The Med Gym
Hip Mobility Week 3: Leg Raising and Lowering
By David Drinks
I hope you took some time to test your hip mobility with the self-assessments I went over last week. If you did, then you likely have a better idea of what you need work on when it comes to your hip mobility.
If you haven't tested yourself yet, or you want a reminder on each test, you can check out week 2 here.
Whether you need more hip flexion and extension, more internal or external rotation, or a combination of all of these things, we’ll give you the mobility drills that can get you on the right track! Your job is to determine where you are limited and really focus on those mobility drills. If you need help figuring out where to start, let us know!
In this week’s video, we’re going to focus in on our first self-assessment, which was the straight leg raise, and I’ll give you two exercises that work very well to improve it. I’ll also give you a couple bonus exercises that you won’t find in the rest of the hip mobility series, but that can go along way in helping you to improve your straight leg raise.
As I’ll talk about in the video, the straight leg raise pattern is such an important movement to possess. If you don’t have at least the minimum mobility of the standard that I gave you in the self-assessment video, than it’s something you should be working on.
So, if you weren’t able to get your ankle past the door jamb in the self-assessment, that’s the first thing we’re going to work on. And don't worry, it shouldn't be as painful as the picture below to make progress!
The good news is that if you are consistent with implementing the exercises that I show you today, it should not take more than a couple weeks to show marked improvement in the pattern. So, I would encourage you to engage in the mobility drills that we talk about today, and then retest yourself each week.
Once you are able to pass the test, you can move more toward maintenance mode with these drills, but if you’re limited in this movement right now, your focus should be on doing these drills every single day. I’ll provide some more definite guidance on how much to do of each exercise below the video, but suffice it to say that you need to be consistent if you want to make progress.
Why Should I Care About Raising my Leg?
To dive a bit deeper into the importance of the straight leg raise pattern, let’s talk for a minute about what could be preventing you from performing this pattern correctly.
The straight leg raise is much more than a hamstring test. Sure, having tight hamstrings could be one reason why you’re limited in this test, but even that could be ultimately caused by poor pelvic control as you go to raise the leg.
Some people do have legitimately tight hamstrings, but more often, the case is that their hamstring feel or appear tight, simply because they lack the central core stability to hold the pelvis in place when trying to raise the leg. If you go to raise your leg, and your low back arches off the ground and your pelvis tips forward, you’re going to automatically start from a stretched-out hamstring position. That means that your hamstrings are going to appear tight, but really the problem is poor core and pelvic control.
So, the straight leg raise test is as much of a test of basic core and pelvic control, as it is a test of hamstring flexibility.
The other factor that can limit your straight leg raise movement is tightness along the front of the leg that remains on the ground. In order to successfully execute the movement, you need enough core control, enough flexibility on the back of the leg that’s raising, AND enough flexibility on the front of the leg that’s remaining on the floor.
If you have tightness in the muscles on the front of the hips or legs, you’re going to have a tough time maintaining a straight leg position on the down leg while you go to raise the other. Either the knee will bend, the leg will role to the side, or you’ll have to stop raising the opposite leg. In each scenario, the tightness on the front of your down leg will prevent you from successfully passing the test.
That also means that it’s important to keep an eye on the leg that remains on the ground as you go through the test, because if that leg moves at all away from its straight, locked out position, that indicates that there’s a lack of range of motion that you need to compensate for. When I’m testing someone, and I see that down leg move at all, I stop them wherever they’re at, and measure where the top leg is.
As you can appreciate, then, the straight leg raise is much more than a hamstring flexibility test. It clues us into your baseline core control, as well as your flexibility on the back and the front of each leg.
For that reason, our approach to correcting and improving this movement pattern may start with a hamstring stretch, but it often isn’t the only answer.
As you’ll see in both the exercises we go over today, as well as the exercises in the coming weeks, we incorporate core control, and mobility work for both the back and front of the legs. This multifaceted approach to improving your leg raise, not only improves the leg raise test, but it goes along way in improving your movement mechanics and mobility throughout the lower body.
This is crucial when it comes to doing things that incorporate this pattern – anything from walking, to running, to stair climbing, to deadlifting or picking things up off the floor.
If you’re limited in your leg raise mobility, you’re going to have to compensate in at least some of the above listed activities to make up for a lack of mobility. Often, when that happens is when we run into issues of pain.
So, with all that being said, let’s begin to improve your leg raise pattern, starting with two mobility drills today – the band/strap assisted straight leg raise, and leg lowering 1.
This week’s video was originally filmed back in the midst of the stay at home order from the coronavirus pandemic, so…welcome to my basement!
As I mentioned toward the beginning of this article, the amount of limitation you had on the straight leg raise pattern that we tested will dictate how much you need to do to improve the pattern. If you are very limited, then you may be best off doing today’s mobility drills every single day.
Because these are pretty basic mobility drills, there’s no harm in doing them every day. Many times, that is the most efficient and effective path to improving your leg raise mobility!
My usual approach is to combine the two exercises by performing one right after the other. This is much more effective than just doing one or the other.
Typically, I’ll have people begin with the band assisted straight leg raise, and perform 3-5 reps on each leg. Each rep consists of 3-5 deep breaths (I’m talking a full 3-4 second inhale, and a full 6-8 second exhale, not shallow breathing). In fact, it is the deep breathing that allows you to access the autonomic nervous system and shut off tone that is being held in the muscles from an overactive nervous system.
Once that is completed, we’ll move right into the leg lowering exercise, and perform a set of 6-8 reps on each side. Again, I’ll typically build in some breathing – at least 1 or 2 deep breaths at the bottom of each leg lower. Breathing allows you to relax into this more stretched out bottom position, and it also tells your body that you’re going to survive it, so it doesn’t tighten up!
Finally, as promised, I wanted to give you two more progressions that can be particularly helpful if core or pelvic stability is one of the reasons your leg raise pattern is limited. Both of these mobility drills teach you to engage the core first and then move the legs second. This prevents the pelvis from rolling forward in the leg raise movement, as I mentioned earlier.
If you’re seeing some progress with the first two mobility drills that were highlighted today, and you want to progress to the next level, give these two a try:
Core Engaged Straight Leg Raise:
Leg Lowering 2:
That's it for this week, but I'll be back with week 4 next week!
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