Hip Strength & Stability Week 2 - The Open Clamshell
By David Drinks
Welcome back for week 2 of Hip Strength & Stability training. After the introduction to the series last week, we’re jumping right into our first hip strength exercise today: The Open Clamshell.
This exercise has been a staple in both rehab and fitness programs for years, and for good reason. It’s an excellent way to engage and strengthen the hip external rotator muscles.
Strengthening these muscles is crucial to developing and maintaining good movement at the hip and lower extremity. Often, when there is weakness in these muscles, the eventual result is pain in the lower extremity. Usually, this is in the hip or knee, but weakness in your hip external rotators could even lead to foot and ankle problems.
The need to strengthen these muscles to avoid pain and promote good movement becomes increasingly important as we spend less time working in different planes of motion throughout the day. We live in such a sagittal plane society, meaning that most of our daily life incorporates very little hip rotation.
If you think about your daily movements and postures, you probably spend most of your non-sleeping time walking, standing, sitting, or maybe running. All these activities require only a limited amount of hip flexion and extension, but no hip rotation.
Based on the great biological principle, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, it’s no wonder that most of us wind up lacking in both hip rotation mobility as well as the ability to stabilize and actively move outside of the sagittal plane.
As I’ve been talking about throughout the hip mobility series, and now in this series, your hips are made to move and stabilize in all three planes of motion. Because that’s the case, you need to train your hips to both create rotational force (as in today’s exercise) and to stabilize against unwanted lateral and rotational forces.
What does it look like when you can’t stabilize against unwanted lateral and rotational forces? It looks like this:
If you can ignore the balding on the top of my head....you'll notice the inward dive of the knees. This inward dive of the knees in a functional movement like a squat indicates that there is a lack of control of the lower extremity. More specifically, there is usually a lack of control of the femur (your thigh bone) by the very same hip external rotator muscles we’re talking about.
Because there is a lack of strength in those hip muscles, the femur dives into unwanted internal rotation during the squat, and places much great (and much more uneven) force on the knee. It also puts the hip joint in a position where it’s much more likely to impinge and wear down the joint capsule.
This lack of stability and subsequent lack of control of the lower extremity is prevalent in more than just a squat. Just about any lower body movement will be affected by a lack of hip strength, particularly a lack of strength in muscles that stabilize the hip, like the gluteus medius.
This is especially the case when it comes to any kind of single-leg stance or single-leg exercise. These hip muscles have to kick in extra to stabilize in a single-leg stance. A lack of strength and stability in these key hip muscles can lead to some unwanted leg positions and some unpleasant consequences.
To avoid all of this unwanted pain, we must strengthen those hip muscles so that they can dynamically stabilize the leg. The open clamshell is a great way to do just that, as it recruits muscles like the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and other smaller hip rotators and gets them stronger.
Once those muscles are strong, only then will they be able to stabilize against outside forces and maintain good control of the leg during functional movement.
That’s where we want to get to by the end of this series, but it all starts right here with strengthening your hip muscles doing the open clamshell! Check out the video here for a demonstration:
That's it for week 2, but get started on strengthening your hips today, and I'll be back with the next exercise in a week!
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