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Your hips are potentially the strongest parts of your entire body, but I have observed that bodybuilders tend to neglect this important area. They
simply do not work their hips hard enough, and as a result hip strength lags. Eventually, if the situation is not rectified the factor of
disproportionate strength will rear its ugly head. At first this weakness may prove only to be bothersome, but ultimately it will hamper training
since very little can be accomplished when the hips are injured.
Most bodybuilders take hip strength for granted and generally do not include any specific exercises for that critical area. They do a few partial squats or leg presses, throw in some back work, and figure that's plenty to maintain the strength in their hips. But token movements are just not sufficient to keep the various muscles and attachments. of the hip nearly powerful enough.
All strength development starts in the center of the body, that area where the hips and lower back are connected. So when the muscles and attachments which form this seat of pure strength are neglected, e en slightly, all the other bodyparts will he adversely affected.
This means that hip exercises should be given priority, not relegated to the back burner. Since the hip is capable of enormous strength, the exercises for it must involve heavy weights. Toning has no place in the bodybuilder's program when it comes to doing hip exercises.
While the hip is indeed a very complicated and potentially strong area, it is prone to a great many types of injuries. It's formed by 22 different muscles, and that's not including the lower abs or the lumbars, which are implicitly connected to the hip. There are six flexors, four extensors, two abductors, four adductors and six outward rotators. You have also the tendons and ligaments which add support to the many muscles. All of these components have to be worked diligently and equally. Training them is basically a mailer of adhering to the weakest-link principle.
Hip problems have become a major health factor in this country. A piece in the Baltimore newspaper recently stated that over five thousand people, who were all under one health plan, had hip operations in the city hospitals. This statistic leads me to believe that another thousand or so might have needed surgery but didn't have ample insurance coverage.
Probably more yet merely have hip trouble, but not so much that they need the knife. Many older athletes have problems with their hips because they have abused them over the years. The great Olympic weightlifter Tommy Kono and physique champion Dr. Craig Whitehead have resorted to hip operations. In the event that the hip joint has deteriorated too far for other means to be effective, surgery is often the only option left. I firmly believe, however, that if a young bodybuilder will pay closer attention to his overall program and make certain that he is giving his hips adequate exercise, he can avoid this drastic measure.
Even if a person is currently troubled with a bad hip, he can benefit from doing some specific exercises for that area and be able to rebuild it without the necessity of going to a surgeon. In many instances he can correct the difficulty in a matter of weeks or months simply by applying some common sense to his routine. I have worked with several people, both young and old, who suffered from hip pain. One case was so bad that the individual had trouble walking without a limp mid could hardly get up from a chair. After several months of doing specific exercises which involved the hip muscles, he was free of any pain and able to do exercises he had had to forgo previously because of his bad hip.
One of the reasons why older bodybuilders develop hip problems is not just that they are growing older, but that they have dropped more and more of those exercises from their programs which are specific for their hips. Typically they start doing specialized work for their upper bodies and less and less for their lower bodies - backs, hips and legs. When I confront them about this lack of total body conditioning, they usually reply that they are no longer interested in having strong legs or backs, but want to concentrate on their chests and arms exclusively.
Younger bodybuilders also fall into the upper-body trap, often neglecting their lower bodies to the extreme. Only chests and arms matter. This approach is nice in theory, but unfortunately it is loaded with potential problems. When the potentially strongest part of the structure is allowed to grow progressively weaker, this deterioration will eventually influence all the other bodyparts in a negative fashion.
There is yet another reason why so many current trainees suffer from some sort of hip problem. The exercises required to strengthen the hips are difficult since you have to use heavy weights. Merely teasing the hips with light weights doesn't get the job done. While many bodybuilders are fully aware of the importance of working their hips, they still neglect them simply because they aren't prepared to put that kind of effort into their routines. After all, lying down on a bench to train is so much more fun than pulling a heavy weight off the floor or grinding out a heavy squat.
Besides, you have to do specific hip exercises in such a manner that they truly activate the targeted muscles. Squats are only effective if the bodybuilder is doing full squats. If he is doing half-or quarter-squats, he is not hitting the hips effectively. Sometimes all he has to do is lower the bar another couple of inches so that his thighs are breaking the parallel position. This small change can mean the difference between neglecting the hips and making them stronger.
Same idea applies to deadlifts. I see people doing them with their hips set extremely high, almost in the manner of a straight-leg deadlift. This is certainly a useful exercise, but it does not work the hip nearly as much as if they set their butt close to the floor.
The leg press is another excellent hip exercise, but in too many instances the lifter does not allow the platform to go low enough so that he is involving his hips. He often cuts the exercise off in order to handle huge weights or has someone assist him at the bottommost position. This low, low part of the movement is most beneficial to the hips.
The hip and lower back are implicitly connected. If you allow your lower back to become weak, it will adversely affect your hip. Whenever someone comes tome complaining of hip pain, I immediately check out his lower-back routine. In almost every case I find he has not been doing enough work for his lumbars. Sometimes the exercises are there, but he has not been working them hard enough. For example, he might be doing good mornings, but using only token weights, or including back hyperextensions, but not pushing them up into the higher reps needed to strengthen the lumbars.
If the lower back has become so weak that it has allowed the vertebrae to shift, I recommend finding a good chiropractor. By good, I mean one who will fix your problem on the very first visit. Good ones can do that. Those who do a song and dance with lots of examining - and schedule you for a dozen or more treatments - are a waste of time. You'll be better off fixing the problem yourself.
Maintaining strong hips requires a two-pronged attack. You have to strengthen the lower back while including some very specific movements for the hips. You can work the lower back with a variety of exercises. The only fly in the ointment is that none of these is easy. If any are easy, you just aren't doing them right. Good mornings, almost-straight-leg deadlifts, back hypers and reverse hypers are the best for strengthening the lumbars.
You can do good mornings with a flat back, a rounded back or while seated on a bench. All methods are effective. Initially you can use a light weight, but once the lower back starts to respond, you need to add plates. The basic rule for good mornings is to use 50 percent of what you are squatting for 8 reps. If you are squatting 400 pounds, you should plan to use 200 for S on the good mornings. This is your goal, though you need not attain it right away. The guidelines for almost-straight-leg deadlifts are higher since the lift is much easier to do. Aim for 75 percent of your squat. A man who squats 400 pounds will work up to 300 for 8 in the almost-straight-leg deadlift.
Back hyperextensions and reverse back hypers improve strength in the lumbars best through higher repetitions rather than adding resistance. I realize you can add weight to both of these movements, but I have observed that the lifter tends to twist and jerk with increased resistance. I believe a much better approach is just to run the reps up. Almost anyone can do 20 back hypers the very first time. Simply add one rep a week and you will be amazed at how many you can do over the course of six months or a year. I've had several clients go over a hundred reps. Unless you happen to have a machine for reverse back hypers, high reps are the order of the day for these as well. My suggestion is to do one or the other before your workout, then conclude with the other one. Both are excellent warmup exercises, for once your lower back is ready, everything falls into place nicely.
Now for some specific hip exercises. Squats head my list. These should not only be full squats, but the wider your stance the more you bring the hip into play. Those who know they are weak in the hips will be unable early onto do wider-stance squats with heavy weights. In these cases doing one set of wide-stance squats in the form of a high-rep back-offset is most useful. Some people have a great deal of trouble maintaining balance with wide squats. If a Smith machine is available, do them inside the machine until you are able to keep proper balance on your own.
Deadlifts are also great for strengthening the hips, but once again you must do them in a certain manner. The lower you can set your hips at the start of the lift the better. Standing on a block or using 35-pound plates instead of 45s is even more effective in bringing the hips into play.
I really like the leg press for strengthening the hips, but I do not believe it is nearly as effective unless you do it in conjunction with full squats. It complements the squat perfectly, but it should never be used to replace it. I have found that the best way to utilize the leg press for strengthening or rebuilding the hips is to use it after doing heavy squats. I do not like to use ultra heavy weights on the leg press since I find the machine forces the knees into an unnatural position in many instances. Higher reps are thus called for. After heavy squats 2 or 3 sets of 10 or 12 reps work very well. Again, you need to lower the platform to a deep position so that your knees are almost touching your chest with your feet in the widest stance possible. This lower position activates the muscles of your hips, and since you are in a machine you can do them in a controlled manner. You need to work them diligently, but doing higher reps restricts the top-end weight. I would much rather do 405 for 10 than 495 or 585 for fewer reps. Invariably you will cut the heavier weights off more and more and in the process do less work for the target groups.
You should work your hips no less than twice a week. If you squat twice a week and add in the wide-stance, deep leg presses, you've got the situation almost covered. Deadlifts are also beneficial. Include them at least every other week. The hips can take a lot of work so there's really no risk of overtraining them. More is always better in strengthening the hips, for they are potentially very powerful muscles which form that critical part of your body. Hit the lower back regularly also. Back hypers and/or reverse back hypers need to be part of every workout with either good mornings or almost-straight-leg deadlifts included at least once a week.