Muscular imbalances can cause a lot of frustration, pain, and often lead to injury -- not only at the joint in question, but at numerous areas throughout the body. When we think about sports, a good majority include movement of the lower body at varying speeds. Considering the joints of the leg, many of us first think about the knee as being one of the bigger culprits of pain and grief, while often overlooking the occurrence of injury at the hip.
By no coincidence, one of my favorite multi-sport stars while I was growing up was Bo Jackson (Get it? Dave Bohmiller). Remember, it was a hip injury, not a knee injury that led to his retirement from football and may have limited his effectiveness later in his career in the sport of baseball.
Now I realize that we aren't all multi-sport athletes and that with his sport-specific training, he may not have had some of the muscular imbalances that I see each day whether at the gym or walking around town. However, not all of us are as fortunate and many of us may have the imbalances that this article will help you overcome.
Our posture may be compromised by many variables. One of these is the lack of movement that we experience by being in our "computer positions" all day. This sitting position, whether at the desk, in a car, or on the couch, can contribute to an imbalance that we call anterior pelvic tilt.
Anterior pelvic tilt is characterized by a shortening of the hip flexor muscles and the lower back muscles and a lengthening of the hamstrings and abdominal muscles. These tightened muscles pull the bones of the spine and the pelvis out of neutral alignment causing increased compression and decreased stability at the spine and hip.
Don't Let this Happen to You
Imbalances that are not treated lead to imperfections and compensations in our movement patters. They can impact everything from picking up your children, walking up or down a flight of stairs, and getting in and out of a car, not to mention severely changing the movements of athletes of all ages in their individual and team sports.
Another symptom of this imbalance is the inability of many to correctly or fully activate the gluteus muscles in hip extension exercises. In other words, the muscles on one side of the body are so tight, that the muscles on the other side can't reach their full potential. This will make it more difficult to prevent injury, tone muscles, and develop greater strength or endurance for any activity.
The longer we spend with our bodies in anterior pelvic tilt, the tighter the hip flexors and lower back become and the "lazier" the abdominals and hamstrings become, making the risk of injury especially to the lower back and hip that much higher. These imbalances often have a chain reaction where some of the muscles crossing the hip joint also impact movement at the knee, putting both joints in danger of injury.
Correcting the Imbalances: Step #1
After identifying the tightened muscles that are creating the imbalance, our first step in attacking that weakness is through corrective flexibility. This can be through a combination of soft tissue work, static stretching, dynamic flexibility, and joint mobility work.
Here are some of the corrective flexibility exercises that will help return your body to a neutral postural position before we begin our strengthening exercises.
Side Lying Hip Flexor Stretch
½ Kneeling Stretch
Scorpion Kicks Down
Scorpion Kicks Up
Reverse lunge with twist
Correcting the Imbalances: Step #2
Following our corrective flexibility exercises, your body should be gradually returning to a proper postural standing position. Being in correct alignment will provide the opportunity for improved movement. Now that we've seen positive changes in the flexibility of your muscles and the mobility of your joints, we want to stabilize those joints with strength movements - both bodyweight exercises and external resistance exercises. You should now be able to activate the gluteus muscles more effectively, making it easier to get toward your goals.
Here are our suggested exercises for strengthening the hip extensors and stabilizers, preventing injury, and maintaining your newly found posture.
2-Leg Bent Knee Lower Back Bridge
Lateral Steps to Balance
Narrow Stance Touchdown
Competitive Athletes (sports where you are on your feet):
Reduced chance of injury at the lower back, hip, knee, and ankle during practice and game situations
Increased muscle activation providing for increased speed, agility, and quickness
Faster acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction
Improved position of the hip complex
Increased efficiency in the contraction of the glutes during your squat
Decreased stress on the lower back during bench press and dead lift
Ability to "awaken" the total body during all 3 major movements
Runners (all levels - beginner to marathoner):
Improved mobility at the hip allows for better gait and stride efficiency
Decreased braking during transition of foot strike to push off
Increased stability at the ankle, knee, and hip
Decreased rate of injury throughout lower body
Improved activation of gluteus muscles providing for increased strength in pushing
Decrease in lower back pain or discomfort
Helps prevent chronic hip pain associated with high mileage over years of cycling
Adults (especially those with young kids):
Fewer aches and pains from picking up and putting down children
Improved lifting mechanics
Decreased chance of "throwing out your back"
Keying in on your Goals
Incorporating these stretches and resistance exercises into your fitness program will provide better movement through the hip complex with increased gluteus muscle activation, reduce the risk of injury, and help to decrease the amount of anterior pelvic tilt you may be experiencing.
This improved posture will allow you to come closer to all of your fitness goals, whether they be muscle endurance, size, strength, or power; injury prevention or rehabilitation; or decreases in lower back and hip discomfort.
About the Author:
David "Boh" Bohmiller holds a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education-Exercise Science from Bridgewater State College and is NSCA-CSCS certified. He is the owner of "My Personal Trainer School" headquartered near Boston, MA.
Boh spends his days writing, performing health seminars, Personal & Group Training, consulting with athletic teams, and mentoring those new to the fitness profession. To find out more about how Boh may be able to help you, visit him at "My Personal Trainer School" or if you are interested in Personal Training in the Boston area, schedule your FREE consultation.