Understanding Hip Flexion

When we’re looking at movement, one of the most important patterns is having the ability to flex your hips, both bilateral and unilateral.  When I’m working with a client, this is one of the first things I want to achieve if it’s subpar and lacking the minimum criteria.  If we want to achieve stellar results, we need to respect mobility and understand that it sits above everything else…besides breathing, but that’s for another day.

 

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at clearing mobility issues.  The typical hip flexion issue can and should be fixed, to an acceptable standard, not perfect, fairly quickly.  After we hit the acceptable ranges, our strength and conditioning exercises will become more effective, and they’ll help reinforce the new mobility you’re seeing with your clients, or yourself for that matter.

 

As little as five years ago, I was simply throwing one or two corrective strategies with everyone, assuming we’re working on the same movement pattern.  It worked about half the time, and the other half, I’d see little to no progress.  Ever have that happen?  I still do to this day, but I’m continuously looking to get better results for myself, and for my clients.  

 

When I’m looking at hip flexion, there are two main patterns I’m going to look at:

Active Straight Leg Raise (unilateral)

Toe Touch (bilateral)

After seeing what these two patterns look like, I’m going to have a much better idea of how I’m going to attack their strength and conditioning program.  If both patterns are clear, I’ll have no need to take out hip hinging exercises or limit hip flexion/extension exercises…I’d be free to train them and work them through a good series of progressions from there.  However, if I find a limitation in one of those patterns, I know I need to dig a little deeper if I want to improve on that 50/50 success rate I talked about.  Getting amazing results 50% of the time was great earlier on in my career, but at this stage in the game, it’s unacceptable for my personal standards.

 

So how did I get better at improving that statistic?

 

Understanding that mobility issues can be due to a stability dysfunction has been an absolute game changer for me.  I’ve learned this from Greg Rose, Gray Cook, Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, and a huge list of other personal mentors, but the one industry leader that really made it stick was Charlie Weingroff.  Not sure if he personally coined the term “hard” and “soft” when looking at mobility, but that my friends…that’s genius and that’s what really made it stick with me.

 

So what does the term “hard” and “soft” mean?

 

Since we’re talking about hip flexion, let’s look at the two patterns I listed above: the straight leg raise and the toe touch.

 

Active Straight Leg Raise:

When I’m training someone, I want to ensure they’re leg raise is clear before I move into deadlifting, swings, cleans, and a bunch of other posterior chain exercises that require a good amount of both hip flexion and extension.  What I consider to be clear is a “2” on the FMS screen.  If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, here’s a link to show you what the straight leg raise is and how the FMS scores this pattern:

 

 

Toe Touch:

Along with the straight leg raise, I’d also like to see the ability to touch your toes before I move on to a bunch of strength training via deadlifts, cleans, swings, snatches, etc… If you can’t touch the ground, I’d venture to say deadlifting weight from the floor isn’t the best idea…we can find something better.

 

Along with having the ability to touch your toes, I’d also like to see a posterior weight shift while doing so.  When I’m looking at the toe touch, I’m not only looking at having the ability to actually touch the toes; I’m also looking to see if the hips move backward in space when bending forward.  This SHOULD happen.  So, if both criteria are met, this is good enough for me, assuming your not in pain.

 

Now that we know what is functional and what’s not, let’s look at how we find out if a dysfunction is “hard” vs. “soft.”  First, let’s define these terms and then we’ll go from there:

 

Hard – This is a dysfunction that is truly a mobility issue.  It may be stemming from degenerative joints, potential hereditary issues regarding the femur and how it sits in the acetabulum, tight/stiff muscles, fascial restrictions, or some other issue that is more structural in nature.

 

(Bone, Joint, Muscle, Tissue)

 

Soft – In order to have a limitation be coined as soft, it means it’s going to stem from stability and motor control.  Soft limitations aren’t there due to a structural limitation, they’re there because you don’t have the strength, neuromuscular control, or stability demands it takes to do what we’re looking for: a good straight leg raise and relatively clean toe touch.

 

(Stability, Motor Control, Weakness)

 

Now that we have an idea of what those terms mean, let’s dig into how we find out if a person has a hard or soft limitation.  Let’s start w/ the leg raise.

 

When I’m looking at the leg raise, if I don’t see a score of a 2 on the FMS, I want more info.  The things I’m going to look at are: the toe touch and the same leg raise, only done with added stability.

 

I’m not going to show a video of the toe touch since that’s pretty self explanatory, but the leg raise done with added stability is shown below:

 

 

After I look at this pattern, I want to see one thing.

 

Did the pattern improve, or did it stay the same?

 

If it stayed the same AND they can’t touch their toes, everything is leading to say that there’s a bone, joint, or muscle/tissue issue going on.  If it improves and clears the pattern, now I’m more confident in saying it’s more of a strength, stability, motor control issue.

 

These two issues, hard or soft, have drastically different corrective strategies.  Hence my less than stellar results years ago.  It worked sometimes didn’t others simply due to understanding this.  Since I’ve started to look at the limitations from a hard limitation or a soft limitation, my results have drastically improved.  Now I can be more of a sharp shooter in my approach versus winging stuff out there in the hopes it will work.

 

So to wrap things up, don’t always judge a book by it’s cover.  Start to look a little deeper and you’ll start to improve your results.  The cool thing about it…It only takes a couple minutes longer to look at this stuff.  Very good time return on my investment for the time it spent to look deeper.

 

Start to look at mobility in a different way and start to see if the limitation is hard or soft.  Change stability, assist the movement, or do something else to make it easier.  If the limitation is there everywhere…think hard limitation.  If you make the move a little easier and all the sudden it clears up or improves dramatically, think soft limitation.

 

Corrective strategies will come another day, but for the time being, start to pay attention to the mobility issues you’re seeing and start to see if they’re hard or soft.  If it’s hard, do soft tissue work, stretching, or possibly refer out to a PT or chiro for faster results.  If it’s soft, give them a little assistance with stability, start to improve strength, and help them groove the pattern ensuring good clean reps done each time.  Start to become a sharp shooter in your approach and you’ll stop wasting time on things that just don’t work.

Performing and Scoring the Top Tier SFMA

When it comes to learning everything you can about how a person moves, the SFMA Top Tier is a great place to start.  Performing the entire Top Tier only takes a few minutes and it really gives you a lot of information.  Over the past few years, I’ve been using this in conjunction with the FMS, and it’s really opened my eyes and I’ve started to look at movement a little deeper.

 

I can knock out the top tier and the entire FMS screen within about 10 minutes.  By doing both of these, I’m gathering a ton of information about how they move globally.  After you get a little experience by doing a bunch of screens and assessments, you’ll start to see exactly where you want to look and dig deeper.  Adding some simple breakout assessments on top of the top tier and FMS, you’ll have the exact roadmap of where to go with someone.

 

This will be the first segment in a series to show you how we, as fitness professionals, can use a tool like the SFMA (pieces of it…not the whole thing) and get better overall results.

 

We’ll get started with the assessment.

 

Cervical Flexion, Extension, & Rotation:

Shoulders, Patterns 1 & 2:

Flexion:

Extension:

Rotation:

SL Balance:

Squat:


As always, I highly recommend taking the certification courses provided by the Functional Movement Systems.  They’re fantastic and really help you understand movement.  You can learn more by visiting their website at www.functionalmovement.com

 

You can also find a free SFMA Download over at movementbook.com.

 

Start looking at these patterns and we’ll show you how to break them down a little deeper in the near future.

Techniques for Improving Rolling Patterns

Rolling patterns are one of our absolute favorite exercises to add into a corrective strategy or warm up.  These patterns do a great job of getting your inner core to fire quickly to promote stability…and with good stability comes improved performance.  I had a great question about rolling from one of our interns, and after thinking about it…I knew I had a resource for him to help give him answers.  I thought this was on our blog, but after digging through my resources, I realized this little gem was filmed for the Elite Training Mentorship.  For a couple years, we did monthly in-services for ETM, and this was one of them.

 

In this in-service, we dive into upper and lower body rolling patterns. We’ll show you common mistakes your clients will make and and give corrective strategies to help fix them. If you don’t want to watch the video, here are some of the highlights:

As we begin losing the ability to roll properly, you’ll notice the primer movers tend to move first so it’s important to always check the timing of the soft core muscles. The push up is a perfect example; if your client has a little hitch on the way up, it’s a good idea to check out his or her rolling patterns. Rolling patterns also serve as a great assessment tool for this reason too.

 

Here are a few ways to tell if your clients need work on their rolling patterns:

  • They’re using momentum to try and fling themselves over
  • They get “stuck” as they try to roll
  • They’re using other muscles to get the job done

 

You can quickly check for other compensations by placing your feet underneath theirs as they roll. This allows you to see if they’re digging into the ground for stability.

 

Here are a couple tips we often use to help our clients:

  1. Kick a Leg: This one’s quick and easy. We can tap the heel to of the long leg to help engage the core as the client rolls.
  2. Resistance Band Assistance: Place a band around the down leg and shoulder. Start with a 1-inch band to give your client assistance and ween him/her off from there. This one is great for a group setting because a client can do it on his own.
  3. Cook Band Assisted: Add a cook band to the long leg side to help increase stability. This is one of my favorites but is probably a little better in a personal training since you’ll have to hold the band at about a 45° angle.
  4. Add Props: Use a yoga mat, Airex pad, etc under one side of the body to shorten the range of motion your client has to roll. Eventually you can begin weaning him off by lowering the elevation.
  5. Targets: Using small targets like your hand, a ball, or a nearby object can help influence reaching and the separation we’re looking for.  This is a great external cue and gives them a visual object to chase after.

 

We use rolling patterns daily in our gym to improve push-ups and rotary stability but to also prevent future injuries. I know that’s a lot of info to digest so be sure to check out the video and feel free to save it for later.

 

If you’d like more in-services like this one, be sure to check out the Elite Training Mentorship.  They offer a 30 Day Trial for less than 5 bucks, so it’s totally worth checking out.  This is one of the best training resources out there.  Not only do we have a ton of in-services, case studies, and other resources, you also have years of quality content from people like Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson.  To learn more about the Elite Training Mentorship, be sure to check it out here.