The Zero-BS guide to better hip extension

hip extension Sep 25, 2023
hip extension

Did you know that if you increase your hip extension by 20 degrees you will never feel any back, hip or foot pain ever again?

You would also be happier, less anxious and never have problems sleeping. Sounds too good to be true?

Because it is. And it's not too far off from the benefits some influencers out there promise with better hip extension.

Well fellow hipster, this is the ZERO-BS guide to better hip extension so I'm not going to promise you anything that is, well, BS.

Hip extension is an important movement but no more important than any other movement of the hip. 

If your goal is more flexibility or strength then isolating hip extension in your training is useful.

But if you're someone like me - who values comfortable pain-free movement and doesn't want to spend most days recovering, then your time might be better spent elsewhere.

The key is to understand WHY you are seeking to improve your hip extension.

Once you have this answer, programming the right type of exercises is easy.

Let's dive deeper, shall we?

What is hip extension and what does it look like? 

Hip extension occurs whenever the hip "extends" into a lengthened position.

In other words, whenever one of your legs goes behind you, like the back leg in a running stride. 

Hip extension happens naturally in our everyday movements without much thought.

For example, when we walk, get up from a chair, run, throw a ball or any other dynamic activity.

Proper and healthy hip extension happens without any conscious effort on our part.

If we have to think about it then the movement likely isn't fluid, effortless or easy. 

What is the prime mover of hip extension? 

The prime movers for hip extension are the glutes and the hamstrings.

Every movement in the human body has an opening angle and a closing angle.

Which means that one group of muscles are responsible for contracting ("closing") and another group of muscles are responsible for lengthening ("opening").

This is true for every single movement in the body. A good example is elbow flexion - the movement worked in a simple bicep curl.

When you bring the weight toward you in a bicep curl, the biceps contract and “close” while the triceps “open” and lengthen.

When you bring the weight away from you, the biceps lengthen or “open” and the triceps contract or “close.”

The same phenomenon occurs in hip extension but with much larger and stronger muscles.

When the leg moves away from you (like the back leg in a running stride), the glutes and hamstrings contract and "close."

But at the same time, the hip flexors and quads will lengthen or "open" - just like the triceps in the bicep curl example.

This is an important point because people will often put too much focus on only one side of the movement - usually the contracting side, i.e. the glutes and hamstrings.

But if we really want to improve our hip extension, we need to also load the front of the hips.

How to train the hip extension muscles 

Now that we laid out the main muscles that contract and lengthen during hip extension, how do we work them?

This all depends on what our goal is. Whatever our training goal is, the principle of progressive overload will apply.

This is just a fancy term for getting a little bit better with each training session.

But what "better" means will depend on what your goal is.

For example, if we want to get more range of motion in hip extension then the focus should be on flexibility.

We would use light weights but put our bodies into deeper ranges of motion during training.

Progressive overload will mean getting a little bit deeper into hip extension in each session.

If our goal is strength then we are not as concerned about getting more range of motion but instead, we want to get stronger within the range we already have.

In this scenario, we use heavier weights and less range of motion.

Progressive overload is achieved by simply increasing the weight after each training session.

Then there is a final goal of just getting better at the movement itself.

This goal can be somewhat arbitrary because it's not as easy to define or progress as flexibility or strength.

Nevertheless, better function and movement ability is becoming a more common desire for many people out there.

Which I completely get. Most normal people don't need or want to do a front split or deadlift 500 lb.

But most of us DO want to move with more ease and comfort. I like to label this category as movement efficiency.

These are exercises that help the body get hip extension without compensation from other muscle groups or joints in the body.

They are also low-intensity and we can do them everyday without having to recover. I will provide some examples below.

My favorite hip extension exercises 

In this section, I'd like to give you examples of my favorite exercises for each goal named above.

(1) Flexibility Goal -   Long Lunge Extensions

(2) Strength Goal - RDL

(3) Efficiency Goal - Prone Hip Extension

(4) Efficiency Goal - Wall Airplane

How to get hip extension running 

I frequently get contacted by runners who are seeking to improve their hip extension when running. 

This is why I dedicated a section in this article for this sub-group. 

As a runner myself, I can say that having better hip extension is valuable. But we also can't ignore everything else that happens in the body during our running gait.

Getting more flexible and strong in the hips can help with just about any movement goal we have.

More range and strength in hip extension is no exception.

But these goals take effort. If you really care about getting strong or flexible, it may require you to step away from building speed or endurance when running.

We can't do everything all at once. If you're a normal adult with a job, family and other responsibilities, we cannot spend all of our precious energy on recreational pursuits.

That's why I recommend working on efficiency first. You might have better hip extension than you think if other parts of the body stop compensating.

If you're still not reaching your goals, THEN you can start programming some hip extension strength and flexibility in your training.

Closing Thoughts

If you're super stiff and can barely do a lunge, it's a good idea to work on your hip extension flexibility.

If you're super weak and can barely do an RDL with an unloaded barbell then it's a good idea to work your hip extension strength.

But if you feel confident in these areas already and just want to move with more ease and comfort then focus on movements that promote better movement efficiency.

There is no universal one-size-fits-all approach to movement. The more I learn about my own body and work with others, the more I truly recognize the pursuit of better movement as an art.

And just like any type of art, it's easy to overthink. So keep it simple. Figure out what type of movements you suck at and what you want to get better at.

Then find resources and coaches to help you meet those goals.