squatting

Four Ways To Improve Your Hip Flexion

Decrease Lower Back Pain And Improve Your Lower Body Lifts

You’re not alone if you experience back pain when you train lower body, girl. Lower back pain is pretty much the number one reason why most people avoid heavy squats and deadlifts in the first place. And insufficient hip mobility, necessary to pull yourself to the bottom position of said exercises, is typically the culprit. 

Inadequate Hip Mobility Is Hurting You

I’m going to keep this explanation short, but it all goes back to a little idea called Joint-By-Joint Theory. One of the major conclusions of this important philosophy is that if you are lacking control in one joint, one or more of the surrounding joints are absorbing an excess of stress. And this may even lead to a waterfall of irritation and dysfunction up or down your entire body. 

Pain is a signal. In the specific case of back pain due to heavy squats, that alarm is your body’s way of letting you know that you’re trying to force the pieces - put your joints into a tough position - when they don’t quite fit. And you’re cruising for more severe injury if you keep ignoring this warning.

Work On Your Hip Flexion

So how do you put out the fire and get back to working out comfortably? Squats and deadlifts are valuable exercises in the gym for building strong legs and a nice tight booty. And they’re also important in your every day life to ensure you can bend over and tie your shoes or squat down and lift the value size bucket of cat litter.

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So, I’m giving you four exercises you can use to improve your hip flexion. That’s the action of pulling your knees to your chest with a neutral spine. You need to be able to put your hips in flexion while under load, with structural integrity, at the bottom of your squat or top of your hinge. Even in a split squat. So its’s quite imperative that you own this mobility with specific strength challenges in order to continue to make progress on your legs and lifts. 

Four Exercises To Strengthen Hip Flexors

This progression of exercises will increase in difficulty, taking your from the ground to a super tough hanging position. So be sure to spend about 3-4 weeks on each one before moving on. You can use them as a warm-up or as an accessory to your big lift. 

Band Hurdle Hold 

Place a mini band around the balls of your feet. Begin with your spine flat and your knees tucked. Exhale and reach one foot away to challenge the opposite side. Inhale and return to the starting position. 

Side Plank with hip flexion

Begin in a short side plank position from your elbow. Without any other motion, pull your knee to your chest and hold.

Banded Mountain Climbers

Set up a looped band at a fixed point. Begin with one foot in the loop from a push-up position. Maintaining neutral spine, exhale and pull the knee to your chest. Inhale and return to the starting position.

Hanging Hip Flexion 

Begin in a hollow hanging position with active shoulders. While keeping the anchor leg straight, exhale and pull the opposite knee to your chest. Inhale and return to the starting position.

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The Secret To Improving Your Squat Depth

Many of you lovelies are concerned about squatting past parallel. So we’re going to chat about that today.

But, let’s get one little disclosure out of the way first:

***Getting to rock bottom in a HEAVY barbell squat is really not as important as you may think. Unless you are stepping onto the powerlifting platform that is - in which case you’ll want to train to that desired depth as outlined by the rules of your league. Otherwise, dropping it to the point that is comfortably difficult is the best course of action when faced with more MAXIMAL EFFORT weights. And this kind of squat is really not what we’re talking about here anyway.

OK. Back to it...

To get this started, let me just say that I happen to think it’s generally SUPER important to be able to goblet squat at sub maximal loads to at least a depth that allows your hips to sit below your knees. But it’s this type of squat—the more upright, front loaded, tailbone-at-6pm kinda squat, where we seem to struggle the most.

I don’t really mean “we" as in you and I. I am not one of the strugglers. Just recognizing the truth here: I don’t have ANY issue with dropping it like it’s hot. I wait for the subway at Spring Street with my booty between my heels and my nose between the pages of a Henry James novel. 

 

Some Bodies Can Just Get There Easier

I don’t point this out to gloat. Although this ability has certainly allowed me an immeasurable advantage in shaping my very curvy backside. Hah.

I note this for two reasons. My joints are arranged definitively differently than yours. And, I spent many hours from the ages of 4 to 13 working on my flexibility in ballet shoes. What that means is, I’ve got an advantage in both leverage and training history. Those are two very important factors contributing to squatting ability.

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But You Can Drop It Low Too!

But, just because you may not have the same body or background as me, doesn’t mean you can’t get to be as comfortable as I am in a fuller range of motion with some intentional practice.

And oddly enough, all those releves and grand plies - those deep knee bends at the bar - taught me an important cue that you might find is the game changer for improving your squat training.

The one cue that makes all the difference - the one that will ultimately allow you to sit into a fuller range of motion - is exactly how you initiate lots of your basic ballet skills....

Instead of moving from the hips to start, you need to begin solely by pushing into the knees first.

 

But Won’t That Hurt My Knees?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself “But I have bad knees.” First off, don’t talk about your joints like that. How you speak about your body has a powerful effect on your brain. Don’t forget that! 

And yes, it’s certainly easy to imagine that aspiring for a sharper angle at the knee as we’re implying here, is going to make matters worse.

But, the thing is darling, doing a slow and controlled deep squat—putting your knee into greater flexion with intention and care; will actually help strengthen that knee you are worried about.

You know that knee of yours that doesn't feel so great after lunges or jump squats or sprints - when it’s forced into those tighter positions under much higher speed, load and pressure from that amrap clock. Slow it down. Give your brain and body a chance to learn and understand the motion.

As you practice BONUS, you'll also be giving your body a chance to strengthen other joints in a fuller range of motion like your hips and ankles - and those guys love to move.

 

How To Initiate Your Front Squat

So here’s your challenge. Start tall with your feet rooting down and the crown of your head reaching to the ceiling. Begin to pull the floor apart with your feet (if you've never heard that before, click here!) as normal. Now, keeping your hips locked up tight underneath your shoulders, continue to pull the floor apart as you bend the knees and pull them apart too. You can think of this like sliding your back down the wall a few inches.

Once you've got that slight bend, THEN you may move from your hips. But instead of sitting back, aim to get your butt right between your heels on the way down - i.e. push forward as you go down.

Watch this quick vid for a visual demonstration of what we're saying.

Did you get lower than you normally do? Do you think you could get even lower if you held on to something like a rack or a TRX? Make adjustments with assistance to achieve an even better result if you can't get all the way down there.

And more importantly - Do you feel how your quads, those muscles on the front side of your thighs, are working super hard? Thats gonna help you get that nice defined leg you’ve been chasing after. Just beware, you’re gonna be a lot more sore than you normally are.

 

Practice!

Start with 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Try and descend nice and slow - like a 3 second count, before returning to standing. Add in a 2-3 second pause(without losing tension) once you've practiced a couple weeks. Add weight as needed.

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