5 Steps To Increase Hip Rotation To Build More Muscle
So last time we talked about why hip rotation was important to build more muscle. If you didn’t get a chance to check that out, click HERE and read through it before going through this blog. I’ll now be focusing on a 5 step process to improve both hip internal AND external rotation of the hips to then build muscle for all the reasons I spoke of in the previous post!
As a quick review, the reason hip rotation is necessary is because with more rotational capacity all the other motions of the hip have space to move and actually be done. So once rotation (starting with internal rotation) is improved, you’ll usually see the hips open up and just move better overall. With that being said, let’s get into it:
Assessment is the key because you need to know where you’re at before you decide where to go. Check out this video HERE where I take you through a basic hip internal and external rotation assessment that you can easily replicate. Once you try this assessment, record yourself doing it the way I showed you. No shoes. It’ll be important later.
Few questions to ask yourself:
Did you feel any pinching?
Did you feel any cramping as you approached your end range of motion?
Did you feel any pain?
Did you notice any other parts of your body moving?
Did you have difficulty rotating your hips either way?
If you’re feeling some pinching, you need to regress your range of motion. This sensation usually means some type of tissue is being jammed in the joint somewhere. And you don’t want to work there because you won’t make gains. Your body will fight you and it’s just painful. So, NEVER push through pinching, even if you can get further into the range of motion.
If you’re feeling some cramping, that’s usually a GOOD thing. It’s saying that there is some unfamiliarity with the tissue in that range. Your brain doesn’t know how to really fire that stuff right so you’re cramping up because your brain is just contracting the shit out of it. Just a little bit of confusion that usually gets cleared with repeated effort. Of course, if it gets crazy, back off a little, then repeat the motion and see if it improves.
If you’re feeling pain, that’s definitely something to regress out of. Similar to pinching, pain is a sensation your body will not make gains under. Your nervous system’s job is specifically to avoid pain and threatening situations because it’s trying to keep you alive. So regress a bit to where you don’t feel pain and it’s just work.
Also there is a big difference between work and pain. Work is difficult but doesn’t hurt. Effort is okay. Tension in the muscle and/or joint is okay. Physical pain is recognizable and pretty terrible. You can push effort and difficulty. Don’t push pain.
When you recorded yourself did you notice any other parts of your body move besides that leg that was up? Maybe your neck, shoulders, arms, pelvis etc? If you did, there’s a good chance that when you do other movements, you hold tension in those same areas when you don’t need to. Why is that important?
If every time you do a lunge, you extend your lower back (curve it) you are producing lumbar extension when you want HIP extension. I see this ALL the time. Lower spines become hips. Even if you go down into the lunge with the right execution, if you come up and load that lumbar by producing your force to stand up from there instead of your hip, you are continuously loading that lumbar spine.
Most of the time, you don’t even notice. Shit, I don’t notice this extra movement sometimes either when it’s real heavy and I’m writing this blog. The point is that it’s very common. And sometimes you can’t FEEL it. Sometimes you can only see it. And sometimes it’s either way. The point is, you have to have some way to keep yourself accountable during these movements. If you don’t have someone to watch you (a coach or trainer), you need to analyze your own movement. If you want your lower back to stop being your hips, you NEED to watch for these extra movements or subconscious movements.
Maybe you could access a pretty fair range of motion, but it was SUPER difficult to access that end range. Maybe after a bit, you had to REALLY try to get there. That says a lot as well! You want these motions to be as easily accessed as moving your fingers around. And why is it easy to move your fingers and not your hip? Because you don’t move your hip that was INTENTIONALLY very often. There’s a lot neurological unfamiliarity where your brain isn’t really sure how to get those muscles to fire and pull your hip into those ranges of motions that well. As you get busy with the work I’m going to give you later on, you’ll feel a lot better and it won’t be as difficult.
2. Learn How To Build Tension
After you’ve assessed your hip and asked yourself those key questions/ made adjustments in your active range of motion, it’s time to learn how to build tension in that motion intentionally.
Tension Hip IR: HERE (1st video)
Tension Hip ER: HERE (2nd video)
It’s important to understand how to build tension in those muscles so that when you’re working on IMPROVING the range of motion, you’re loading the right stuff. Make sure you’re driving your knee into the block while you rotate.
When you internally rotate you want to also adduct the hip. (Drive toward midline of body)
When you externally rotate you want to also abduct the hip. (Drive toward outside of body)
It is INCREDIBLY important that you master these pairs.
Here’s how I want you to go through this drill:
Imagine you have a range of effort from 1% - 100% where 100% is exerting as much effort as possible in that movement from the video.
I want you to slowly “load” the hip at your end range of motion increasing your effort by 10% every couple of seconds. Once you increase 10%, check in with yourself:
Any pinching or pain?
If so, regress the percentage. Better? Good. No? Keep lowering.
You essentially want to find a safe place to load the hip at and work there. If 60% felt great, but 70% felt painful, 60% is your current max tension amount for your hip in whichever rotation you did. So when you pursue the improvement in the next section, you’ll now know your max pain free tension.
Identifying this % is pretty important because you can’t make gains (especially in mobility) while in pain. You’re dealing with the inner connective tissues of your hip. They’re strong af for sure, but you need to progress yourself accordingly. You probably haven’t loaded this tissue intentionally in a while, if ever. So take your time. There will be a time and place for going HAM!
After you identify your pain free range, I want you to practice ramping up from 0% to YOUR pain free max and back down. Control is everything with improving your mobility. You can probably go from 0 to 100 pretty easily, but what about back down to 0 slowly? You’ll need that ramping skill in the next section.
Once you identify your pain free max tension, lock in on that and remember how it feels as well as how to access it.
3. Let’s Improve
For this next section you’ll be learning how to actually INCREASE your range of motion for both internal and external rotation. Keep in mind that there are a TON of different ways to improve your hip rotation. For this blog I’ll be using the FRC principle of isometric loading of the joint called PAILS & RAILS. PAILS stands for progressive angular isometric loading and RAILS stands for regressive angular isometric loading.
Broken down a bit, these terms basically mean you are loading each side of the joint by pushing into an immovable surface. The progressive tissues in the context of improving hip INTERNAL rotation would be the hip external rotators of the muscles and connective tissue that help the hip rotate externally. Regressive would be the hip internal rotators. Vice versa for when you’re trying to improve hip external rotation. Progressive = Hip Internal Rotators & Regressive = Hip External Rotators.
Now why does this work? Everytime you move, you’re speaking to your body. You’re telling it that you want to get from A to B a certain way. And your body, specifically your brain assists you in getting there (unless where you’re trying to go is threatening to your brain). The same thing happens when you do mobility training. You’re communicating with your brain telling it:
“Hey! It’s SAFE to be here. I AM STRONG HERE”.
And as long as your brain feels safe and there isn’t any actual blockage in the joint, you’ll see gains. Neurological tightness is the inhibition due to your brain not trusting you. Your brain doesn’t trust that you can be safe in that range of motion because it knows you’re not strong there. So doing this work signals to your brain over and over and over again that you’re strong here.
Remember that tension identification/ control in step 2? Now you get to put it to use.
Here’s your sequence for improving your mobility:
1.) 2 minute passive stretch with relaxed breathing
2.) PAILS (pushing down) ramping from 0% to 50%. Hold 50% for 20 seconds.
3.) RAILS (pulling away) holding for 20 seconds.
4.) 2 recovery breaths + a bit more passive stretch.
5.) PAILS ramping from 50% to max intensity. Hold max for 20 seconds.
6.) RAILS (pulling away) holding for 20 seconds.
7.) 2 recovery breaths + a bit more passive stretch. Hold for 4-5 more breaths relaxing into the position.
8.) Perform 3 lift offs to end range and hold on 3 lift for 5 seconds keep breath relaxed.
PAILS/RAILS for Hip IR: HERE
PAILS/RAILS for Hip ER: HERE
4. Saving The Work
Saving the work comes at the lift offs portion of the previous step, but I wanted to give a section to it specifically to talk about the importance of execution here. When you’re training your joints and the surrounding muscles that responsible for those movements, it’s KEY that you execute with as much precision and intention as possible. Don’t just go through the motions, give each rep their own “set”. Think 1-1-1 as opposed to 1-2-3. When you think this way, it’s CHANGES THE GAME. It gives EQUAL effort to each rep so you get the most out of this shit.
You’re basically reprogramming your brain to execute certain motions in a different way depending on how you’ve been doing them previously. That takes a lot of work. So you have to put that effort in EVERY SESSION. I can’t stress that enough. Treat each session and saving the work as an opportunity to improve a bit more.
5. Integrating The Mobility Into Your Training
The question I receive once I show someone how to improve their joints is: “How often should I do this?”
My answer is the same: OFTEN AS SHIT.
Think about this: if you’ve been moving a certain way for YEARS, using certain muscles to initiate a movement like a squat for YEARS, dominant with certain muscles/ joints for YEARS, it’ll take A LOT of work to initiate that reprogramming. Your body likes to move how its been moving for YEARS. Did I mention YEARS? It doesn’t like change. But with consistent, progressive stress (training) you CAN make change. Consistency is going to be your biggest friend here.
And when you’re including mobility training into your program, think about how these movements FEEL. When you train your hips, you should feel some similar sensations when you actually move and then load them with squats, lunges, etc. When you abduct and externally rotate your hips at the bottom of a squat, do you feel your glutes working? If you’re wondering what that motion is, refer to the image on the right below:
I included this image in my previous blog post and if you look closely it looks similar to your legs in the bottom of a squat! Your glutes and hips should be absorbing the force in your squats. And if they’re not, what do you think IS doing that work? Shit ya don’t want doin it.
That’s the whole purpose behind #painfreeaesthetics. INTENTION. When you move with intention, you load the shit you want to load with weight and take the pain out of aesthetics. Don’t wait to care about this shit when you NEED to care. Be proactive and take control of things before they get out of control. You don’t have to keep re-injuring yourself. Give your joints love. Respect them and they will respect you. I promise things aren’t “better” just because your body stops hurting. It’ll come back. And when it does, it’ll come back with a vengeance.
It’s like that bad guy everyone thought was gone from the first movie but they’re actually back as a surprise in the second movie and they’re stronger than ever. Don’t let that bad guy come back. Do it right the first time!
Now that you have a way to improve those hips, GO GET BUSY! One of the biggest things you’ll see is how much better connected you’ll feel to your body. It’s YOUR body. No one is going to tell you how you feel in it. You need to master it and learn as much as you can about it. It’ll be worth it, I promise.