The Secret To A Strong Core
We’ve all heard it before – strengthening your core is key. Your core helps with balance and stability and is crucial when performing most other exercises and activities. A strong core will help prevent injury as well, especially if you play sports that can be difficult on your back.
A weak core can and will lead to back problems if you’re not taking time to strengthen it. Most athletes recognize the importance of a strong core, but many don’t realize an important component of training your core, is actually focusing on your hips. Yes!
In fact, many postural and movement-related injuries can be attributed to tight hip flexors. Sure, you can perform static stretches in variables and sets to try and relieve the issue, but you won’t be correcting the root problem - because stretching doesn’t actually exercise the primary hip flexor functions. Strengthening your hips will help eliminate future injury.
Your hip and pelvic flexors are critical in developing a strong core. It’s not just the abdominal muscles that do it. Although aesthetically speaking, many people train to achieve the picture perfect six pack, strong hips are the backbone for a strong core.
What Are Hip Flexors?
The hip flexors are a group of muscles that can be found on the lower back and hip girdle which run down to the inside of the femur.
The main functions of the hip muscles are to provide the body with core stability and balance. These muscles work together to support the lower back and hips - and when working properly, they help ‘connect’ your back and hips to prevent injury.
How Strong Hips Prevent Injury
Let’s think about these functions a little more. Walking, running, going up a set of stairs, jogging – all of these activities involve your hip flexors. They literally pick up and move your legs.
If these muscles aren’t in working order due to injury, you might even find it hard to simply walk. Strong hip flexors will make training everything else much, much more efficient so you can be sure you’re getting the maximum benefits from all exercises.
If you’re a runner, you are probably already aware that neglected hip muscles are the source of all running injuries. Seriously. Most runners do know proper hip strength is crucial, but many don’t specifically strength train hip muscles to ensure they’re in top physical order.
About 70% of runners get an overuse injury every year according to Sports Medicine Australia. It’ been proven that there’s a link between overuse injuries and poor hip muscle strength in a study published by the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.
Natural Shock Absorbsion
Hip muscles are also your body’s shock absorbers. You wouldn’t take a car with terrible shocks for a ride down a bumpy road, so why should you treat your body any different? As you run, your body is essentially being ‘bumped’ up and down with each step forward. All of that shock is being displaced through your hip muscles. Bad hip muscles mean that shock isn’t sufficiently being transferred, which translates into injury.
Hips Are Your Body's Foundation
These exact same concerns and principles carry over to basketball, soccer, football, cycling or virtually every sport. Even weightlifters depend on strong hip muscles for leg day, or back strengthening. If your legs are out, you’ll be on arm day every day. That is, if you can get to the gym.
It’s vital to work those hip muscles and guarantee you’ve got a solid foundation laid when it comes to having your best core working for you at all times.
But how and when do hip exercises come into play? What are the best exercises for someone just getting into hip and core workouts?
How to Strengthen Your Hips
Free weights are one of the best ways you can strengthen your core and hip flexors when bodyweight becomes too easy. Weight will help push your hips a little harder, so you see better results as you train.
Dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, resistance bands or plates can be used in countless ways. These free weights can help isolate the hips and target certain muscles better than machine workouts.
It’s important to start with a lower amount of weight if you’re new to hip strengthening. You don’t want to push it beyond your comfort zone and cause an injury.
Add Weights As You Progress:
Phase 1: Bodyweight
Phase 2: Kettlebells
Phase 3: Dumbbells or plates
Phase 4: Barbells, increasing weights over time
Best Free Weight Exercises For Hips
Glute bridges and lunges, are two great exercises you can perform with dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells to help strengthen your hips. Let’s look at how to execute them properly using free weights.
It’s in the name, Glute, that might lead you to think you’re simply working out your butt.
Yes, it’s true with Glute Bridge you are exercising your glutes, but as we’ve mentioned your core muscles are all connected and working together Your glutes are hip extensors and with this exercise you’re working them as well as other hip muscles.
Start with no weight, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or plates. You must first be comfortable with performing the Glute Bridge in its most basic form.
Lay flat on your back on the ground.
Put both feet flat on the ground and bend your knees. You want to be able to almost touch your heels with your fingertips. The further your feet are out, the more you could work your hamstring. You’ll isolate more glute with your heels closer to your body.
Bend your elbows so your forearms are up in the air with your elbows on the ground.
Now push your hip up towards the sky. You want to make sure you’re not driving your heels into the ground but more so pushing your knees towards your feet.
Once in the air, engage your core muscles and concentrate on the glute muscles at work.
As you progress, you can try adding a plate onto your belly and holding for added weight. From there, look into using a barbell to add more weight.
There are so many different lunges you can perform to help stretch a wide variety of muscles. The standing lunge is an easy and fantastic hip flexor stretch you can perform anywhere, anytime, with no equipment. There’s really no excuse for not working in at least a set of standing lunges into your normal routine.
You’ll want to begin by standing with your legs parallel. Make sure you have optimal posture with your tailbone point toward the floor and the top of your head pulled up towards the sky. Your shoulders should be relaxed. Make sure you’ve taken these steps to perfect your form before trying a standing lunge.
Once your posture is perfect, bend your right knee and take a step straight back onto the ball of your foot. There’s really no rule to how far you need to go back, just keep it comfortable, and don’t let that right knee bend past your toes. Your hips should be even, and your chest open.
Hold this stretch for about thirty seconds and remember to breathe deeply and calmly. When ready, bring the right leg back up in a fluid motion. Bring your feet together once more and make your legs parallel, then repeat this motion on the other leg.
Just like with Glute Bridges, as you get better and build muscle tone with Lunges, you can begin to add free weight. In doing so, you’ll continue to push your body. Only add weight once you’ve perfected Lunges without.
Strong Hips Build A Strong Core
Glutes and Lunges are a great addition to any workout routine. With these two exercises, you’re ready to begin training your hip flexors.
As you perfect these exercises and your hips become stronger, you can branch out by adding weight to the exercises or learning new variations.
Strengthen your core and you’ll experience fewer injuries, and your balance and mobility will thank you for it.