Especially as an athlete, it’s as important to have strong hips as it is to have fully flexible hips.
Your hips and pelvis create the base of power and support for all movement—for moving fast and changing direction at speed, for lifting and moving heavy objects and for jumping high and far.
Balancing optimal mobility and stability in the hips will allow you to:
- generate maximum power and speed
- optimise your body control
- improve your agility
- refine your movement efficiency
- increase your stamina
- decrease your risk of injury
The anatomy of the hip
- The hip joint consists of the femoral head (ball) and the acetabulum (socket).
- The major muscles in the hip are the hip flexors (that connect the pelvis and lower back to the tops of the thighs), the glutes (buttock muscles), the piriformis (under the glutes), the adductors (groin and inner thigh) and the IT Band (which stabilises the hip and knee).
- This area is also made up of tendons, ligaments, fascia and fat that hold the bones in place.
How do weak hips increase your likelihood of injury?
Firstly, through a lack of body control. And secondly, if one part of your body is weak, it can throw you out of alignment, putting stress on other structures up and down the kinetic chain. For example, when runners do not have balanced, stable hips, the knee can start to roll inwards, placing excessive strain in and around the kneecap.
Traditional resistance training is great for strengthening the larger, superficial muscles like the back and biceps, whereas yoga is more effective for building ‘functional’ strength in the smaller, stabiliser muscles. Much of this work is done through isometric contractions—holding poses and staying engaged for several breaths.
Alignment, engagement and control
When we’re building strength in yoga, engagement, alignment and control are key. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
1. Alignment. Proper alignment in the poses is essential to keep your joints safe. Let’s take Warrior 2 as an example. If the front knee is not tracking over the second toe, it pulls your knee and hip out of alignment, straining the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. Pay close attention to alignment cues as you settle into each pose.
2. Engagement. Engaging your muscles is another way we protect the joints. If you try to lift something heavy without engaging your core, the smaller muscles in your lower back, that are not designed for the purpose, have to do the work and are likely to get hurt in the process. When we’re building strength in the hips, we first need to engage the glutes. This secures the head of the femur in the socket, keeps it there and protects us from injury. In each of the poses:
- Engage your lower abs.
- And imagine drawing your outer hips towards the centre of your body, locking the hips in place.
3. Control. Stay engaged in the poses as well as in the transition between poses. This will protect your joints and help to refine your body control and movement accuracy. Imagine you are practicing tai chi. Slow, steady and controlled.
A hip-strengthening sequence
Yoga is a complex training system that offers a holistic approach to building and maintaining hip stability. Here is a 9-pose sequence designed to cover you from multiple angles.
Click on the image or title to find instructions for the poses.
PHASE 1: ENGAGE
Hold the first two poses for 5 deep breaths, to activate your glutes.
PHASE 2: STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH
Transition with complete control through Warrior 3, High Lunge, Silver Surfer, Warrior 2 and Extended Side Angle on your right side, then repeat on the left. Remember to stay engaged throughout.
PHASE 3: BALANCE, STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH
Hold each of the final poses for 3-5 deep breaths, in and out through you nose. Try to remain as still as you can.
PHASE 4: REST AND RECOVER
Come down onto your back and rest for a few minutes in Final Resting Pose. Click on the image below to hear a short Body Scan Meditation.
I have just released a brand new series of 15 x 15-minute videos designed to loosen up tight hips, increase hip mobility and build stability and strength in the hip joints. Here is the link: yogafortighthips
There are 5 different types of sequence in this series:
- The MOBILITY sequences are relatively fast-paced and are designed to loosen up the hips. They are best practiced in the morning or early on in the day.
- The BALANCE and STRENGTH sequences are the most challenging physically and are designed to build strength and stability in and around the hip joints. They are also best practiced in the morning or early on in the day.
- The FLEXIBILITY sequences are slow and steady and are designed to strategically increase flexibility in the hip muscles. They are best practiced in the early evening when your muscles are warm and pliable and you're winding down.
- The RELAXATION sequences are gentle and restorative and are best practiced in the evening to prepare your body for sleep.
Let me know if you have any questions and share your favourite hip strengthening poses in the COMMENTS below .