The adult human has 206 bones linked in a variety of ways (… “the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the back bone … ”). Our skeleton literally supports us as we function in the world. While the hinge joint of the elbow allows movement in only one direction, the knee’s hinge joint permits some “swiveling.” The thumb moves across the palm of the hand thanks to a saddle joint, and a pivot joint in the forearm allows twisting of the wrist. The most range of movement, however, is provided by a “ball and socket” joint. The hip, with the head of the femur tucked snugly into the socket of the pelvis, is a perfect example. The hip provides an ideal balance between mobility and stability, and figures prominently in the well-being of runners as well as other bipeds.
Although many of us equate joint mobility with flexibility, they are actually quite different things. While a certain level of flexibility may be involved in moving a joint, joint mobility is the ability to move a joint in a controlled manner through its full range of motion (ROM). Flexibility, on the other hand, involves the ability to lengthen soft tissues.
Repetitive motion injuries and age can contribute to joints losing ROM unless active steps are taken to maintain mobility. Joints rely on synovial fluid, rather than blood, to oxygenate and nourish cartilage, remove waste products and to reduce friction between cartilage surfaces. Movement is crucial in this process, as synovial fluid, unlike blood (which is pumped), must be mechanically “squeezed” during movement to provide joint lubrication.
One of the most important joints in the human body is the hip. This well-engineered marvel presents many movement options and is responsible for driving much of the body’s motion. The musculature of the hips consists of strong, powerful components as well as smaller parts designed to handle lateral movement and rotation. The bottom line is that our hips are designed to function in many planes, not just in the forward-backward motion utilized when running or walking! While everyone suffers when ROM of the hips is limited, athletes, in particular, stand to lose much, as speed and power are adversely affected by limited hip joint mobility. (Imagine yourself trying to make a maximum vertical leap without being able to bend at the ankles, knees or hips … go ahead and give it a try! I guarantee you won’t get far.)
Joint mobility exercises designed to maintain or regain ROM don’t take long to practice and can be done anytime. Some people find doing a short routine first thing in the morning gets their day started right, while others prefer to take a break from sitting at the computer or to end the day with mobility activities. On running days, hip mobility drills are best done as a either a pre-run warm-up (they’re dynamic and will get you ready to go in no time!) or sandwiched between your run and any static stretches you use as a cool-down.
Here’s a “Happy Hips” joint mobility routine consisting of 8 exercises. When doing any joint mobility activity, strive for controlled, smooth and slow movements that explore each joint’s range of motion. Each hip mobility exercise in the video should include 4 slow repetitions (4 on each side where applicable). Limbs, joints and muscles not required for each exercise should remain still and quiet – try to avoid flailing about! It’ll take 3 minutes to watch and you can do the entire routine in 5 minutes. Give it a try … your hips will thank you.
Workout: Do 4 reps of each exercise (on both sides where applicable) first thing in the morning or as a warm-up before your workout or run.
- Hip Circles
- Relaxed Mountain Climbers
- Cossack Twists
- Quadrupedal Crawls
- Seated Periformis Stretch