Are you Really Extending Your Hips?

Powerful hip extension and posterior chain strengthening, are currently all the rage in the strength and conditioning world; and with good reason. There are few things more functional for athletic and daily movement than effective hip extension. Therefore movements such as deadlifts, squats, lunges, bridges, kettlebell swings, etc, should be a staple in any balanced performance and/or function-based exercise regimen . The problem here (and it’s a big one) is subtle differences in how you execute these movements can be the difference between getting the intended benefit improving hip extension capacity or creating dysfunction by further imbalancing your body. The execution in which I am referring deals mostly with the pelvic position maintained during any of these movements. If the pelvis does not maintain (or begin in) a neutral position the hips will not fully extend. Instead the lumbar spine will create the extension to allow one to stand upright, perpetuating an anterior rotation of the pelvis which by definition is a position of over-shortened hips flexors/lumbar extensors, and over-lengthened hip extensors/abdominals. As muscles work best in mid-range when they are neither over-shortened nor over-lengthened, none of these muscle groups are working well in this situation. Furthermore, this lack of muscle balance and control leads to excess joint compression, especially in the areas of the lower lumbar spine (L4-L5; L5-S1) and the anterior (front) knee and hip. This crucial factor, makes it imperative to assess one’s ability to understand and maintain this neutral spine position in all the static positions involved in all the aforementioned movements. These positions include standing, the bottom of a squat, half kneeling or the bottom of a lunge, a hip hinge position (bottom of deadlift or kettlebell swing), etc. You get the idea. Basically the movement needs to be deconstructed to see if pelvic neutrality is able to be achieved and maintained in all static components of the movement being performed.  If one is having difficulty finding and maintaining these static positions, there is very little chance that the position will be maintained during high velocity, high load, high volume dynamic movements. Once pelvic neutrality can be mastered with static positioning, a gradual increase in velocity, load, and volume can be added, with the focus still be central to the pelvic position.  Sound confusing, see the video below: