There’s no doubt about it: Regular exercise is one of the best ways to protect your hips as you age. Not only will your workouts keep them mobile and strong, they’ll keep your weight in check, which reduces your risk of osteoarthritis, and prevent bone loss to slash your osteoporosis risk.
However, if you’re not careful, some common workout mistakes could be undoing your good hip work. And when that happens, your hips aren’t the only joints that suffer. “Your hips anchor your pelvis, so any dysfunction in your hips has a significant domino effect and impacts your lower back, legs, knees, ankles, and feet. So there’s a lot at stake when something goes awry within your hip joint.
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These 7 issues could be causing your hips to age faster than they should. How many of these sound familiar?
1. Skipping lateral exercises
Walking, sitting, driving, and most other movements you do every day are linear, meaning you move along a straight line. Then you head to the gym and jump on the bike, treadmill, or elliptical—more linear motions. The problem? You’re missing out on lateral, or side-to-side, movement. “Most people just don’t think to do these moves. As a result, you’re only putting your hips through 50% of the motion they’re capable of performing and creating a muscular imbalance, including weakness in your adductors and abductors.” You risk pulling any number of muscles in your hips, glutes, or low back if you suddenly do a lateral movement your body isn’t prepared for, such as slipping on ice or taking an exercise class with lots of side-to-side exercises.
The fix: Incorporating rollerblading and slide boards into your routine are excellent (and fun!) ways to target those muscles. Practicing this Mini-Band Circuit three days per week will also strengthen the muscles of your hips in every direction they were designed to move.
2. Collapsing your knee inward when doing lunges
The next time you do a lunge, pause and check your form: Is your front knee caving in toward your big toe? If so, you’re overusing your outer quad, IT band, and lower hamstring, where the muscle attaches to the knee. Over time, this creates too much internal rotation in your hips, which can cause pinching on the inside of your hip joint and lead to inflammation or bursitis.
The fix: When you do a lunge, your front knee should be stacked directly over your ankle and centered over the middle of your foot. With proper alignment, you engage the inside of your quad, inner thigh, glute, and hamstring. This keeps the ball at the top of your femur bone aligned in the center of your hip socket and allows you to use all of your leg muscles efficiently to prevent injury and pain.
3. Leaning your torso forward when doing squats
It’s tempting to hinge your torso toward your thighs in order to squat lower, but you’ll do your hips and low back more favors if you keep your trunk as upright as you can. You may not squat quite as far, but you’ll protect your lower body. When you lean your torso forward, you put too much stress on the fronts of your hips and aren’t engaging your core and glutes correctly. The extra stress on your back and hips can cause a lot of pain in those areas.
The fix: Using wall squats to retrain your muscles to function properly during the exercise: Keep your shoulders, back, and head against the wall as you lower into a squat with your knees stacked over your ankles and hold for 30 seconds. Push your weight through your heels and activate your core by drawing your belly button toward your spine.
4. Sticking your butt too high in plank
It’s an all-too-common mistake with painful results. Sticking your butt above your hips creates an arch in your low back. This causes you to over work your hip flexors, which become short and tight over time. You also miss out on strengthening your transverse abdominis since all of the work is coming from your hips—in other words, you’re missing out on the point of the exercise! Plus, overworking your hip flexors may lead to hip impingement, where your hip bones rub together and cause damage to the joint. You might feel a sharp, stabbing pain when you turn, twist, or squat, or a dull, lingering ache. No thank you.
The fix: Check your alignment when you plank: Extend your chin away from your chest, isometrically draw your palms toward your feet and your feet toward your palms, and tilt your belly button up toward your rib cage to remove the curve in your low back.
5. Thinking flexibility is what yoga is all about
Too much laxity in your joints can lead to injury and osteoarthritis, and may speed the development of the disease. For reasons that aren’t entirely understood, people with more flexibility in their joints seem to have greater loss of cartilage and bone over time. Of course, a certain amount of flexibility is necessary for keeping your muscles and joints mobile, so it’s not an inherently bad thing, but you want to be careful not to over-stretch in yoga.
The fix: First, check with your instructor that you’re doing the poses correctly. Once you’ve confirmed that you are, you may reach a point where being still in a pose is what you need rather than trying to find an even deeper stretch. We tend to think of more as more, but sometimes, overdoing it creates an even bigger imbalance.
6. Squeezing your glutes during yoga
Clenching your cheeks may seem like the path to the coveted perky yoga butt, but it can actually compromise your hip health. “When you train this muscle to bear down, it forces the thigh bone forward, putting more pressure on the front of the hip, which is vulnerable to injury. That area has a relatively thin layer of muscle on top of the bone compared to the more dense musculature of your glutes on the back and side of your hips; constantly squeezing the glutes can lead to strain and pain in your hips and low back.
The fix: Your glute muscles will engage naturally when needed. In bridge pose, keep your butt as relaxed as possible. “Your glutes will still be firing and even begin to fatigue, so you don’t need to over-exaggerate it by squeezing them.
7. Stretching when you should be strengthening
Your gluteus medius is one of the muscles on the side of your hip that works with other nearby muscles to pull your thigh out to the side (such as in hip abduction exercises). When your gluteus medius is weak, you experience stiffness in the hip flexors, located along the front of your hip. “The hip flexors complement and assist the gluteus medius muscle in stabilizing the hip and knee, but when the gluteus medius is weak, there’s an imbalance of tension and the hip flexor muscles have to do extra work. The extra work leads to increased stress to the muscle, adhesions, and scar tissue, and the result is feeling of tightness.” Instinctually, you grab a foam roller or hang out in runner’s lunge to stretch the stiff area. However, “the pain you feel won’t go away unless you address the underlying problem, which is a weak gluteus medius muscle.
The fix: Try Ferber’s go-to move: Hip-abduction using a theraband. To do it, place one end of the band around a stable surface. Stand with your left side facing that surface place your right ankle in the loop of the band. With your hands on your hips and your knees straight, extend your right leg to the side, hold for two seconds, cross your right foot in front of your left, and hold for two seconds. Do 10 reps and repeat on the opposite side.