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Those Hips Don't Lie

training Sep 15, 2021

Maintaining hip flexor strength is essential for top performance as you get older, study shows.

By Selene Yeager


We’ve all heard the mantra: Lift Heavy Sh*t. Muscle tissue can slip away quickly during the menopause transition, so maintaining it through a regular strength training routine is essential. We often sing the praises of exercises like deadlifts and kettlebell swings to keep a menopausal body strong.


Now research shows that targeting your hip flexors—which are often overlooked in strength routines—has unique benefits for athletes, especially those of us over 40.


Your hip flexors are the muscles on the front of your body that flex your hip joint—drawing your knees and legs toward your torso. Though we use our hip flexors every day for taking the stairs and during activities like cycling and running, we often overlook them in our strength training routines. Because most of us spend a large chunk of the day sitting, these muscles can get shortened and weaker over time. And when they do, our performance suffers.


The study, which was published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics examined the long-term implications of this type of muscle dysfunction. The researchers had 433 older adults perform a series of physical function tests including handgrip strength, hip extension, hip flexion, knee extension, and toe flexion. Then they asked them to perform mobility tests such as single-leg standing, stair climbs, and sitting to standing tests to test how quickly they could activate their body muscles to perform actions. A year later the participants ran through the battery of tests again to see if they had experienced any changes.


The one that stood out was hip flexor strength. About 44 percent of the participants had a decline in performance and weak hip flexor strength appeared to be the culprit. People whose performances decreased had significantly weaker hip flexor strength compared to their peers who performed the same or better.


Research in younger athletes echoes the importance of hip strength to overall functional and athletic performance. A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that active women and men who performed an 8-week hip flexion resistance training program not only improved their hip-flexion strength by 12 percent but also improved their 40-yard dash and shuttle run times by 3.8 percent and 9 percent respectively. 


Improving mobility and strength in your hip flexors gives you more access to your powerful glute muscles and allows them to fire more effectively, which also improves the effectiveness of the rest of your training.


Add these moves to your strength training routine to improve the mobility and strength of your hip flexors.


Weighted Hip Thrust

Lie on your back on the floor, feet under your knees, heels close to your glutes. Place two dumbbells above your pelvis. Then lift and fully extend your hips so your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, squeezing your glutes at the top of the move. Pause and lower back to the start. Repeat two sets of 10 reps. (If you have access to a bench and barbell, you can do other variations of this move as found here.) This move is also great for strengthening your glutes.


Sliding Mountain Climbers

Using sliding discs, paper plates, dish towels, or whatever will slide on the surface of the floor, assume a pushup position with your sliders under the ball of each foot. Pull your right knee toward your chest. Then press the right leg back while pulling the left knee forward. Continue alternating for 30 to 60 seconds. Rest a minute. Repeat.


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