Christian Magaraggia PhD
Estimated reading time: 10mins
Mobility and injury prevention work receives a lot of attention these days, with an abundance of resources available that provide hours of various stretches and corrective exercises. The hard question for many lifters out there is which exercises and drills are worth doing with a training time that is often limited by other life commitments.
In this article we are going to have a look at specific, yet simple, approach for powerlifters and strength athletes to build robustness through the hips and to minimise risk of injury. The reason why it important for us to address hip function is that this region bears the brunt of our total training load and needs to withstand repetitive, high loading. It also needs to be mobile enough to allow us to hit squat depth, while still maintaining joint stability and integrity. In order to do this, a high degree of active (i.e., derived from muscular activity) stability is required as to avoid excessively high loading on passive joint related structures (e.g., labrum, joint capsule and supporting ligaments).
We are going to have a look at two muscles groups that are linked to the generation of active stability around the hip, the short hip external rotators (SHER - obturator internus and externus, piriformis, gemellus inferior and superior and quadratus femoris) and the gluteals. The SHER muscles are important for hip control as they produce a compressive force which dynamically stabilises the femoral head in the hip socket (acetabulum). Within the Gluteal group, we are particularly interested in glute minimus/medius as they are known to be structurally suited in providing lateral support and stability to the hip.
The functioning of these muscle groups becomes even more important if we already have had previous damage to the passive tissue that supports the hip joint (see Figure 1.). What this means is that the more beaten up a hip joint is, the more important it is to have a effective muscular system that can provide a high level control of the joint when loaded. In my experience, this is even more important at near end range movement such as in the bottom of the squat. If we have insufficient active control, this can than lead to further damage of these joint structures and result in a cycle of increasing instability. Eventually, this can result in non-reversible degradation of the hip. Once we have an understanding of this process, it becomes apparent that if we have a pair of already ‘battle-worn’ hips, developing active hip control and stability can pay large dividends.
Figure 1. Mechanisms of hip degeneration. Reproduced from Retchford, Crossley, Grimaldi, Kemp & Cowan (2013). “Can local muscles augment stability in the hip? A narrative literature review.”
What about if I just want to squat heavy, my hips are fine?
Even if you have never had a hip injury or issue, there are still compelling reasons to go and get some extra work in for these muscle groups. In particular, we can see that through squatting and deadlifting the hips are loaded in the sagittal plane and a majority of the work goes to the big powerful muscles such as glute max, hamstrings, quads. Our hip stabilizers also work hard during squatting as they are doing their job and allowing the hip joint to transfer force effectively without perturbation. There is risk however, that if the total workload becomes too high, the ability of the muscular system to provide active control and stability can become the weak link in the chain. Commonly this can be seen during a relatively high rep and heavy set with form quality decreasing and extra movement variability (e.g., increase in knee valgus) becoming apparent.
Ok, ok, what do I need to do?
To maximise the stability of the hip we need to engage the abductors and external rotators in a very specific way by using movements that mimic those undertaken during heavy lifting. Using a band when performing variations of squats and deadlifts is one way to bias the work towards these targeted areas, consequently providing maximum return for the time invested in these drills. It is also important to not forget about the anterior trunk muscles, hip flexors, hip adductors and breathing patterning during lifting as all of these can play a role in overall hip function and stability.
This training program is one method to increase hip stability in a way that supports performance in powerlifting. It has been designed as a general prehabilitation (i.e., injury prevention) program and is not suitable for those with specific injuries. If you have any injuries or niggles it is important to go and see a qualified specialist!
The program is comprised of 3 exercises that are performed with banded resistance, it will take about 10-12 minutes to complete. The routine found below is carried out over a week and is targeted to an intermediate level lifter who has a reasonable work capacity with grooved movement patterns. You will need to fine tune this to suit your current ability. The complexes are to be completed by performing all of the repetitions for the first, then the second segment. In the example of the deadlift banded complex for session 1, do 10-15 reps of the top half then 10-15 reps of the bottom half for each set. Always remember to perform these movements in a mindful fashion, being sure to use consistent technique throughout and perform at a slower than usual cadence.
Elevated Banded Hip Thrust
Deadlift Banded Complex (Top Half)
Figure 3. Start with the bar in line with the knees, maintain outwards pressure on the band through the knees and drive the hips through to full extension.
Deadlift Banded Complex (Bottom Half)
Figure 4. Starting from the standard deadlift start position, drive the knees out against the band and bring the bar to the halfway position.
Squat Banded Complex (Top Half)
Figure 5. Starting from the top of the squat in your normal technique (high or low bar), squat to the halfway point and drive back to the top. Maintain outwards pressure on the band throughout the movement.
Squat Banded Complex (Bottom Half)
Figure 6. Start from the halfway squat position, squat to the bottom and return to halfway. Be sure to drive the knees out against the band throughout the movement!!
About the author
Christian Magaraggia is a Physiotherapist and has obtained a Doctorate in Exercise and Sport Science. He also works as a personal trainer and coaches both powerlifting and CrossFit.
He has competed raw in Powerlifting Australia, his current best competition lifts are 255kg squat, 165kg bench and 275kg deadlift at 102kg bodyweight.
If you require a training consultation, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.