The Med Gym
Hip Strength & Stability Week 3 - The Closed Clamshell
By David Drinks
I hope that you’ve been working on your hip strength with our exercise from week 2 – The Open Clamshell. If you have, then you’re ready to progress on to week 3!
This week’s exercise progression is not a far cry from the open clamshell that I went over last week. In fact, it’s still within the clamshell family! The exercise to strengthen your hips this week is the closed clamshell.
I know, I know. You were hoping for a bit more excitement in your hip strength training, but you’ll have to wait until at least week 6 for that...
All kidding aside, however, I do believe that it’s important to take it one step at a time and master the basics first. That’s just what this week’s exercise is all about.
The closed clamshell is an important step to make in our hip strength and stability progression because it begins to factor in closed-chain stability at the hip.
What is closed-chain stability, you might ask?
Closed-chain, as opposed to open-chain movement, refers to the fact that the extremity is in contact with the ground during movement.
For example, a squat is a closed-chain exercise because the feet remain in contact with the ground throughout the motion. On the other hand, a seated knee-extension off of a table – in which the leg is hung off the side of the table and the foot is kicked out to extend the knee and contract the quad muscles – is an open-chain movement, since the foot is not in contact with the ground but is moving through open air.
With that said, it may not surprise you that the open clamshell is an open-chain movement, but the closed clamshell is a closed-chain movement. Imagine that!
This is an important distinction to make and an important progression in our hip strength and stability training. While open-chain movements may do an excellent job of contracting and strengthening the target muscles, they don’t do a good job of training your body to stabilize in a functional position in which the muscles must engage and stabilize while in contact with the ground.
So, this week’s closed clamshell is much more about adding in a layer of functional stability to our hip training. This helps us to build a baseline for progressing on to the feet later in our series. Once you get on the feet, you’ll have to use the same muscles to stabilize in a similar manner, but it is a whole lot easier to master when you begin laying on the ground.
The other aspect of the closed clamshell that makes it a good baseline stability drill and easier to master, is that it starts with a shorter lever arm. As you’ll see in the video below, instead of needing to stabilize the hip with the foot on the ground, we start by stabilizing at the hip with the knee on the ground.
This gives you a much better chance of learning how to properly engage the hip muscles that you’ll need to stabilize the lower extremity once you get on your feet.
Today then, we’ll be building on last week’s hip strengthening exercise while simultaneously working to lay the foundation for on the feet hip stability that we’ll get to later in the series.
The key to doing this with the closed clamshell is by engaging the hip muscles on the bottom leg when driving the knee into the ground as the foot is rotated up toward the ceiling. Doing this allows us to engage the same muscles as in the open clamshell with external rotation of the hip, but in a more functional, closed-chain environment.
Now, instead of rotating the knee up into the air to engage the hip muscles, we’re engaging with the ground in a slightly more functional way. This kind of closed-chain hip stability is huge, and it will come into play again as we progress through our series.
Take a look at the video here to learn how to perform the closed clamshell:
How Much and How Often?
When thinking about how much you should do and how often you should perform the closed clamshell, there are no hard and fast rules. It is generally a good idea to start low on volume with just one set of 5-10 repetitions. Each repetition can be held for about 5 seconds to build some strength and endurance in the hip muscles.
When you’re ready to progress, you can add more sets and reps, and you can also think about adding some resistance by putting an ankle weight or other form of external resistance around the ankle or lower leg.
This is also an exercise that can be performed often without negative consequences, for the most part. Since it is more of a baseline hip strength and stability drill, you likely won’t overdo it, and the repetition will be key to gaining better hip strength and stability.
Once you get better at the closed clamshell, it won’t be long before you’re ready to progress to the next exercise. We’ll be back with that next week!
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