It was during a recent mobility Monday that I noticed something about our Alchemy population (this includes staff): our internal hip rotation sucks. Internal rotation from the hip simply means the ability to turn your legs into the middle of your body, i.e., to turn your knees towards each other.
You may be wondering, why would I want my knees to turn towards each other when you guys always tell me to turn my knees out?
Well, firstly I’m not advocating you walk around knock-kneed. The rotation is more subtle and balanced. To give you an idea of the harmonious movement I’m advocating (think healthy tension between rotation and extension), let’s think about your squat and how a lack of internal hip mobility effects it.
Your hips in a squat
When you squat the muscles around your hip are working hard. First to get into flexion to descend and then to extend on the way up (and to stabilize all the way through the movement). When you lack mobility, your hip cannot slide freely into an optimal position and you may compensate by turning your feet out further or tilting your pelvis and rounding your back.
Some possible signs* an internal rotation issue is affecting your squat:
Your feet spin out as you descend into your squat
Your knees fall in as you squat
You have pain at the front of your hip
Your lower back rounds as you try to achieve a deeper position
*Disclaimer: your body does not operate in a one-answer-solves-all fashion. There are lots of reasons for each of these problems, so speak to a coach first and if you are experiencing chronic pain get referred to a practitioner to diagnose and treat it.
How do you fix sticky hips and therefore improve your squat?
Here’s a three-step program to start increasing mobility:
1. Relax tight tissues that don’t allow you to assume correct positioning. Roll out your Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL), aka the muscles of the inner thigh. Spend a couple minutes trying to relax onto a tennis or lacrosse ball. You don’t need much movement, just breathe and try to get it to calm down.
2. Stretch tight tissue or activate and train weak tissue to increase range of motion. That means start stretching through internal rotation. Hook a band up to a pole and loop it around your leg just below your glutes. Facing the pole, back up until there is tension in the band and then take the knee on your banded leg to the floor. Take the foot of your down leg and move it out away from your knee so your hip moves into internal rotation. Have a friend put a heavy KB just inside of your foot to keep it from moving back to neutral. Remain in this position for at last 1 minute per side.
3. Add stimulus in the form of tempo or static work, possibly adding load to reprogram the position. That means perform a squat and hold. Try to move your feet to a neutral stance and slowly squat down. If you feel the front of your hip tighten up, your feet want to rotate out, your leg try to collapse at your ankle or knee, or your low back try to tuck down then stop and hold. Spend 10 seconds at a position just above your failure point and breathe! Stand up, shake it out and repeat nine more times trying to maybe find a little more depth if it becomes available. If you can find a position at parallel or below in your squat, start to introduce some weight to your holds.
Creating a new movement pattern is not an overnight fix; change takes weeks or even months. But working to achieve a better position constantly will keep you squatting healthy and heavy for years to come.
Duncan McNeill is a coach and co-owner at Alchemy CrossFit.