Mar 17, 2019
Don’t Forget to Strengthen the Hip

For most sports, enhancing hip strength and power is a key aspect of improving performance. Strong hips are required to transfer force effectively from the lower body to the upper body in many sports, including volleyball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, throwing events in track and field, and football.

Furthermore, hip strength is also important for injury prevention. While athletes may not suffer injuries to their hips as often as their knees or shoulders, just like other joints, the hip joint is susceptible to injury when weak.

Working on this overlooked area isn’t difficult, and can be accomplished as part of a well-rounded plan. The key is picking the right exercises and making sure they’re done correctly.  An article from Allen Hedrick on the Training & Conditioning website, MA, CSCS*D, the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo, provides information on exercises to consider. 

Hedrick is a strong believer in specificity of training and selecting exercises that mimic in-game movements as much as possible. He wrote, “I keep three things in mind when designing any training program, including one that involves hip strengthening exercises.

“First, because most of the athletes I train are playing their sport in a standing position, we rarely (if ever) train the hips in a seated or prone position. This eliminates most machine exercises and all stability ball exercises from our programs for hip strength. The only exception occurs when an athlete is injured and using a machine is the only viable training option.

“I also limit exercises that involve movement at only one joint. Training one joint in isolation does not reflect what occurs during athletic movements. As I tell my athletes, even throwing a dart involves movement at more than one joint. As a result, performing hip flexion and extension movements on a multi-hip machine are not a point of emphasis. Instead, I select exercises that involve multiple muscle groups.

“Finally, since my ultimate goal as a strength coach is to help athletes become as powerful as possible, I select exercises that are performed explosively. The more an athlete trains like they play, the better gains they will make, and this usually means training for explosiveness.”

Based on these three stipulations, Hedrick’s preferred hip strengthening exercises are the weightlifting movements (cleans, jerks, snatches, and associated variations), performed either with a barbell or a dumbbell. No other human activity develops as much power output as the weightlifting movements. These exercises also develop eccentric strength in the hips because during the catch phase, the athlete has to slow down, control, and stop the barbell on its downward path.

The jump squat is another option that meets all three criteria, especially when training for high power output. As a safety measure, I prefer to have my athletes perform jump squats with dumbbells instead of barbells because it eliminates the opportunity for the barbell to bounce on an athlete’s back.

Squats–back, front, single-leg, and lateral–are all great hip strength developers. Back and front squats are not fancy or new, but they are tried and true exercises that add mucle mass and make athletes stronger. In short, they work.

When choosing which squats to use, Hedrick prefers to progress from less specific exercises to more specific exercises as an athlete’s competitive season approaches. He usually adds single-leg squats to an athlete’s program when they are three to four months away from their competition phase.

Lateral squats are important because most sports involve lateral movement. They wouldn’t be high on my list for a 100-meter sprinter, but they are for virtually every other athlete. Performed with a wide stance, our athletes alternate sides with each repetition.

Lunges–front, back, arch, and side–are also great exercises for hip strength. Lunges force athletes into a single-leg support position, which occurs in competition often. As useful as front lunges are, most athletes don’t always step directly forward in competition, so Hedrick makes sure to include side and arch lunges as well.

These exercises make up the core of any program Hedrick designs for hip strength. However, because the ultimate goal is to make athletes as powerful as possible, He also incorporates plyometric training to help facilitate the transfer of increases in strength to increases in power.

The primary plyometric drills to use for power development in the hips include box jumps, lateral box jumps, drop jumps to box jumps, and lateral drop jumps to lateral box jumps. In each exercise, emphasis should be placed on getting great speed off the floor and assuming an athletic stance upon landing.

Instead of having athletes perform plyometrics as a stand-alone activity, Hedrick has them use complex training, which means they move directly from a strength training activity to a plyometric activity. For example, they will do squats followed immediately by a set of box jumps.

Hedrick does this for two reasons. First, evidence suggests that complex training may produce superior results when compared to plyometric training alone. Second, we have a small space with a limited number of boxes for use. Complex training allows two athletes to work at each station at once since one athlete is jumping while the other athlete is performing the associated strength/power training movement.

Though developing strong, powerful hips is a key to improving performance, great strength and power in the hips without flexibility is of little value for an athlete. Simply stated, high quality movement is not possible without good hip flexibility.

The ability to move quickly and efficiently is directly related to hip flexibility. Moving the body occurs by moving the legs and movement of the legs occurs at the hip joints.

Having good hip flexibility is also important for athletes because the ability to correctly perform many exercises that strengthen the hips is dependent on it. Exercises such as cleans, snatches, squats, front squats, single-leg squats, lateral squats, and lunges all require a good level of flexibility if they are to be performed correctly.

Hedrick emphasizes that all of the exercises be taken through a full range of motion. For example, when an athlete cleans, squats, or lunges, he looks for their hips to go lower than the knee joint, and this requires a high degree of flexibility.

Because dynamic flexibility is more specific to athletic performance than static flexibility, and because static flexibility has negative consequences to subsequent dynamic activities, we emphasize dynamic flexibility prior to activity and static flexibility post-activity. Walking lunges, reverse lunges, side lunges, and crossover lunges are all examples of dynamic flexibility movements we use to increase range of motion in the hips.

Static flexibility is effective at increasing flexibility and is appropriate as a post exercise activity for athletes. These movements include static knee tucks, lunges, and butterflies.

While it may not be glamorous, developing hip strength, power, and flexibility is critical for most athletes. Once athletes begin to understand why, you just may hear them walk into the weightroom and say they are ready to work on their hip strength. 

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