Tight Hips? Try These Activation Tips!by Anna Claire Loper
Ever find yourself warming up for your heavy squat session and realize you’re feeling a little tight or crunchy in the hips? Many of us assume we lack flexibility or mobility, and try to out-stretch the problem. But then we get back under the bar (or kettlebells, or dumbbells), and find the tight feeling persists.
Maybe we settle for some not-so-great squats that day, or worse, abandon our squat program all together. Or, go with me for a second here – we imagine the only way we’re going to have the squats of our dreams is by quitting our desk jobs, signing up for physical therapy, hiring a live-in chiropractor, and scheduling two-a-day stretch sessions until we can squat ass to grass, knees to forehead, or elbows to ears, or whatever your dream squat looks like. Just me? Well, before you go canceling squat sessions, or your job, try an activation exercise!
That tight or crunchy feeling you’re experiencing in your hips may not be due to lack of flexibility or mobility. Your hip flexors may be really stretched, and not used to contracting (or taking load). They may be weak. Or, maybe you’re asking them to do a lot of work with little support from other big muscle groups like your core and glutes. I’m not your coach, so I can’t know for sure. But, let’s troubleshoot. Pick an activation exercise below, and try it in between your warm-up sets for 5 reps per side. Then, jump back under the bar and retest. How do you feel?
- Starting with your butt on the floor, place a mini band around the middle of both feet.
- Lower yourself onto your back, with arms at your sides, knees bent, feet on the floor.
- Take a big breath through your nose into your belly, and pull your whole upper, middle, and lower spine to the floor until there is no space for light to shine through.
- Raise your feet off the floor, and pull your knees directly over your hips; shins parallel to the floor; feet in line with your shins, and toes pulled toward your face. (If you’re doing this correctly, there should be some tension on the mini band between your feet.)
- Take a big breath in and exhale as you extend your left leg until it’s straight, keeping the right leg in the starting position; inhale as you bring the left leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat, extending the right leg out this time, as you keep the left leg in the starting position.
- Perform 5 repetitions on each side.
- Retest your squat.
- Start near a wall, squat rack, or with a dowel or consenting friend nearby.
- Place the mini band around the middle of both feet.
- Standing up, bring your feet under your hips so that there is some tension on the mini band.
- Take a big breath into your belly; as you exhale, squeeze your glutes and pull your belly button up to your rib cage.
- Holding onto the support, ground the big toe, pinky toe, and heel of your right foot through the floor, and pull your left knee up until it’s level with your hip.
- Slowly lower the left foot back to the floor, and repeat on the right side.
- Perform 5 repetitions on each side.
- Starting with your butt on the floor, place a yoga strap or long resistance band under the middle of your left foot.
- Holding onto the strap or band, lie on your back, pulling your upper, middle, and lower back into the floor.
- Lift your feet off the floor, bringing both knees over your hips; and extend your legs straight up toward the ceiling, pulling your toes toward your face. If your knees don’t straighten, find a leg angle that allows for them to do so (this is key!).
- Exhale as you slowly lower your right leg to the floor, stopping before your spine starts to pull away from the floor.
- Inhale as you pull your right leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat 5 times on the right leg.
- Switch the yoga strap/long band to the right foot, and perform 5 repetitions with the left leg.
Anna Claire (AC) Loper is a queer personal trainer (pronouns: she/her), based in Philly. After years of experiencing the mental and physical benefits of movement, she left a do-good desk job to create spaces where everyone in every body can feel safe getting strong.
Play with AC! For more on the fundamentals of barbell lifting, and other queer-affirming fitness content, follow AC on IG: @annaclaire.loper, and check out her website: actrainsme.com. If you’re based in Philly, check out AC’s Badass Beginner Barbell small group series at KG Strong. Spots open in March and April!