Why do we need strong hips? Let me count the ways!
We have seventeen muscles that help us with flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, lateral and medial rotation, and circumduction. This includes your iliopsoas muscles, gluteal muscles, adductor longus, and many more. In short, it’s a busy hub of activity or non-activity in our bodies!
Having adequately strong and functional hip muscles is vitally important to good posture, everyday movements like walking and running, getting up from a seated position, maintaining hip stability for less wear and tear on our spines - good quality, pain-free living. It’s something most take for granted until weakness makes daily life more obviously difficult.
As always, I luuuuv to focus on PREVENTION! Working these muscles in different planes of movement regularly goes a long way to helping us continue to enjoy other kinds of movement with less chance of severe injury.
You can work the hip in open chain or closed chain. Open chain is when your feet or knees are not connected to a fixed surface, as when you are performing all of your side lying work on the mat. Closed chain is when your feet or knees are grounded on a stable surface like the floor or on the Pilates or other equipment. The two ways of working provide different benefits.
It is important to work our hip muscles in both ways because our modern life continues to give us conveniences that undermine our bodies’ health. We are all aware of our excessive sitting situation, but consider things like not having to get up to change our television channels, having perfectly designed cabinets that eliminate deeper squatting and bending, always sitting on furniture instead of on our floors, and of course, this list could go on.
Over the years, I have found that working the hip muscles in open chain is beneficial to include in a program for someone who is experiencing generalized low back pain. When someone has back or even sciatic issues, I have noticed that is commonly very difficult for that person to organize into good alignment when laying on their side. Just gaining the body awareness and ability to align well in this position does the body and brain a world of good. I do not doubt that this transfers to better unconscious standing alignment and core engagement during normal life movement. Working the hip muscles in this way also allows you to better isolate particular muscles without compression in the knee or ankle joints.
Thinking of the core, I like the way working the hip in open chain works the muscles of the trunk. The core must work hard to stabilize as the leg moves. It’s not difficult to focus on the hip muscles working because once you get set up well, the burning calls your attention loud and clear. If you shift your awareness to your core, you will find LOTS of engagement, not burning, that is training your core to stabilize. You need this stabilization for spinal and overall joint health as you move your legs around in daily life. If good-looking abs are your focus, then these exercises done consistently can give great results and are safer than those old school hundred crunches if you have back issues.
Closed chain work, where your distal end is fixed on a surface, is considered to be functional training because it's how we move in real life. When you perform closed chain movement and the distal end is fixed, it requires more engagement and coordination of other muscles and joints.
I believe that BOTH ways of working are necessary, which is why you’ll see variety in my class offerings. The open chain way of working the leg muscles is all throughout the Pilates mat work, both the traditional and variations I weave in and really work the core while isolating specific muscles. My barre workouts use lots of closed chain leg and hip strengthening exercises, but I also know that these are seen as more of a workout for women and I don’t want my male studio members to miss out on these benefits! Because of this, I’ll be incorporating more standing work into mat class selections in the coming months.
I hope this inspires you to take a fresh look at your mat work if you’ve been doing it for awhile or to appreciate the benefits of added standing work.