How Well Do Your Hips Move?

Simple Test to Assess Hip Extension (and more)

A few weeks ago we shared what has turned out to be a very popular video showing running technique analysis of Elite Female Marathon Runners.

Since then, I’ve received a number of email requests from runners and triathletes asking me to explain how best they can assess their own hip mobility. What we really need to assess in this case is the degree to which any restriction in their Hip Flexors impedes mobility into hip extension.

One of the first hip screening exercises I remember being taught as an Undergraduate student is the Thomas Test, explained below. The test and it’s variations can be used to assess a number of structures around the anterior hip. I still use it as one of my go-to tests today when assessing a runner’s physical attributes.

Thomas Test

The Thomas Test featured in the video below is simple to implement and tells us about muscle length in terms of Iliopsoas and Rectus Femoris in particular. A close look at the quality of movement as the limb reaches terminal hip extension will also provide insights into Tensor Fascia Lata tone, and resultant increased tension on the ITB.

The key factor in the set-up for this test is to set the pelvis into a posteriorly rotated position by pulling the uninvolved knee in towards the chest. This ensures that all observed extension is coming from the hip, not the lumbro-pelvic region.

Improving Hip Extension

The majority of runners and triathletes I work with, and those who follow my Online Running Technique Course (50% Discount – Click Here) will be very familiar with the following exercise!

I tend to recommend this stretch as a daily exercise to provide a strong hip flexor stretch, as well as encouraging the mind-muscle connection of consciously activating the all-important Gluteus Maximus muscle of the butt. I particularly like starting with 20 seconds in holding passive stretch, followed immediately by 20 mobilising reps, pushing (not bouncing) further into the stretch for 1-3 seconds.

Why is Hip Extension Important?

This should probably be an article in it’s own right, and I’ll save the full explanation for another day on this blog!

As identified in the video of the Elite Female Runners at Boston Marathon, two of the exceptional traits they almost all displayed were:

  • The ability to extend the trail leg way behind them, creating a long stride and extended flight time
  • The capacity to create this hip mobility, long stride and flight time while maintaining pelvic control in all planes of motion. This control of pelvic position means that once load is applied upon ground contact, all the power can be transferred in the right directions – efficiently.

However, what we see from so many amateur runners is that as they speed up, their need for extra stride length places more demand for extension on the hip than it can produce. The human body is amazing, it still manages to find the desired stride length, but by anteriorly tilting the pelvis, extending the lumbar spine, and rotating excessively. In many cases this compensated pelvic position manes it very difficult for Glute Maximus to engage and function to full capacity in creating propulsion to push us forward, as well as protecting the low back. This can have significant repercussions – both for performance and injury.

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