5 Ways Improving Your Hip Rotation Will Help You Build More Muscle
It has been a LONG time since I’ve written a blog. Truth be told, I got uninspired to write them. I got caught up in the views and shares and stopped doing it for the real reason: to create impact. These blogs are so powerful for those who read them and then put what they teach into practice. I’ve had multiple people message me saying the blogs were helpful and that’s why they’re here. Because even if it’s just one person, that’s impact.
Okay, now that I’ve explained why I’m back let’s get started. Hip Rotation. It’s one of the most NEGLECTED aspects of movement nowadays. You want to squat, lunge, jump, deadlift, hip thrust etc, but you keep getting hit with injuries, pain and dysfunction in your lifting. Whether it’s an achey lower back, painful knees, or pinchy hips, something is hurting your progress. What if I told you hip rotation was the KEY to building more muscle? And I don’t just mean with helping mitigate risk for injury.
I mean more STRENGTH and actual hypertrophy. There are numerous studies that show that with more range of motion, hypertrophy is increased. You are taking your muscles and joints through a greater range of motion, loading MORE muscles and thereby GROWING more muscle.
So how does hip rotation fit into all this?
Here’s 5 ways hip rotation will help you build MORE muscle:
1. The Most Obvious: Great Mobility In Your Hips = Less Injuries
If you’re injured CONSTANTLY, in pain CONSTANTLY and have to take breaks from training often, you will NOT build muscle. To build muscle you need to progressively overload your muscles to continue to break them down to be re-built larger with either more intensity (heavier weights) more volume (reps + sets) or frequency (more sessions per week for specific muscle group). But if you keep hurting yourself, you’re not going to build ANYTHING as you will not be able to continue progressive overload.
I like to use a bucket analogy when describing injuries. Think of each of your joints as a bucket with a certain amount of water it can hold. Let’s say that the water would be load or some sort of weight put on that joint. Each joint on your body will inherently have a different size bucket depending on how you’ve lived your life, previous injuries, training programs, mobility work etc. If one of these buckets takes on too much water, that is when you have an injury. Each joint has a certain capacity or max amount of water or load that it can hold.
Mobility training (improving hip rotation specifically in this case) will INCREASE the size of your bucket. That’s why some people can do crazy things with their joints while others can’t. Their buckets are just different sizes. Genetics do play a role to a degree (think people are hypermobile), but the human body is incredibly adaptive and can be shaped based upon how you treat it most of the time.
This first reason is the most obvious one, but it still needs to be said.
2. You’ll Actually Be Loading The Muscles You Want To
Ever have trouble FEELING your training? What I mean is, you’re doing a lunge or squat and one leg doesn’t really feel much while the other leg is firing like crazy? Then a few days later you have lower back pain on that same side that wasn’t really doing much in your training? There’s a good chance that the load of the weight you were squatting wasn’t be applied to the right stuff. When you lift pretty heavy 1-3 rep range (maybe even up to 5) you may not FEEL as much because your central nervous system will be fatigued as opposed to your actual muscles being fatigued. And because your central nervous is responsible for sending a strong ass signal to your muscles to get them to contract in a heavy ass lift, if that signal is weak, your lift won’t happen. But if you’re at a decently higher rep range (6 - 20+) you should feel some stuff. But if those previous questions applied to you, the weight may not be being moved by the right muscles/joints.
Let me explain.
Of course, there’s weight on your back so the muscles in your leg are going to be loaded in some capacity. HOWEVER, the muscles/ joints that INITIATE your lifts may not be what you want them to be. And those muscles take on the blunt load of each lift. For instance in a squat, the biggest issue I see, usually in one hip specifically, is that in an attempt to produce hip extension, (or using your glutes to come out of a squat) lumbar extension (or your lower back curving) usually happens instead. And as I said, it's usually one side that does this compensation.
And what happens when your lower back goes into extension instead of your hips? Other muscles/ joints are being loaded to finish your lift instead of the muscles/ joints you ACTUALLY want. What does this lead to?
Adaptation. Your body is going to get from point A to point B however it needs to. That path may not always be the most efficient. But your body will get you there. Overtime as you continue to ask really small muscles to accomplish pretty large tasks (your small quadratus lumborum muscle to get you out of the bottom of your squat instead of your big glute muscle) these muscles get overworked and overloaded. And again, your body is smart and adaptive. It’ll get you to where you’re trying to get it, but it may not feel the greatest over time. Through time and repeated squats and movements out of deep hip flexion (or where your knees are close to your chest closing the angle between your torso and your legs) with this compensation a ton of other dysfunctional movement follows.
Your brain essentially RE-LEARNS how to accomplish “hip extension”. It changes where it sends signals to so that other muscles fibers and tissue can accomplish that task. Your brain calls all the stuff around the glute to do what the glute SHOULD be able to do on it’s own. So you won’t actually grow your glutes at all. Your supporting muscles become the main movers in your exercises and those get strong as fuck, but they also get TIGHT as fuck because they’re not meant to do what you’re asking them to do and cause a ton of other low back issues and potentially pain.
And if you’re not sure what happens next, refer to reason #1!
3. You’ll Increase Your Range Of Motion In Every Lift You Do
What is the hip joint? What does it actually mean to be a joint? The hip joint is a ball and socket joint, meaning the top of a bone (in this case your femur) sits in the socket (in this case your pelvis) to create the hip joint. So a joint is the intersection of two bones that then creates a specific type of movement. These bones are held together by ligaments which is a thick connective tissue that (like muscles) can actually be made stronger. I’ll get to connective tissues a bit later, but just wanted to introduce what a joint is and how it’s formed real quick.
So when you squat, lunge or do any movement that requires hip flexion, a linear motion of the hip, did you know your hip actually also rotates? Check this out:
Does that position on the right look familiar?
How bout now? Yeah. It’s the bottom of a squat. You’ve probably heard the queue “knees out” before right? When you’re coming up from your squat and everyone is yelling that at you. But no matter how hard you push out, you can’t go any farther. And you don’t really feel your glutes that much. By the way, that's my guy Dr. Aaron Horschig also known as @SquatUniversity on Instagram. He also just hit 1 million followers on the gram so congrats to you if you're reading this Dr. Horschig! I had him on my podcast a while back and we talked a lot about mobility and improving your squat. Check that out HERE.
But anyway, what you’re really being asked when people say "knees out" is to externally rotate and abduct (move your legs away from the center of your body) instead of knees out. But if you can’t perform these two motions in the squat specifically, your range of motion will be limited and your ability to remain stable as you come out of the bottom will also be limited. And I talked about how range of motion leads to more hypertrophy, so if you’re not taking the joint through its full range, you’re missing out.
I highly recommend trying both movements on your back and seeing how they feel. Usually I recommend keeping the knee in line with the hip as well. If those positions feel weird, sketchy and painful, whenever you do leg day, you’re loading that sketchy shit with heavy weight.
So learning how to and then IMPROVING your hip’s ability to rotate will literally help you build more muscle because you’ll squat deeper, be more stable so you’ll be able to output more force through your hips and you’ll actually be able to keep your “knees out”. And you won’t load sketchy shit anymore also!
Hip Internal Rotation on the other hand is JUST as important. There are studies that identify limited hip internal rotation as a HUGE risk factor for injury, knee pain and low back pain. While most of these studies use athletes as their subjects, the findings are still very relevant. Here’s one on the connection between limited hip internal/external rotation and ACL tears. I know this section is about range of motion, but I wanted to plug a significant systematic review that analyzed 11 studies for a total 959 test subjects. The larger the population and studies observed, the more significant the conclusions/ findings usually are.
Anyways, when hip internal rotation is limited, the capsular space or the amount of room the head of your femur (leg bone) has to rotate is limited. So if the capsule space is limited, not only is your internal rotation limited, but EVERY other motion you’re trying to do is also limited. That means less range of motion in your squats, lunges etc. So if you want to build more muscle in your legs by sinking deeper in your movements, hip internal rotation needs to also be a focus. And what you’ll find is that your linear movements like hip flexion and extension, tend to improve because you improve the rotation. More capsule space means more movement in every direction!
4. You Increase The Strength and Resilience Of Your Tendons, Ligaments & Cartilage
You are only as strong as your weakest links. What are the most common injuries? Some kind of issue with your tendons, cartilage and ligaments. Torn ACL, Worn Down Cartilage, Overused Tendons etc. But when you train rotation of your hips specifically you not only strengthen the muscles associated with the motions, you also strengthen the connective tissues as well. Especially when you train at your end range of motions for rotation, you are loading these tissues in ways you probably haven’t before.
These tissues are not as fragile as you think they are. They do a lot of work to help your body move and build muscle. But if they are not targeted specifically, they’ll be left behind until something goes wrong in a lift and they get wrecked. They have the capacity to adapt just like your muscles do. Here’s a really cool article about the adaptive capability of your connective tissues with specific training: HERE.
5. You Can Move Without Fear
Often times so many people are afraid to try certain movements because they’re afraid that their joints are going to collapse on the spot. When you take the time to build strong, resilient joints, you build CONFIDENCE in your movement and remove the fear. There’s a real science to how you perceive your training and the impact it has on your execution of it. If you have a history of hip, knee, low back or any kind of pain from a specific movement, the way you execute that movement is completely changed. By working on your mobility, specifically rotation, you restore your confidence in your ability to move without pain. I like to tell this story when writing or talking about this topic specifically.
A friend of mine that goes by D.J. or @strongcamps on Instagram told me this story on the podcast I did with him and I’ll never forget it. A new client came in to work with him. One of the first things she said was that she couldn’t deadlift. She’d hurt herself numerous times deadlifting and just didn’t want to do it at all. D.J. acknowledged the previous issues and said they’d modify everything to make sure her back was okay throughout the session. The first exercise he said to do was “pick up that sandbag and press it over your head”. The client walked over, picked it up and pressed it over her head a few times. After a set or two that, he said to her, “Okay, go deadlift that sandbag”. She got super nervous and then started doing all these preparatory movements, making sure her back was flat, core tight, knees out, chin tucked, then tried to lift and said “AH, yeah I can’t do that, it hurts my back.”
You see what I mean? A deadlift is basically just picking some shit off the ground and putting it down in its most basic form. The client had to “deadlift” the sandbag to then press it over her head. But when she wasn’t thinking deadlift, she just picked it up no problem. Her previous injuries and issues with a specific exercise COMPLETELY changed the way she performed said exercise.
When you restore confidence that your joints will do what they’re designed to do, you’ll be comfortable lifting heavy and thus progressively overloading your muscles to get big and strong. Your headspace around your training matters so damn much. I could make a whole list on the mental portion of training by itself to be honest. But I’ll save that for another day.
So hopefully by now you see the importance of hip rotation for building muscle. Mobility training is strength training. Build strong ass joints to build strong ass muscles. If you need some help structuring your mobility training, shoot me a message on Instagram @coachkronic or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org . Looking forward to hearing from you!
In the next blog post, I'll show you HOW to improve hip rotation!