From your posture, to your physical power and your emotional resilience, hips play a remarkable role in holding everything together. So what makes your hips a hotspot for physical and emotional health? And what you can do to ensure they’re in good shape?
We constantly hear that core strength is fundamental to athletic performance, reducing injury risk, and living a healthy life. But you can't pin everything on your core. If your hips are not in good health, you'll soon know about it.
Back pain, knee pain, shin splints, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and all sorts of other aches and pains often stem from your hips.
It’s the muscles around your hips that support your core and pelvis, creating a strong foundation for your limbs to move from. When these muscles (primarily the psoas, iliacus and the gluteus maximus) are not in good shape, you don’t have the strong foundation you need, meaning other parts of the body have to pick up the slack. When these other muscles do too much compensating, overuse or repetitive stress injuries can soon kick in.
By strengthening the muscles around your hips, not only can you ease injury risk, but it also improves your athleticism. Building strong glute muscles and strengthening and stretching your hip flexors helps you transfer force through the upper and lower body, so you can move more powerfully – that means running faster, jumping higher and performing better.
Ask Bryce Hastings, physiotherapist and Les Mills Head of Research, about the most beneficial stretches and he says, for many, focusing on your hip flexors is hard to beat. He explains: “We only have 10-15 degrees of extension available at the hip (where the thigh moves behind the body) and we use all of this mobility every time we take a step. Compare this to the hamstrings, which normally allow 90 degrees of hip flexion, of which we only use around 30 degrees when we walk or run. Therefore, losing ten degrees of hamstring length is generally okay. Whereas losing 10 degrees of psoas length is a real problem. Any shortening of this muscle shunts movement that should occur at the hip up into the lower back during each step, and that’s a disaster!”
If you have tight hips, you have less mobility, which can make even the simplest movements – like walking or pushing a stroller – painful. Tight hips can also lead to a tilted pelvis, which affects your posture, plus your head and neck alignment. Poor posture is linked to stress and depression, while neck alignment issues can lead to headaches.
POST-PANDEMIC HIP HEALTH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
While we know the perils of too much sitting, for many, pandemic-induced restrictions have meant we’re spending more time than ever at home working and sitting on our bottoms. A recent study identified prolonged sitting as one of the key causes of pain and discomfort caused by limited hip extension. Your hips are contracted whenever you’re sitting, and your hip flexors (the large powerful muscles at the front of the hip) are in a shortened position. In as little as 30 minutes, this tightening of the muscles can start being problematic. You experience a loss of elasticity in the muscles, and as you age, this can become more pronounced and the muscles become less pliable.
SIGNS YOU NEED TO STRETCH YOUR HIPS
Personal Trainer and LES MILLS STRETCH™ creator, Kelly Macdonald says: “We know it’s important to drink water, brush our teeth and get five plus a day to maintain our health. It’s just as important to stretch, especially the hips as the center point of your body that take a lot of load daily.” She adds that if you’re dealing with any of the following situations, you will definitely benefit from stretching your hips.
- Sitting for any more than four hours a day
- Lower back or knee pain
- Any pinching or pain in your hips
- A feeling of being restricted when you move
- If you struggle to touch your toes.
ARE YOUR HIPS HOLDING YOUR EMOTIONS?
It’s not just your physical body that benefits from strong hips, your hip health can affect your emotional wellbeing too. While there is a fair bit of controversial and different thinking on this topic, research has shown that different emotions are linked to different areas of the body, and the hips are where some people hold a lot of emotional stress.
With this in mind, the sun salutations, pelvic stretches and hip opening postures you do in yoga and BODYBALANCE sessions may not only release physical tension but ease mental tension as well.
And of course, yoga isn’t the only option. Lunges and squats are all beneficial for hip health, as is stretching. If you want to take action and enjoy the benefits right now, you can join Kelly Macdonald for a 15-minute LES MILLS STRETCH #01 Hip Mobility session.
Discover more ways to strengthen and stretch your hips during BODYBALANCE.