Can we alternate properly?
When it comes to mobility of the hips, many ask how much mobility a person should have and how much more mobility can they gain. Most people tend to think of it as how flexible they are and if they can't bend over to touch their toes. Others will feel the lack of mobility with certain exercises, they will feel as if they cannot move any further through the hips or get the depth on a squat or feel tightness in the front of the hips when working out, running or just in general.
A further look into hip function
The hips/pelvis consist of two ilium bones, the ischium, pubis, the acetabulofemoral joint, and the sacrum. So when talking about mobility we are talking about joint range of motion referring to all those bones and how they move on each other and with each other. The motions of the pelvis and hip joints are anterior and posterior tilt, lateral tilt, rotation (forward and backwards), at the hip we have flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, and medial and lateral rotation. For proper hip mobility we should be able to move through all of those above without any limitations. Due to our asymmetrical human body we have a stronger right side and therefore pulls us into the right dominant pattern, with the presence of limitations at the hip and pelvis we have tendencies to compensate to perform life's daily tasks and move forward (walk).
Your hips don't lie
When the right side influences it takes the spine and rotates it to the right as the spine rotates, it orients the sacrum to the right, influencing right stance, more weight bearing through the right side, center of mass shifting to the right side. With this pattern it pulls the right pelvis into a different position than the left pelvis, with these positions the muscles of the hip are at different lengths and get influenced on how they activate and function. We must take this into consideration when it comes to mobility. If we are shifted into a right stance and try to perform a bilateral movement the joints will act differently due to the positions of bones and muscles. This is where the issue of stretching comes in. Many people who gain more hip movement will stretch the muscles, depending on the stretch position the muscles can influence the bone but if we do not teach or train the body to recognize the new position then we fall back into our right side dominant patterns. So just stretching a muscle is not going to lead to long term hip mobility fix, instead we need to set the pelvis and hips to neutral and then we can stretch. Neutral is the ability to turn a set of muscles off so that new movement strategies of using those muscles and other muscles can be established. ((1) PRI Myokin reference.) We want both the left and right side of the hips to be able to have a similar range of motion and movement.
If there is not proper range of motion at the hips, the human body compensates and will either move through the spine and cause lower back issues and/or create knee instabilities to be able to keep going. This is where hip mobility is an important issue to address before loading up the body with weight or overloading gait mechanics (running).
Looking towards a solution
A simple way to check hip mobility is to perform a single leg raise test, that tests the position of the hamstring and the influence it has on the hips. If there are limitations then the repositioning of the hips is the first step.
Hamstrings are a must when looking for hip stability that act on the pelvic bones and stabilize from the bottom as the abdominals stabilize the hips on top. (we will talk about hip stability in a future post). One of my favorite exercises is the 90-90 Hip lift from the Postural Restoration Institute, this exercise activates the hamstrings and helps get the pelvis in the correct position which sets the ribs and breathing with it to ensure that the hips are setting into neutral.
The end goal of hip mobility is to be able to have a flowing gait pattern where the hips can shift in the left stance and then back into the right.