Outside magazine, January 1996
"Stretching and strengthening all of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the hips will stabilize the region," says Dr. Lyle Micheli, author of The Sports Medicine Bible. In principle, Micheli approaches protecting the hips no differently than he would any other major joint: by stretching and strengthening the surrounding structures. In practice, however, building the hip environs is trickier, since almost every ligament, tendon, and muscle from knees to shoulders attaches to the crucial pelvic region. "Besides the usual suspects--quads, glutes, hamstrings, and abs--the hips also need help from the flexors, extensors, adductors, and abductors," says Micheli. To surround your hips with the support they need, add his program to your regular routine two or three days a week.
For the tops of your hips: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Interlock your fingers and place your hands behind your head; your elbows should be touching the floor. Cross your left thigh over your right leg and then use your left leg to pull your right leg gently toward the floor, keeping your upper back, shoulders, and head flat. When you feel resistance, stop and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. This stretch is for the lateral abdominal muscles and hip abductors. You'll feel it in your lower back. Switch legs and repeat. For the fronts of your hips: Sit on the floor with your right leg bent back so that the heel is next to the outside of your hip. Bend your left leg so that the sole of your left foot is almost flat against the inside of your right thigh. Lean back slightly and support yourself with your hands. Contract your gluteus muscles as you push your right hip toward the left. Hold for ten to 15 seconds. Relax your glutes, but hold the stretch for another count of ten to 15. You're stretching the quads and the iliopsoas, and you'll feel it from thigh to pelvis. Switch sides and repeat.
For the iliotibial bands: Sit on the floor with your left leg outstretched in front of you (photo 1). Bend your right leg so that your right foot rests against your left knee. Bend your left elbow and rest it on the outside of your upper right thigh, just above the knee. Place your right hand behind you for support and slowly turn your head to look over your right shoulder. At the same time, rotate your upper body toward your right hand. You'll feel this one in your lower back, too. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds; switch sides and repeat.
To do the set of hip strengtheners that Micheli suggests, you'll need three feet of rubber tubing--either surgical tubing or a resistance cord made specifically for exercise. Attach one end of the cord to a table or other immovable object about six inches up from the floor; loop the other end around your ankle. For each exercise, maintain the natural arch of your back, resisting the temptation to overarch or lean forward, and do two sets of ten repetitions on each side. Hip flexors: Stand with your back to the table. Keeping your knees straight, raise your right leg until it's nearly parallel to the floor.
Hip extensors: Stand facing the table (photo 2). Push your right leg back and up, like a donkey kicking in slow motion, as far as you can without disrupting the natural arch of your back.
Hip adductors: Stand with your right side toward the table. Slowly swing your right leg away from the table and cross it in front of your left leg. Stop when there are about 18 inches between your two feet.
Hip abductors: Stand with your left side toward the table (photo 3). Slowly swing your right leg out and away from the table. Stop when your leg is 45 degrees from the vertical.