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Hip or Back Pain? Try this Hip Strength Exercise!

Let’s talk today about one of the best exercises you can do at home to strengthen your glutes and hips, especially to reduce discomfort in the lower back or pelvic region. A lot of the times when we have hip pain, it might be because there's too much mobility in the hips and they can lack enough strength to maintain proper alignment, which can then impact the compression and force that travels up into the lower back and spine.

The Challenge with Hip and Back Pain

We can get stuck in a place where we have too much movement around the hip joint and not enough strength and stability.  That's not a good scenario. Many of us know that we need to strengthen our hips,  but sometimes we can get stuck in the trap of  thinking that we've got to go to the gym and use a bunch of big fancy machinery and be there for a long time. So one of the challenges to overcoming back pain is that we can unnecessarily overcomplicate the solution and set the bar too high.

Other times we get stuck in the trap of thinking we just need to stretch all the time. We make the false assumption that more flexibility is always better. Maybe that means you're trying to go to yoga 4 times a week, or you might be really focused on an external metric of flexibility. (which might be a great goal if it’s specific to the issue at hand, but often I see folks get focused on something similar to being able to do the splits or something like this, when that goal can be missing the point of what really needs to change to improve the functional strength and mobility in the hips and low back)

Just One Exercise! The Single Leg Hip Hinge!

I want to share this exercise with you because I truly believe that just this one exercise could do so much for you and it doesn't have to be a whole hour long workout at the gym or a 90 minute yoga class. You might try doing just this one exercise, and possibly one stretch and then repeat that a few times.  Additionally there are some very simple ways to progress this and make it a little bit harder, or a little easier. 

So, let’s dive in. Thanks again for joining me. My name is Linnea. I am the owner of Limber Arts, which is the Pilates and personal training studio here in Olympia, Washington. I also do a lot of stuff online and I specialize in rehabilitative exercise. I help folks who are struggling with chronic joint pain and nagging old injuries.

So... you want to be stronger, you want to get out of pain, but it can be tricky to figure out how to stay active without flaring up injuries or how to trust your body and not worry about it while you're also trying to get back into some healthy movement.  

A quick disclaimer to state the obvious. This exercise is not necessarily going to be 100 percent ideal for everybody, and I’m not there with you, so please listen to your body and make sure you are staying safe whenever you're working out. This is a nice exercise to start to challenge your level of strength and resiliency. Are you going to want to do this when you're in acute knee pain or back pain? Probably not.  But if you struggle with a little bit of hip pain, mild low back discomfort and you're feeling generally fairly balanced on your feet, then this is a great exercise for you. This is not meant to replace an individual evaluation by a trained professional.

Grab a yoga block (or dictionary) Let’s get moving! 

Okay, so let's dive in.  All you need is a yoga block. Isn't that great? You can also do it with anything else that has a little bit of a raised surface. You could do this with a stair. You could do this with a couple of dictionaries. You get the idea, right? 

One more thing I want to say before we jump in is that this exercise is amazing for balance  And it's amazing for glute strength. You can progress this really easily, either to make it harder or to make it easier. And so, for that reason, it's an absolutely fabulous exercise. 

So you're going to start a little bit in front of your block. You're going to turn and face directly away from it. For some of y'all, it's going to be fine to step your leg back. So that's what we're going to do is we're going to put one leg back and have it a little bit of a kickstand.

Now, for some of you, that's going to be a little bit tricky with the balance, right? It's going to be like, Oh, there's that block back there. Okay, if that's you, you're going to really hinge at the hips, keep your back nice and straight, and then you can look back and see the block and then it'll be a little easier to just take your foot back on it. Also, feel free to also use a chair or something to hold on to.  Okay, so here we are… We finally got that leg up. 

Next, you're going to make sure your are standing tall and upright. You want to feel nice and tall on top of your standing leg. Part of what this is going to do, this yoga block back here, is it's going to push your weight into your front leg and challenge your balance.

From there we're going to hinge at the hips. You're going to pull those hips back and reach straight down as if you're going to reach towards your toes.  It doesn't have to be that far down, whatever feels comfortable. Then you're coming back up into that stacked tall position right on top of your standing leg.

The simplest, safest way to start this is just that really small little hinge. And you'll notice how my knee is staying fairly quiet. I'm really only moving from the thigh bone and from the hip. So, you want to hing at the hips. I love to teach a good hip hinge! It’s super important to learn how to hinge the hips,  just like the hinge on a door, and this is what’s going to strengthen the hips and gluteals.

It's really just that one spot in the hips.  Okay, so if that's going well, then you could go a little further down.  And if that's also going well to go a little further down, you can let that knee start to travel forward a little bit, but not at the expense of your hinge. So even though the knee is going forward, you're still going to try to get the hips to go back.

And that's what's going to get you down further, right? So that would definitely be one way to progress it, is just to go down further and to challenge your knee stability, even as that knee starts to travel forward, not at the expense of the hips going back. So you're really trying to get both of those. 

I can feel it. That was probably like eight reps, right? And I can feel it, right? So, there you have it. That's, it's like a variation on a Bulgarian split squat, but I love it with the yoga block because it's just such an easy thing that most of us have at home. And then I want to show one other variation, which is that you can add a resistance band.

Incorporating Resistance Bands

Many of you will have a resistance band at home, and if you don’t then I would suggest that you get one. They are super affordable, don’t take up any room, and resistance bands are incredibly versatile. Of course, you can also do this with dumbbells if you happen to have dumbbells. So I love it if you don't have a ton of props at home, if you're not a big workout person, then starting with some really small props like this, like a resistance band, a couple yoga blocks, it really goes a long way and it's a super low bar of entry.

It's less intimidating, I think, right? And it doesn't take up as much space. Okay, so now I'm going to switch to my other leg, and I'm going to show you, it's a little bit trickier to get into with the band, okay?  So here we are again, standing a little bit in front of the block, and I'm gonna just, I call it lassoing your foot.

Maintain your balance as you lasso your foot with the band,  and it is a little trickier to find your balance here, right? Because you've got that foot in the band now, be careful and make sure your staying balanced here.  Now from here, we're gonna cinch up on the band. You're going to reach down,  do that little hinge, and then you're going to cinch up on your band. 

Okay, I do like a fairly heavy resistance band here, but obviously you can start lighter and work your way up if you have multiple bands. I like these long open bands too, because then you can adjust, it's easier to adjust how long they are, and I'm wrapping my hands around.  

As we practice the hip hinge with the resistance band, you will start to feel a little more work In those glutes, a little extra work in the back of your hips. It’s going to be a little more protective of the knee to simply take the hips straight backwards.  But we also do want to get some strength into the quadriceps, which are at the front of the thigh and the top of the knee.  Letting your knee travel forward just a little bit will help with that. 

There you have it. Stepping off, free your foot from that band.  You could build up to three sets of that. Maybe do your favorite stretch afterwards, great for balance, great way to strengthen.

Benefits of Unilateral Strengthening 

(and what the heck does that even mean?!) 

So, this is a one sided exercise, which means it’s great for balancing the right and left sides. When you work on one leg at a time, which I think is always a little bit more functional than something with both feet, it's going to challenge each leg individually. 

If you tend to favor one leg more than the other, then if you're just doing a squat with both feet on the floor, you're not necessarily going to notice that or challenge that asymmetry.  These types of movements are called unilateral. 

Unilateral basically means one sided, as opposed to bilateral which would be the right and left sides doing the same thing at the same time.  The band really makes it a lot harder. So if you get to a place where you're using a fairly heavy resistance band, and you're doing maybe like 8 reps, 10 reps, take a little break and then repeat that a few more times, that would be a fabulous goal to work up to. If you can work up to a place where you're doing that consistently, without pain or discomfort, I think that you'll really feel the difference. 

If this is too challenging for you, then you could modify this by practicing it first with a bilateral stance, meaning that you simply have both feet on the floor, hip distance apart from each other.  The standard progression would be to build up to a place where you are performing the bilateral version with resistance, then progress to the single leg version without weight, and then add resistance to the single leg version. 

Good luck! Stay safe! And don’t forget to keep me posted on how this goes for you! I’m always here to answer questions and cheer you on! 

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