If you want to take care of the joints that absorb much of the stress from exercise, your knees and ankles, you need to build the strength in your hips. Why? Your hip muscles keep your legs stable and ensure that your hips and pelvis stay in their natural rotation as you move, so your knees and ankles are properly aligned as you put weight on them.
Hip stability is important to both men and women, but research shows that women are prone to greater weakness in their hips, leading to misaligned knees and ankles. Women suffer from knee pain due to weak glutes or hips twice as much as men do, according to study reported in the “The Journal of Clinical Biomechanics” in 2012.
Hip stability is important to both men and women, but research shows that women are prone to greater weakness in their hips than men are.
One reason for this is that women have a wider “Q angle,” or the angle formed by your front prominent hip bone (ASIS) to your mid knee cap (patella). Since the Q angle tends to be wider in most women, they are challenged to hold their hips and knees in alignment, placing more force on the joints.
How can you tell if your hips need to be strengthened to protect your knees and ankles? Try these to two quick tests to see if you may be susceptible to injury.
1. Bridging with single leg kick. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Raise your bottom up into the air into a “bridge” position. Keeping your bottom up, attempt to keep your hips level while straightening out your right knee. Return the right knee to the bent position and alternate legs. Your hips and pelvis should stay level as you transition legs. If one side of your pelvis drops this may be a sign of hip weakness.
2. Single leg partial squat. Stand on one leg. Reach down to the floor with your opposite hand, while allowing the leg you are standing on to go into a squat with the knee bending. Perform on both sides. You should be able to keep your knee in line with your toe. If your knee sways inward as you attempt this exercise, this may be another sign of hip weakness.
If you have hip weakness, you can strengthen them and prevent knee and ankle pain and injury with these three exercises.
1. Clams. Lie on your side with your knees bent and ankles together. Keep your hips in a stacked position (evenly aligned on top of each other), ankles together, and raise your top knee toward the ceiling. Only raise your top knee high enough so that you can control the motion without your pelvis rolling backward. You should feel a good burn as you are working the outside external rotators of the hip. Perform two sets of 10 lifts on both sides.
2. Side-lying leg lifts. Lie on your side with the bottom knee slightly bent and the top knee straight. Keep hips in a stacked position while you raise the top leg 6 inches toward the ceiling. Keep the hip, knee, and ankle in a line and then move the leg 2 to 3 inches behind you, while keeping the foot slightly rotated up toward the ceiling. This works your gluteus medius, a main stabilizer in your hip, and you should feel this on the outside of your hip. Done correctly, this is a very challenging exercise. Start with one set of 10 and work your way up to two as your hips grow stronger and the exercise gets easier.
3. Bridging with a resistive band. Place a moderately resistive band around both knees. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Move knees outward, so that there is tension on the band keeping knees in line with the hips. Keeping tension on the band, raise your bottom toward the ceiling and hold for a count of 5 seconds. Then return to mat. Repeat 20 to 30 times.
Do these exercises two or three times a week to build your hip strength, preventing injury during your training and allowing you to keep doing all the activities that you love!