Ever find yourself getting an odd pinchy feeling in the front of your hip at the bottom of a squat? That ‘can’ be caused by the tensor fascia latae (TFL). This muscle runs from the top of your ASIS hipbone, across the hip joint via the iliotibial band. The TFL is primarily a trunk stabilizer; it tries to prevent your torso from moving as the lower body moves. However, the TFL also flexes and abducts the hip, and internally rotates the femur. This is where our problems lie.
Inability to activate the glutes can cause overactivity through the hip flexors, quadriceps and especially our friend TFL. Inability to activate the gluteal muscles can stem from a number of possible causes:
In terms of muscle, the saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” applies. If we don’t create a demand on or stimulate the muscle, it will become smaller and harder to engage. If you’re sitting on your gluts now, squeeze them together. If you can’t get strong, even activation on both sides, good luck getting activation in the gym.
Though we are biologically symmetrical, the demands we put on our body are rarely so. Our body’s response to these demands is to make specific adaptions increasing our ability to survive future stressors, thereby making the body asymmetrical. Aysmmetry can be a massive issue when it comes to the demands of training. Whether it be Sport, CrossFit, Powerlifting or Olympic Weightlifting, 90% of injuries both chronic and acute happen on an athlete’s non dominant side. Ie if you’re right handed the issues will mostly happen on your left side. This is because we put the same amount of load and weight during training through both sides, with one side normally lacking the stability, muscle bulk and overall neuro muscular development.
Pain is one of the major inhibitors of our glutes (in particular gluteus maximus). This is primarily a survival mechanism to help prevent further injury, as our glutes are major propulsion muscles.
If you’ve had a previous injury on one side of your body, your body will subconsciously move in a way to unload that area of the body. Unless you physically focus on strengthening the issue. Seeing a Physiotherapist is a great way to get that previous issue addressed and to optimize your performance in the gym.
If you are unable to activate our glutes, more specifically the gluteus medius, the TFL can begin to take over as a primary hip stabilizer. This manifests as pain in the front region of the hip and leads to slow movement throughout the squat or an inability to reach the bottom of the squat.
If a few brief hip flexor stretches is your idea of mobility work, you’re cutting yourself short. Make hip mobility a priority, and your reward could be a better squat and less back pain!
The hip flexors are a group of five muscles that connect the femur (or thigh bone) to the pelvis. They move in one of two ways. When the pelvis is stationary, a contraction of the hip flexors will draw the femur upward—think the classic “goose step.” Conversely, if the femur is stationary, a contraction of the hip flexors will tilt the pelvis forward and the butt back.
The first step in building better hip flexors is to spend some painful minutes ungluing tissues that have been frozen from years of sitting at a desk. We recommend rolling, aka “self myofascial release.”
You can roll on just about anything. We’ve used several different types of foam rollers, a Rumble Roller, lacrosse balls, PVC pipe, a number of weird stick-shaped things. We have found that different materials are suitable for different areas on different bodies, so feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.
To work these tissues, start by locating your iliac crest. It’s the top bony part of your hip that sticks out by your beltline. If you’re using a lacrosse ball, simply move into a plank position on the ground and lay on the ball so that it presses into your hip just below the crest. Move side-to-side slowly, so the ball moves back and forth laterally several inches at a time.
Keep adjusting your position until you find a hot spot, then hold that position for at least 30 seconds. Your first impulse will be to tense up when you feel tenderness, but it’s important that you relax and continue to move around the area. Keep it up, and don’t hurry. The more slowly and more often you can do this, the better.
Now that we smoothed out that old tissue and dislodged a few fossilized nasties, let’s see what we can do about improving extensibility. The couch stretch is one of the most effective movements you can do for opening up your hip to the end range of motion. Adopt a kneeling position in front of something that you can use to hold your foot up (i.e., a couch). Your back knee should be completely flexed, meaning your heel is as close as possible to your butt.
It’s easy to compensate in this position by hyperextending your lower back, but it’s crucial that you don’t. Instead, We want you to focus on squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, which will push your hips forward into a full-on “schwing.” If your right foot is back, you should feel an intense stretch on the right front side of your hip. Hold it for a long time, like a minute or two, and then switch sides.
Like rolling, this is a movement that deserves to be done as often as you can tolerate. We recommend doing it for two minutes on each side every half hour. That may be tough to manage, but the point is this: Frequent, long-duration stretches are the only stretches that will have any significant effect on your tissue length and mobility. If you want to improve, you have to commit.
The psoas, our primary hip flexor, is usually the weakest of the five flexors, and the other four hip flexors have to work more as a result. To test if this is the case for you, lift one knee well above 90 degrees and hold it there, ensuring that you do not compensate by moving your pelvis or leaning forward. If holding this for more than a few seconds is painful or impossible for you, your psoas suck. You are going to have serious trouble squatting to parallel or lower if these muscles can’t do their job properly.
One way to strengthen the psoas is by performing the type of toe-lifting movement.s We mentioned at the start of the article. However, in this case we prefer to rely on closed-chain movements, where the hands are fixed and can’t move. This small change makes it harder to cheat or compensate, allowing you to focus squarely on the movement.
We recommend doing floor-slide mountain climbers. You will need some furniture moving pads, Valslides, or something similar that will slide smoothly on your floor. Paper plates even work well in a pinch. Put your feet on the sliders and move into a push-up position. To perform the movement, simply pull one knee at a time up toward your chest, going as high as you can while keeping your foot on the slider. You can alternate legs with each rep or do sets of one leg at a time. Don’t expect it to be easy.
Your hips may not lie, but they can really sidetrack your training if they fall out of whack. Implement this three-part plan, and your hips will be more effective in the gym and less prone to injury moving forward!