If you are having trouble with balance or gait, the problem could be with weak and/or tight hips. I call the hips (actually, the pelvis-the hip is the joint where the thigh bone inserts into the pelvis) the center of our physical body’s universe. First of all, most of the muscles of locomotion attach to the pelvis. Secondly, a strong and flexible pelvis keeps one from having excessive spinal rotation during gait. Third: A strong and stable pelvis is vital for balance. If one has a small disturbance to balance, the ankles can handle it. If a larger perturbation occurs, one needs to take a step or two to regain balance, which requires the pelvis. Unfortunately, most people have weak and tight pelvic muscles. Why? We spend most of our days moving from one sitting position to another, meaning the very muscles we need to function well are being sat upon for hours at a time. I see people in the gym doing leg lifts from a hands and knees position, or hip lifts while lying in a supine position. The problem? There are no load-bearing forces from gravity acting on the pelvic floor. Result? These are non-functional, non-transferable to our daily activities. Here are a couple of my personal favorites to incorporate into your routine.
1). Hip press: This exercise strengthens the gluteus medius muscle on the outside of the upper pelvis. This muscle needs to be strong in order to stabilize the pelvis when walking or running and keeps the swing leg track forward instead of swing out to the side. When I first started doing this exercise, I was surprised at how quickly that muscle fatigued, and how wobbly I was standing on one leg-in fact, I needed to hold on. I do this exercise most days, performing 20 reps on each side. You’ll discover right away which side is weaker. To perform this exercise, stand on a book or step at least 3 inches high. Keeping BOTH knees straight, try to press the free leg to the floor, then bring it back to the start. I place my hand on the butt muscle on my standing leg to let the brain connect with it; otherwise the low back muscles will attempt to lift the leg.
2). Hip stretch #1. Lie on your back with one leg straight. Bring the other leg up to your pelvis and pull across toward the other side, while making sure your ribs remain in contact with the floor. You will feel a good stretch in the butt muscle. After you feel the stretch let up, continue taking the leg across your body as far as you can while keeping the shoulder on the floor. Take the arm straight out to the side with the palm up, then slide it up along the floor as high as you can. I envision moving from 3 o’clock to 12 o’clock. Move it slowly back and forth until you feel the stretch let up.
Hip stretch #2. I call this the number 4. Lie on your back with both knees up. Place an ankle on the opposite knee and press your inner thigh away from you-you’ll feel a stretch in the inner hip/groin area. Next, bring both legs toward your chest while in the same position-this will switch the stretch to your butt muscle, and perhaps the lower back. Remember to keep both knees in line with the shoulders.
These exercises/stretches will help with hip strength and flexibility, which aid balance tremendously, if you do them regularly.
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Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.