The Med Gym
Hip Mobility Week 5 - The Leg Lock Bridge
By David Drinks
In this week’s hip mobility video, we’ll go over one more exercise to really target and improve your straight leg raise test. In addition to that, today’s mobility drill is also a great way to work on the Thomas test that we gave you as part of the self-assessment.
(If you did not see the self-assessment, or you need a refresher, go ahead and check it out here.)
In reality, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the straight leg raise test and the Thomas test. Both take a look at your hip flexion on one leg with simultaneous hip extension on the opposite leg.
The main difference between them is that the straight leg raise focuses more on active hip flexion on one leg, while hip extension is maintained on the other leg. On the other hand, the Thomas test is a more passive assessment of your hip extension by gauging how tight your hip flexors are.
However, if you’ve been practicing the first few mobility drills that I’ve shown you so far, then you’re on your way to improving both your straight leg raise test and Thomas test!
We’ll continue our work today on improving your hip flexion and extension, with an exercise that provides a bit more challenge – The Leg Lock Bridge.
As I’ve brought up over the past couple of weeks, the ability to achieve adequate range of motion in this opposite flexion-extension pattern of the lower body is key to maintaining back health.
We use this reciprocating flexion-extension pattern at the lower body all the time in activities like walking, stair climbing, and running. It’s our most prominent form of locomotion, so if you want to get anywhere, you’re going to have to use this.
Problems generally arise, however, when you lack the ability to complete this pattern to an acceptable level because of a lack of hip mobility. Most often, people who have stiffness and are limited in this pattern will end up compensating and overusing a part of the body besides the hips.
If you can’t extend or flex your hip very well, you’re not just going to stop walking or climbing up flights of stairs. Instead, you’re going to compensate around your mobility restriction.
You might flex and extend your lumber spine instead of your hips to compensate. You might hike the pelvis up and lean to the opposite direction in order to swing your leg forward. Either way, the low back is typically the area that takes the brunt of the compensation pattern that you choose, because you’re asking the lumbar spine – a section of the body that should be stable – to take on too much movement.
As we’ve talked about throughout the core series as well as the hip mobility series, if you’re making up for a lack of hip mobility by moving excessively through your low back, problems will generally arise at the low back.
But, with that in mind, let’s not focus any more on the negatives associated with a lack of hip mobility. Instead, let’s focus on improving your hip flexion and extension mobility so that you can use it!
Here’s the leg lock bridge to get you started on your way to better hip mobility:
Benefits of the Leg Lock Bridge
The Leg Lock Bridge, also known as the Cook Hip Lift (named after Functional Movement Systems co-founder, Gray Cook), is a great progression from the leg raising and lowering in week 1, and the hip flexor mobilization that we talked about in week 2. It progresses on these first few exercises by incorporating a unique aspect that most people don’t tap into when trying to increase their mobility.
Most people try to work on their mobility by stretching and stretching and stretching. While stretching is certainly not a bad way to work on your mobility, what often gets missed is the benefit behind active mobility drills that involve muscle activation on the opposing side of the joint.
What do I mean by that? Well, the leg lock bridge not only includes a stretch on the top leg by holding it in a flexed position; it also includes an active mobilization of the hip flexors on the bridging leg. This active mobilization of the hip flexors is increased by engaging the hip extensor muscles, like the glutes and hamstrings, on the back of the leg each time you bridge.
For example, if you’re right leg is the leg that you’re bridging with, you will be activating the glute and hamstring muscles on the back of your right leg. This activation of the hip extensors serves to reflexively relax the hip flexors that are on the front of your right leg, thus allowing an even greater stretch.
This engagement of the hip extensors on the back of the leg in order to mobilize the hip flexors on the front of the leg, incorporates a very effective concept known as reciprocal inhibition.
Reciprocal inhibition is just a fancy way of saying that when you contract muscles on one side of a joint (e.g. the hip extensors, like your glutes and hamstrings), it inhibits or relaxes the muscles on the other side of the joint (e.g. your hip flexors). This will allow overactive hip flexor muscles to be toned down and greater mobility to be achieved.
Doing an active mobilization that utilizes reciprocal inhibition is a great way to take your mobility work to the next level!
The past couple of weeks, you may remember that I spent a fair amount of time talking about the importance of core engagement while you’re performing your hip mobility. A similar concept comes into play this week, but instead of focusing on engaging the core muscles, which are adjacent to the hip, we’re focusing on engaging the muscles on the opposing side of the hip from the ones we want to stretch.
Activate the Glutes and Keep the Back Out of It
Another unique benefit of the leg lock bridge is its ability to limit lumbar spine involvement. The split between holding hip flexion on one leg while simultaneously extending the other hip allows you to activate the glute muscles while not overusing the lumbar spine to compensate.
Often, when it comes to a regular supine bridge with both feet on the ground and both hips extending, people who have weak glute muscles, or are simply not used to engaging their glute muscles, will opt to compensate by hyperextending their lumbar spine.
This is another example of compensating away from moving through the hips in order to complete a movement. Unfortunately, as you hopefully understand by now, when you try to make up for a lack of hip movement by moving through the low back, you’re inviting bad things to happen at your low back.
The leg lock bridge is a great way to work around this, though, as it forces you to use the glute muscles to extend the hip and locks the lumbar spine in place.
Now, instead of needing to actively engage the core muscles to avoid spine movement, as we focused on last week, the split position of your legs will prohibit you from overusing your spine for movement.
So, now that you know a bit more about the leg lock bridge and its importance in your hip mobility work, let’s talk about how much to do.
My usual approach is to start by adding the leg lock bridge to a warm-up routine and doing 5-10 reps with a 5 second hold at the top of each rep. This can be done between 2-7 days per week, depending on how often you exercise, and how much improvement you need!
Once some improvement is shown, I like to move it to being included in the strength training portion of the workout for higher volumes. Working up to 3 sets of 8-12 reps each side is not uncommon, but only doing it once or twice per week. Once you get to that point, you can either continue to hold at the top of each rep, or you can just go straight through, working to build up your strength along with your mobility.
Now you know how to it, and how much to do, so you can get started working on your hip strength and your hip mobility today with the leg lock bridge today!
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