Three years ago, I filmed a video series all about hip mobility. The goal was to provide some simple self-assessments and some hip mobility exercises to improve those assessments.
Today, I wanted to bring to you the assessment video so that you can assess your own hip mobility!
I also wanted to talk to you about some of the top hip mobility exercises for runners and walkers.
In the assessment video (linked below), you will see that the first assessment is a straight leg raise. It is a simple test, but it is also one that reveals a lot about your mobility. For those of you who like to walk and run often, the ability to perform this test is critical.
If you think about it, the walking and running gaits take you through hip flexion and extension repeatedly. So, if you cannot perform the straight leg raise test to the minimum standard that I outline in the video, you may be set up for some serious problems.
Trying to push your body through a range of motion that it does not have at best leads to reduced performance, and at worst, pain and injury.
So, let’s take some time to talk about how you can assess your hip mobility, and then I will give you a few drills that you can do to improve your leg raise pattern!
First, check out my hip mobility assessment video here (It is hard to believe that I filmed this three years ago during the outbreak of COVID-19. We have come a long way since then, but the mobility assessments are just the same today!): Hip Mobility Series – Week 2
Now that you have had a chance to see the assessment video (and test your straight leg raise), let’s talk about how to improve it!
The straight leg raise pattern is such an important movement to possess. If you do not at least have the minimum mobility of the standard that I gave you in the self-assessment video, then it is something you should be working on.
If you are not able to get your ankle past the door jamb in the self-assessment, that’s the first thing we’re going to work on.
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 of 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 can pass the test, you can move more toward maintenance mode with these drills, but if you are 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 are 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 feels or appears 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 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. To successfully execute the movement, you need enough core control, enough flexibility on the back of the leg that is raising, AND enough flexibility on the front of the leg remaining on the floor.
If you have tightness in the muscles on the front of the hips or legs, you are 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 roll to the side, or you will 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 a lack of range of motion for which you need to compensate. When I am testing someone, and I see the down leg move at all, I stop them wherever they are 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 goes beyond that.
As you will see in the exercises I go over today, 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 a long 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 are limited in your leg raise mobility, you are going to have to compensate in at least some of the above-listed activities to make up for a lack of mobility. And when you compensate, pain is more likely to occur.
So, 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 during 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 it may be best to do today’s mobility drills every single day.
Because these are pretty basic mobility drills, there is 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 rep. 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 does not tighten up!
Finally, as promised, I wanted to give you two more progressions that can be particularly helpful if the 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:
Alright, that is plenty for today! Be sure to assess your hip mobility and give these drills a try. If you have any questions as you get started, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. I would be happy to help you out!
P.S. If these exercises are helpful to you, and you want to progress further in your mobility and strength training, I have ways that my team and I can help you:
- Schedule a free Functional Movement Screen at The Med Gym, and we will take the time to walk you through our full movement screen and give you some next steps for improving your movement and strength!
- If you cannot join us at The Med Gym in Carlisle, PA, you can work with one of our coaches remotely through Med Gym Online. We will meet with you via Zoom and walk you through our online assessment. Then, we can design a custom exercise program to help you build better movement and strength!
Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org to take get all the details on these offers and schedule a time to connect!