Health & Fitness

Keep your hip joints in shape to perform at your peak

Would you like to improve your athletic performance without having to leave your living room? If you answered "yes," here's the four-word secret: Train your hip joints.

No matter what sport you play, your hips help determine your power, your precision of movement, your balance, even your speed. This is true in every sport, whether it's skiing, basketball, swimming or cycling — even competitive dancing. The action of the femurs (thigh bone), the largest bone of the body, affects every movement you make below the waist. Many muscles, including the hip flexors, control the rotation of the top of the femur in the hip socket — which in turn helps dictate the movement of the knee, lower leg and foot.

So what training do you need to do to your hip joints to improve your athletic prowess? The answer is simple: strength, range of motion and flexibility. Here's the how-to:

Strength

If you do have access to gym equipment and don't mind leaving your living room, the multi-hip machine should be your new best friend. And yes, I hate this machine too, but there's nothing that compares for full range of motion (ROM) resistance training.

This is the machine with the big round wheel that allows you to adjust the position of a bar. You put one leg over the bar, stick the prong into the weight amount you've selected from the stack, and begin the exercise sequence. Moving the thigh up and down both in front, back and side to side works the thigh and lower torso in every range of motion.

You can duplicate these resistance movements at home with a 16- to 20- foot length of bungee cord tied into a loop. Place one end of the loop around a door knob and bring the rest of the loop under the door. Put the rest of the loop over your thigh, and do the knee lifting that builds your quads, the front thigh muscles. Put the loop over your ankle and lift your leg backwards to strengthen your hamstrings, the back of the thigh; as well as your glutes, or butt muscles.

Next, relocate the loop so it comes out of the side of the door level with the door knob. Put the loop on the lower part of your thigh so that you're standing sideways to it, then back away until you can feel the desired resistance. By turning from one side to the other, you strengthen the inside and outside thigh muscles — adductors and abductors. Do the same number of reps and sets on each leg.

Range of motion

If you look at any elite athlete in action, especially ski racers, you'll see that the thigh is often lifted up to the chest — even the shoulder. This is a total power move. It allows you to put the force of your entire body on the downward motion, with incredible strength. To train for this range of motion with the addition of balance, stand on one foot, lift the other knee as high as possible, then "hug" it with both arms to lift it even higher. Keep practicing until you can lift each leg high without using your arms to help, and can do it while standing on one foot without wobbling.

Flexibility

Stretching is, of course, the key to flexibility. Here are two additional stretches to increase hip flexibility: sit on the floor, with your back against a wall. Place feet sole-to-sole and pulled back towards the groin. Gently press down on the knees with your forearm or hands. You should feel some pressure, but never pain, in the groin area. Next, while holding the same position, bend forward over your feet as far as possible, keeping your back straight. This will also stretch your spine.

If you spend just half an hour every other day training your hip joints, your athletic abilities will improve past your wildest dreams. This type of training not only works your hip joints, but your core — which is every athlete's power center. The difference in your performance will be so satisfying, you'll be hooked on working your hips for life.

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