Outside magazine, September 1999
A simple routine that'll take your hips from out of whack to in the groove
"An athlete's platform of strength, balance, and quickness needs to be based on good range of motion," says physiologist Emily Miller. The hips are vital to this, and the only way to enable them to perform properly is by taking on the following six stretches. Of course, you'll also need some strength work to make sure the muscles of the pelvic girdle are up to snuff. To strengthen them effectively, good pelvic posture is key: Your hips should be in a "neutral" position, tilting neither too far forward nor too far back when you're working out. "Think about sucking in your belly button without tucking in your spine," Miller suggests.
Do the following strength exercises three times a week. And for the stretches? "Daily," Miller says firmly. "Especially for people who sit behind a desk; things that took a long time to get tight will take a long time to loosen up." If you do the stretches as a routine unto themselves, rather than after an aerobic workout, you'll first need to warm up for ten minutes (the workout will take about 30 minutes). Unless otherwise noted, hold the stretches for 30 seconds. You should feel tension in the targeted muscleùbut not pain.
Genuflect, with your right leg extended behind you and your left elbow resting on your left knee. Keeping your back erect, lean your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch between the groin and the thigh of the back leg. Switch legs and repeat.
To stretch this tendonlike band that runs down the side of your thigh, stand with your hands on your hips and your left leg crossed behind your right. Keeping your left knee locked, bend at the waist to the right, pointing your elbow toward the floor. You want to feel tension in a concentrated patch on the outside of the left hip. Repeat on the right side.
Stand on your left foot, bending the right leg behind your back so that you can hold your right foot behind you with your right hand (use a wall for balance if need be). Pull your heel toward your butt, which you should flex to increase the stretch along the front of the thigh. Repeat with the other leg.
Stand with your back to a counter, resting your palms on its edge, and extend your left leg to the side. Now, lean into your right kneeùkind of like a fencer would. After ten seconds, ease up and then gradually move back into the stretch, repeating these steps five times. Do the same for the right adductors.
To unknot this muscle, which turns the leg outward, lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees pointing up. Cross your right leg over the left so that your calf rests on the knee. Grabbing your right knee and ankle, pull them gently toward your right shoulder until you feel a stretch along the back of the thigh and your left buttock. Hold the pose for ten seconds, ease up, and then go back into the stretch. Do five reps before switching to the other leg.
Lie on your back with both legs outstretched and raise your right leg, knee slightly bent, until it's perpendicular to the floor. With your hands clutching the back of your thigh for support, straighten the knee until you feel the stretch. Repeat with the left leg.
"To excel in sports, you need to be stable on one leg," Miller says. "Whether you're skating or pushing on a bike pedal or hiking, it all comes down to being able to push your body on one leg with really good hip and knee mechanics." Standing on a bench with one leg dangling off, and keeping your hips level, slowly bend at the knee as if trying to sit down. Stop just before your thigh is parallel to the floorùif you can get that far. Make sure that your knee doesn't extend farther forward than your second toe. Press up from the heel and arch. Start with three sets of 20 reps. As you advance, work on squatting continuously for 30, and eventually 60, seconds.
This drill is essential to reinforcing your neglected gluteus medius, which runs along the outside of the hip and provides lateral stability. Anchor an elastic band to something low to the ground and stand with your right shoulder facing it. Loop it around your left ankle, and slowly move that leg against the band. After one set of 20 reps, repeat with the other leg, doing two sets each.
Lie on your back with your arms by your sides, your knees raised, and your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Slowly thrust your hips upward so that your body creates a rigid ramp from your shoulders to your knees. To get the full benefit, squeeze your glutes together at the top of the movement and hold the contraction for five seconds before lowering yourself. Do 30 repetitions.
One of the few ways to strengthen the piriformis, this odd little exercise should be done lying facedown with pillows under your abdomen and forehead. Move your knees about shoulder-width apart and bend your lower legs so that you can press your heels together above your upper thighs. Now squeeze your heels together for five seconds. Ease up, and then repeat for a total of 30 repetitions. You might save this one for the privacy of your own home.