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Weak Link Training: The Exercise Performance Hot Spot

If your squat and deadlift numbers have flat-lined, weak hip flexors could be the culprit. Here's how to combat the weakness.

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A pair of lousy hip flexors can do a lot to screw up your performance in the weight room. You’ll notice weak hip flexors through low knee lift when sprinting, unstable bottom depth through squatting, and chronic pain in the hip region.

Hip flexor muscles are also notorious for getting tight and wound up. This tightness causes a lot of forward momentum to the pelvis; causing issues like anterior pelvic tilting and lordosis (overarch) of the low back when standing and sitting. As a result, the hamstrings can get pulled long and tight due to this compensation which will cause trouble for your lower body’s functionality. When translating things to barbell movements, you’ll notice an early breakdown in form, with the back rounding in a much less than optional deadlift pulling position, or squatting bottom position.

A Look at the Hip Flexors

The hip flexors group is actually made of 3 muscles.

The Iliacus:

Responsible for hip flexion up to a level parallel with the ground (90 degrees)

The Rectus Femoris:

Partially a knee extensor, it also assists the iliacus in hip flexion to 90 degrees

The Psoas:

Responsible for hip flexion above the 90 degree level (like tucking the knees right into the chest in full range squatting, high box jumping, or full scale sprinting with high knee lift) We’ve determined that everyday life, and general training “neglect” is what makes hips tight, and what makes hips weak, but few people can appreciate that they can be (and are often) both at the same time.

Tight, weak hips need to be addressed in a special manner, and strengthening them for performance can come down to a few simple moves.

The Workout

Foam rolling to quads and hips

Improving the tissue quality is the first step to making muscles more malleable and responsive. Invest in a dense foam roller and get cracking!

A1) Tennis Ball Glute Bridge - 15 reps/leg

The point of this exercise is to keep the psoas and iliacus firing through the entire range of motion of the hip extension. The hip muscles on the tennis ball side will have to work very hard to keep the ball from slipping out as the range of motion increases. A good bridge will create a straight line from shoulder to knee.

A2) Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat - 12 reps/leg

Doing this exercise will help lengthen the hip flexors of the trailing leg under tension, while doubling as an awesome leg developer. Perform 3 to 4 rounds of this superset.

B) Overhead Squat - 4x6-8 reps

This exercise really exploits the instability of hip muscles. If your hips are too tight, you’ll have depth issues. If they’re weak, you’ll have a hard time holding your bottom position. Start with a broomstick, dowel, or very light fixed bar and work to progress your ROM first. Progress your way to the empty bar once you’ve achieved full ROM with minimal back arch. Remember to always keep the bar positioned over your mid-foot when doing this exercise.

Workout Summary

This is another 20 minute workout that can be a real ground breaker for your results to skyrocket. No cutting corners here – if you want the strongest, deepest squat you can get, a better quality deadlift, or just want to beat the chronic pain you’ve been dealing with in your hips, low back, or hams, then addressing your hips could be a definite step in the right direction.

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