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3 Steps to Fix Hip Extension – How to Fix Your Knees

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You have shitty glutes.  Yeah, I’m talking to you – the one sitting in the chair, staring at your computer screen.  Every second you’re on your rear end, you add to your problems.  I’m not the first to say it, but I’ll gladly join in.  Sitting is killing you.  But you’re not dead, so you probably don’t believe me.  I do, however, have some other bad news.  It’s about your glutes.  They are dead.  You may not be able to tell though, because you aren’t listening to those small aches in your lower body.  It’s time to do something, before you cripple yourself as your glutes shrivel to nothingness.

How can this happen to the largest muscle in the body?

A LITTLE SOMETHING I CALL LIFE

You’re a robot to society, which is confined by chairs that always put us above a half squat when we sit down.  Just think of how many quarter squats you do in one day.  Every time you get in and out of a seat.  Every time you get in and out of bed.  Every time you get in and out of a car.  Every time you go number two (or even number one for the lady viewers).  Every time you sit and stand from a couch.

You get the idea.

But I thought squats ruled, I mean, shit, it’s even unilateral?  What’s the problem?  Most people don’t know how to use the glutes in the top half of a squat.  The hundreds of half reps per day teach your body how to bypass the glutes.  The most powerful muscle in the body vanishes.  Don’t forget that your butt literally falls asleep if you sit too long.

When you stand up from a chair, quad activation reaches 70% of MVC, but glute activation is around 10% of MVC. Brisk walking will only get glute activation to around 30% of MVC, as will climbing stairs. So most individuals never activate their glutes to over 30% of MVC in their normal daily activity.

-Bret Contreras

When one joint underachieves, others have to overachieve in compensation.  This is why knee pain is so prevalent.  We have all of these therapeutic modalities for patellar tracking problems and patellar tendonitis, but no one stops to wonder why the problems exist.  If our hip sucks, our knee has to do its work.  No one likes to work overtime without extra pay.

Can fixing the hip fix this?

The solution is simple then.  Get the glutes moving, and let life end happily.  A common choice, popularized by Bret Contreras, is the barbell hip thrust.  Probably because you can load it with a lot of weight, making it more manly than most Pilates-Esque exercises.

But there’s a problem.

Hip thrusts have nearly the same amount of quad activation as a full squat!

And while it actives your glutes much more than a full squat, it doesn’t really teach you how to use your glutes.  Nearly anyone can thrust their hips in the air and get a quality glute contraction.  The problem is that you don’t know how to use your glutes when you’re on your feet.  Your squats and deadlifts go to shit.  I know because if I asked you what muscles you “feel” during these lifts I’d get responses like, lowerback-quads-hamstrings.  Where did the glutes go?  People can’t feel the largest muscle in the body working?  How is that possible?

THE RESET BUTTON

The glutes are responsible for hip extension, so you have to start with exercises that neglect the quads and target hip extension.  There are hundreds of exercises out there that “activate the glutes.”  But that’s not good enough.

You have to relearn hip extension, which is difficult because glute activation (and hip extension) depends on spinal position.  Jumping right into a squat or deadlift is suicide because you don’t know how your body is supposed to feel.  Take hyperextension for example.  If you’re standing with an extreme anterior tilt, the moment you hit hyperextension will look different than if you’re standing with a neutral spinal position.

My attempt at a neutral spinal posture.

Hip hyperextension is represented by the blue line. The yellow line is my neutral spine plane. See how the lower back is at the same angle as in the first picture. This ensures "it's all glutes baby."

A rather extreme anterior tilt.

Because my pelvic was tilted, my new "neutral" plane is highlighted in yellow. Although my leg is extended further back than in the above pictures, you can see by the blue line that my hip isn't hyper extended.

THE CATEGORIES OF HIP EXTENSION

In my book, I break hip extension into three categories: basic, advanced, and explosive.  Each of the three categories is broken down further into segments that mimic the stages of motor learning.  As I progress through this article, realize that you’re in the first stage, even if you think you’re not.  I like your confidence, but you’re only going to screw yourself with it.

Stage One: Conscious Incompetent

You don’t know what the hell is going on.  During practice, your mind has to be 100% involved in every repetition.  Using video’s and human feedback is very helpful.

Stage Two: Conscious Competent

You kind of have it figured out.  Complexity of motor pattern and overall exercise difficulty increases.  Your mind still needs to be focused.

Stage Three: Unconscious Competence

Shit just happens, because you’ve done enough to make it happen correctly.  But this only applies to what you have practiced.  Just because you know how to do a bird dog doesn’t mean you know how to squat.

BASIC HIP EXTENSION

There is a laundry list of exercises that are known for their glute activating properties.  But as you know, we’re using a different angle.  Throw most hip bridging exercises out.  You need exercises that prioritize the glutes, and hip extension, that sequentially teach standing hip extension. Below are three exercises, meant to be used in a progression.  For those meatheads that can’t grasp this, it means you don’t do more than one of these at a time, and you do 1 before you do 2 before you do 3.  Minimizing focus makes mastery easier.

Prone Glute

The simplest form of hip exention is done in what is known as a “prone glute.”  It’s a leg lift that hyperextends the hip, a very small range of motion.

Choaching Cues

  1. Lay flat on your stomach.
  2. Working foot can be straight or bent at a 90 degree angle, other foot is straight.
  3. Put one hand on the small of your back so that your pinky finger is on your glutes and your thumb is on your lower back.
  4. Lift one leg in the air by hinging at the hip.

You should feel this in your glute, and in your glute only.  If your hamstring is cramping, you’re doing it wrong.  If you feel your lower back contract via your thumb, you’re doing it wrong.

Each phase has a two count — lifting, holding, and lowering — so one rep lasts six seconds.  I’ve seen people recommend 100 reps of these per day.  Especially if you have no glutes.  It’s a daunting number, but don’t sacrifice form to get there.  I’d shoot for a minimum of 50, but you have wiggle room.

Laying flat on the ground. Your hand will be on your butt and lower back because you're not as cool as me yet.

The end position of the straight legged prone glute. It's a small range of motion. Noticed my back position hasn't changed.

The end position of the bent leg prone glute.

Rear view. Notice that I still keep my toes in line with me knee and leg. People tend to rotate their foot. Don't.

An example of a bad prone glute. Chest and head has come off the ground which involves the lower back, reducing the effectiveness.

Troubleshooting

  1. Can’t get the glutes to contract?  Think about lengthening the hip flexors by pushing your hip into the ground for each repetition.  Sometimes thinking about lengthening an antagonist will help activate the muscle you want to contract.
  2. If your hamstring is cramping, toy around with the bent vs. straight leg version.  A bent leg will take the hamstring out of the movement, but I found that it’s easier to cramp in this position.

Modified Bird Dog 1

The bird dog is a great exercise, but it’s overload. Extend that arm with this leg while not rotating and balancing a cup of hot soup on your head.  Nah.  I’ll keep it simple.  The modified bird dog is similar to the prone glute, but you’re on all fours, adding some range of motion and lessening our base of contract.

Keep your hips square during the entire movement, and make sure you keep your abs locked down in a neutral spine.  Thinking about lengthening the hip flexors (talked about in troubleshooting for #1) helps.

Keep your knee locked out by cuing yourself to touch the wall behind you with your heel. It’s easy to get lazy with this.

Standard quadruped position. Notice that my back is in a neutral position, not overly arched. This is the standard start position for a bird dog, but for the modified bird dog, our initial position is in the picture below.

Extend one leg back, while still making contact with the ground. The foot of your extended leg, your knee, and two hands will be the four bases of contact. You should feel it in your glutes already. Noticed how I changed clothes? Awesome.

Finished position of the modified bird dog. Reaching my foot to the back wall, keeping my abs locked down, trying to stretch my hip flexor. Nothing moves except the working leg, hinge from the hip.

As with the prone glute, we want to keep everything square. The foot should point down and your hands should have even weight distribution with no roll or lean towards one side.

A shitty bird dog with extreme head and back arch. This happens from trying to reach the foot to the sky. A higher extension doesn't mean a better extension. Make sure yours doesn't look like this.

Modified Bird Dog 2

Very similar to the first modified bird dog, but now we’re bringing the knee into the chest.  The same rules still apply.

Instead of resting the leg on the ground, we'll be bringing it to our chest as hard as we can. You should feel your hip flexor work on the isometric two second hold. Make sure you don't crunch up, keep your spinal position stable the entire time -- movement comes from the hip and no where else.

Familiar finish.

ADVANCED HIP EXTENSION

Those three exercises are what I use to develop basic basic hip extension patterns, while also working on the mind-muscle connection.  There are the only “glute activation” exercises necessary.  From here, more complex movements like squats and deadlifts, spinal position becomes the focus making success more than doing 100 reps per exercise.

If you’re interested in how the progression shakes out, be sure to check back, subscribe to my newsletter, and keep tabs on the release of my book.

That’s all for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19 comments… add one

  • Aiden Smith May 22, 2011 3:49 pm

    Do you have any proposed ways of sitting other than the 135degree incline suggested in that link? Such as, how about kneeling with the hips extended, or maybe even flexed like when playing video games?

    I’m certain my glutes are fine(can they be over active?), but lately my hip-flexors sure as hell are shouting at me for sitting in chairs which is affecting my hip extension & I’ve started to notice a few knee problems.

    Reply
    • anthony mychal May 22, 2011 7:32 pm

      Not really. I make it a point to do some stretching about every hour I’m sitting down if I’m writing or doing something similar on the computer. If I’ve done a lot of sitting and I want to watch tv, I’ll just put my upper back on the couch and hold an isometric bridge, but that’s only if my hips are feeling really tight.

      Reply
  • What benefits may people notice after employing these progressions one after another? Lighter knees or being readily able to thrust forward?

    After one progresses to the third exercise, may they utilize all three exercises daily?

    It’s quite intriguing. I’ve never even stopped to consider hip extension of all things. It’s always squats this and deadlifts that. Will your book encompass many other gems such as this?

    Reply
    • anthony mychal June 19, 2011 4:31 pm

      These exercises are more gateway exercises than one’s that will actually provide some benefit. People would call them activation exercises because they’re low intensity and can get some blood flow to the area, enhancing mind/muscle connection.

      You can do all three, yes. But I prefer not to because they all do the same thing. For varieties sake, sure, the more the merrier. but I like to pick something that works and use it to its fullest.

      The book has six guiding principles. Fixing the hip is one of the six.

      Reply
  • this post should anyone print out and put on every lantern in town

    Reply
    • anthony mychal July 11, 2011 12:54 pm

      Hah, I appreciate it. I don’t think the world is going to come to terms with it soon, but I’m going to try my hardest to try to make them.

      Reply
  • Great article, I really like the focus on motor control and retraining the glutes to actually activate and support the leg rather than just attempting to strengthen the glutes. I have had bilateral hip surgery and I have been having trouble really getting my glutes to work when I stand and walk as the last phase of my recovery, despite being told I have decent glute strength in isolated glute contractions by my physical therapist. I was wondering how long you believe it takes to retrain the glutes to activate in regular movements doing these exercises everyday and if you recommend any other glute motor control exercises. Again, great article. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Brendan. How long it takes to gain control depends on a lot of things. But with these low intensity exercises and drills, the more you practice, the fast it will come. For instance, I have a client right now doing a minimum of 100 repetitions of glute work per day in addition to other stuff to gain hip control.

      Part of it is just “thinking” about it as often as you can. When you walk up steps, get up from the couch, etc. My book is an eight week reprogramming plan, with training to be done daily. I think that amount of time can build a solid base. But it can go even faster if it’s a one on one type training thing where I can regularly assess your problems.

      Sorry to hear about your surgery, sounds tough. Keep working hard and I’m sure you’ll be fine. As far as any other exercises, not really. It’s all about learning how to use your hips with “easy” activation exercises and then slowly transitioning into learning up to use them when upright.

      Reply
  • Great stuff. I like the unique exercise execution. I notice there is no emphasis on squeezing the glute, do I have that right, just do the motion, don’t focus on squeezing?

    Reply
  • I’m working on this program and progressing (i think). I’m working on the hip extension straight back. Should I be thinking about forcefully pressing through the heel as well? That seems to change things but I can’t tell if for better or worse.

    Reply
  • I’ve closely read through this article and the comments and I have a question about squeezing. So someone asked if you should squeeze and you said yes. But in the article you say if your having trouble GETTING the glutes to contract. Making it sound like the glutes are contracting because of a movement that demands it, not because your consciouly adding a contraction on top of a movement. Which is correct?

    Reply
    • I don’t understand.

      The glutes CAN contract in these positions…but if you don’t use the glutes to drive the movement, they won’t.

      A lot of people end up with hamstring and low back cramps when doing the prone glute RATHER than glute pumps because the former two also can makeshift hip extension.

      You need to CONSCIOUSLY add the contraction if you don’t already have it.

      Reply

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