On the laundry list of dysfunctions I see on a regular basis, just about the most common mechanical issue I see with athletes of any age is poor hip extension patterns and super tight hip flexors. This is no surprise. These issues have been progressing at about the same rate as our “great” technological advancements. Our lives are becoming more and more sedentary and our posture and function reflect this. Our kids spend so much time sitting that the body is taking the shape of the chairs they reside in.
Some times it is an easy fix. You teach an athlete some basic patterns that we can be progressive with:
• RDL patterns, and SL RDL
• Glute/ham raise
• Ball leg curl
• Lateral Walking/Banded Abduction patterns
• Multi-planar lunging drills.
• Throw in some hip flexor stretching and side planking. Take two doses daily for 2 months, rinse, repeat, and improve.
But sometimes, man, sometimes, no matter what you try, there are those kids whose bodies are built so oddly, you wonder how they can walk at all. I watch their feet splay outward as they walk, and their knees cave in as their quads and hip flexors dictate the movement of the whole chain, like rigid cables controlling an awkward marionette doll.
We already know we need to make the posterior chain a priority. But what about the kids that really struggle, and no matter what position you put them in, never seem to improve. The word “gluteal amnesia” has been a recurring phrase in the training world the last decade, and there is definitely some validity in the phrase. Sometimes, it’s almost like the wiring (nerves) connecting the brain and body were never finished to the backside of the body, like an electrician leaving the basement unfinished and in the dark.
There is no magic pill. We can’t just take the back cover off the machine and tweak some connections. No, the engineers of the body must do their work from the outside. And while I can’t guarantee you any solutions, I have been trying some new things and seeing success and I want to share them.
Two Exercises I am Loving Right Now.
These aren’t earth shattering ideas. You may already be doing them. But I have been testing and tweaking for a few months, and these three have been laboratory tested and approved for helping those troubled athletes rediscover their rear-end.
Single Leg Rack Pull
This is nothing new, but there are a few important details here that make me love this exercise. We have been doing SL-RDLs for years. Loading with BW, DB, bands, you name it.
- Start in a rack and set up the safety bars so that the barbell is right above the knee cap.
- Start with your one foot directly in the middle of the bar, pull the bar in tight to the thigh, reach your butt back, and brace up your abdomen.
- From here, fire the glutes, driving your hips forward and finish tall.
- Give it a one second hold at the top, fire your glutes hard and then control the eccentric phase back down to the rack.
Here are the valuable parts of this exercise.
#1. A consistent starting position. Starting of the pins allows the athletes to consciously think about the tension and positions of the hips, knees, and torso, without having to support the bar like a typical SL-RDL. By doing this,the athlete can take their time and identify the compensations that occur when initiating the hip drive.
#2. We can easily progress this exercise. With training, we should get REALLY strong with this exercise. After just a few weeks, most of our high school kids are pulling greater than body weight for 6-10 reps with each leg.
#3. The controlled eccentric provides great mechanical feedback for kinesthetic awareness. Athletes that can not control the eccentric phase of the exercise smoothly are also not likely to use proper mechanics when doing, landing/bounding/and COD drills.
Bent Knee Reverse Hypers
Another quick twist on an already common and effective exercise. If you haven’t learned to embrace reverse hypers as a great tool for developing the posterior chain, you need to start experimenting. However, for those athletes that still allow the hamstrings to dominate the movement, I have been using a quick modification.
Enter the bent knee part. For athletes that just can not get their glutes to fire and allow their hamstring to dominate the exercise, I just have them bend their knees at 90 degrees and focus on pushing their heels up towards the ceiling. This provides some great kinesthetic feedback to the glutes and hopefully smooths out some of the patterns.
- Cue your athletes to squeeze their glutes tight and drive their heels to the ceiling
- Avoid extension of the lumbar spine, make the exercise about HIP extension, not extension at every other joint.
- ALWAYS get that good one second hold at the top, nothing good comes from rushing through these exercises.
Give them each a shot. There just might be someone you are training right now that could benefit.