the front of our hips tend to get tight and overactive. Over time, what this does is creates an imbalance where the front of our hips dominate over the back of our hips (glutes!). The result of this is an anterior pelvic tilt/shift, as seen below.
This change in pelvis position makes it extremely difficult for the glutes to engageproperly. Some would argue that it's impossible.
What does this mean for CrossFitters and the general population?
Remember how the glutes are essential for movements such as the deadlift and to rise out from a chair? Well, since they cannot fire properly, the body has to find a way to compensate to take up the slack. One of the most common ways it does this is by producing lumbar (lower back) extension.
The muscles in the lower back have a main role to stabilise the spine and keep it relatively rigid. When they are forced to produce power (as well as simultaneously stabilise the spine), these muscles often get overloaded.
I bet you can think of someone who has lower back pain, who complains of lower back and hamstring tightness, and has under-developed glutes.
The prone hip extension test is a simple way to assess how well you move. Lay on your stomach with your head on your forearms, and lift your hips up towards the ceiling while keeping your knee straight. Can you keep a flat back, or does your pelvis tilt (as above)? You should have 10-20 degrees of hip extension with no compensations elsewhere in the body, as shown in the picture below.
If you cannot do this comfortably, tightness in the front of the hips may be the main culprit. Releasing these muscles can be a great way to alleviate symptoms and restore crucial hip extension.
The best way to do this is the with the "True Hip Flexor Stretch" (named by Mike Reinold, DPT, CSCS). In this excellent technique, line yourself up in a lunge position. Make sure the lower back is straight (no hyperextension!) and gently tuck the butt under on the back leg, as seen in the picture below. From here, lean forwards 1-2cm and you should feel a stretching sensation at the front of your hip. Take some deep breaths through your nose into your lower ribcage and allow the front of your hips to relax.
So if you're having trouble with producing power or constantly suffering from lower back tightness after deadlifts, have a look at your hips and how they are functioning. Having soreness in the same area after every single workout is not normal!
Coaches, if your athlete is struggling with explosive movements, have a look at their hips and refer them onwards if necessary.
Hip extension - you need it.
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