Most people are aware of the importance of good hip function, but fewer people know that the hips have a key role in performance and protection of other areas of the body too.
Whether you look at it through the lens of gait, tennis, or throwing sports the muscles of the hips will have a major role in decelerating and moving segments of the body from head to toe, and are therefore instrumental in performance and protection from injury.
Of course this concept can be true for just about any area of the body, but the hips have a few special characteristics, both anatomically and functionally that make them well worth considering in training.
Let’s start with a look at the anatomy and then see how we can apply this knowledge to create a movement approach that boosts our health and resilience in this very important area.
The Hip joints are made up of the ball shaped head of the Femurs (thigh bones) and the acetabulums (sockets), located on either side of the pelvis.
The joint surfaces are each covered by a layer of cartilage and a ligamentous joint capsule surrounds the joints in a helical fashion, providing proprioceptive input and also helping the surrounding musculature to decelerate and check motion when it approaches the joints’ end range. Often, restrictions of motion in the hip joint that are attributed to muscular tightness are really a result of factors to do with the joint capsule.
As we move further away from the articulating surfaces of the joint we have a group of muscles sometimes referred to as the deep 6. These muscles, including the well known Piriformis, originate on the sacrum and have their insertions close to the hip joint. This suits them to the important role of centrating the head of the femur within the hip joint during motion.
The three dimensional structure of the hip joint is reflected by the orientation of its major muscles.
The vectors followed by the main movers of the hips continue upwards throughout the abdominal musculature and many of them towards the opposite shoulder, illustrating the interrelatedness of these major joints with other parts of the body in movement.
This is shown by the well documented link between the Gluteus Maximus and the opposite Latissimus Dorsae, just one of many clues that the hips should be considered in shoulder issues, core training and just about any movement related situation involving the upper and lower body working together.
The non linear orientation which is apparent in all muscles is shown by the direction of muscle fibers by way of the origin and insertion on the skeleton.
Where the hips are concerned, the powerful Gluteus Maximus has obliquely oriented fibres, and perhaps less obviously so do the hamstrings, which attach on the anterior tibia and not on the back as most of us would assume.
The five major adductors or inner thigh muscles don’t just work the thigh master, but have important roles in flexion and extension depending on their specific origins on the pelvic bone. They are also active in the transverse plane, When the stance leg decelerating the rotation of the opposite, or swinging leg during gait.
The Psoas, forming a key part of the well known hip flexor group are one of the most surprising muscles in terms of their structures and where they are situated in the body.
They originate on the transverse processes of all of the lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs and even the last thoracic vertebra. This is roughly at a level of the bottom of the sternum which links the Movement of our legs not only to our spine but pretty tightly with the rib cage and structures related to our breathing mechanism.
The Psoas insert into a bony attachment called the lesser trochanter which is situated on the inside of the thigh bone, further illustrating the triplanar nature of our movement.
A look at the image above shows the variety of fiber directions and how the actions of neighbouring muscles are not always too different, but often merge quite seamlessly into one another.
If your training and movement practice is limited in variety, it’s likely that there is some dormant potential you are not tapping into. This applies to your versatility in movement and your strength potential, particularly during ‘real life’ activities.
The hips are centrally positioned, and their size and scope of motion add to their ability to absorb ranges and forces that may otherwise overflow to areas of the body not so well equipped, such as the knee or lumbar spine.
Because the pelvis is a closed ring, meaning that within its structure it has very little intrinsic movement, action at one hip will always effect the other.
They are heavily influenced by ground reaction from below and from above by the weight and motion of the upper body.
All but 3 of the main muscles of the upper leg cross the hip joint, the exceptions being three of the four quadriceps muscles. So perhaps we should be calling it Hip Day instead of Leg Day!
Wherever you look there is evidence of the importance and interrelatedness of hip health and proper function. Fortunately this is an area we can take care of if our appreciation of them is reflected in our training and movement approach.
At Joint Dynamics our Intelligent Movement training aspirations for our clientele are to build an unconscious and witty athleticism combined with a below the radar ease of movement that brings efficiency, joy and a competitive edge to to day to day life, sports and training.