Improve Hip Flexion for bigger lifts!
Hip extension is the most talked about expression of force production. In contrast, hip flexion is one of the most ignored and underappreciated movements. If you look at the majority of training programs, we see a huge bias towards hip extension focused movements. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but what needs to be appreciated is that without good hip flexion, we won’t get good hip extension. If you cannot get into hip flexion, you won’t be able to generate force into hip extension - making it a vital position to be able to attain.
This is especially true in the realm of strength athletics where we put a big demand on movements that require hip flexion - squatting, deadlifting, cleans, snatches, etc. The ability to get into a deep hip flexion will make for an easier movement and set us up for better success in reversing the movement and standing up.
When people do “work” on their hip flexion, it’s usually in passive stretching where we see little transfer over to the big lifts. Today I want to make an effort to see that change. When we look at great exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, single leg squats, lunges, step ups - quite often athletes abilities in the bottom positions are their limiting factors. There are a lot of reasons for that (biomechanical perspective) however, one that is rarely discussed is proper control in that bottom position - where hip flexion is at its fullest.
Hip flexion will typically occur with a bent knee, and when the knee is bent we can get greater ranges of hip flexion - so that is where we are going to start.
Supine 1 knee hip flexion w/ hold -
This is a fantastic starting exercise - very simple but when executed well you’ll know. We regress the difficulty of it by using the ground for support and focus right in on controlled hip flexion. This should allow you to be diligent with your trunk & pelvis control while beginning to improve your control.
Start by using this between sets of your main movement while warming up for 3-5 reps of 3-5 second holds per side. Over time this should help to improve your comfort and control in the bottom position of your movement.
Standing end range hip flexion lift off -
Progressing off of the ground and into a more challenging position of standing, we have increased demand on controlling our trunk and hip to a greater degree than previously. This also exclusively spends time in the active end range position, placing us in the hardest position for the entire duration of the movement.
This can be utilized in a similar fashion to the previous exercise, in between sets of your main movement, or it can be used as a “filler” exercise and paired up with upper body movement. For example, when benching you can utilize this during your rest breaks to help improve your movement on your next squat day.
Suitcase marching -
One of my favorite ways to get people to start utilizing hip flexion in a more dynamic way is through marching. By adding in the off center loading we increase the demand on the trunk to stabilize the pelvis and spine - ideal for lifting later
Placing this towards the end of your workout as a superset with another movement is my preferred option. Put this in your program with a movement like hip thrusts or RDLs for 3-4 sets of 20-30 marches/side.
From these three exercises there are tons of variations that can be lateralized, regressed, or progressed based upon the individual needs. I’ll typically start programming these exercises in as main movements for people who don’t quite have the control we want, and then integrate these movements into the warm up once athletes are proficient with them.
While we rarely see the knee fully extended and the athlete go into deep ranges of hip flexion, for movements such as deadlifting, snatching, cleaning, etc. we do get into positions where the knee is quite extended and we have the hip flexed. As well, being able to take it to a greater degree of range shows true control. That is where the next exercises for hip flexion come in.
Squat to stand variations -
This exercise helps to integrate going from an extended knee to a flexed knee while maintaining hip flexion. This can help to prep the posterior chain for elongating in movements like snatching and cleaning when we transition from the first to second pull. As well, this is a great way to start working on improving the bottom position of the squat and integrating the previous movements. By pulling yourself down, we can then coordinate an improved bottom position.
Most often I’ll place this exercise as either a component of the warm up, done for 6-10 rep as part of a series, or to be done during the warm up sets for the main movement for the day for 4-8 reps between sets.
Active end range straight leg hip flexion -
If an athlete can demonstrate prowess with this movement, it will be unlikely they have any issues with hip flexion. However, to do this perfect and exhibit full range is no easy task. I will use this with athletes typically at the end of training day and may pair it with an exercise to work the opposite side of the hip in deep flexion (such as a PNF movement for the posterior hip).
This can be done either at the end of the workout for 1-3 sets of 4 reps of 5-10 seconds on, 5-10 seconds off, or upper body days as a filler movement much like the standing end range lift off.
There are three solid exercises for improving your hip flexion - get to work on getting a more stabile bottom position!
Move well, lift heavy, stay healthy,
The Strength Therapist