You need strong hips to support the work being done by our pelvis and core - the hinge point of so much climbing motion. When these muscles aren’t strong enough, you begin to compensate for the weaknesses in unhealthy ways, resulting in many injuries from this break in the kinetic chain.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), “the kinetic chain describes the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting joints, and muscles working together to perform movements and the portion of the spine to which they connect. The upper kinetic chain consists of the fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders, shoulder blades, and spinal column. The lower kinetic chain includes the toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, upper legs, hips, pelvis, and spine. In both chains, each joint is independently capable of a variety of movements.”
The hip joint connects both kinetic chains and is at the center of the body, so what happens above and below the hip joint will be directly affected by it. In order for the hip to have full range of motion, the 15 muscles within the joint must work together. Lack of hip strength can result in knee issues, back issues, and a multitude of imbalances and dysfunction elsewhere.
“Another function of the hip is to transfer power through the body during sports and activities. Energy will be lost between the upper and lower body if the core and hip muscles are not sufficiently able to transfer force.” says Dr. Leslie Desrosiers.
Your lower body gets us to the cliff and, more importantly, back from it! Your hips also help engage all of the unique body positions needed and absorb the falls we take while climbing. We should invest as much energy into our lower kinetic chain with the amount that we rely on it.
Hip strength and stability exercises may not be sexy, but they’ll keep you from ending up injured, which is the least sexy state for any climber to be in. (I should know, lack of focus on these stabilizer muscles may have been an underlying reason why I ended up with a recent ACL injury.)
Here are a few exercises that are focused on increasing your hip strength and mobility. They can be throw in between hang board sets, right after your cardio warm-up (because you warm-up, right?!), or as a part of low impact, off-day activities. There are a multitude of great hip stretches out there that can be worked into your mobility training too! Look in the Scorpion Stretch, Piriformis Twist, and the Dead Bug for inspiration.
Exercise 1: Lateral Band Walks - 10 steps per side
- Place a resistance band just below your knees
- Begin by standing with your feet about shoulder width apart in a semi-squat position
- Walk sideways, taking the largest steps you can to the right
- Resist the tension of the band as the left leg moves to join the right leg
- **To make this harder, put the resistance band around your ankles**
Exercise 2 - Single Leg RDL
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent and raise one leg off the floor.
- Flex the knee on your standing/support leg about 15-20% to activate the glutes.
- Without changing the bend in your knee, keep your back naturally arched, bend (hinge) at your hips, and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
- Briefly pause at the bottom, then squeeze your glutes, thrust your hips forward, and raise your torso back to the starting position.
- If you are brand new to this exercise, start out with a simple balance and reach. You can use an object to reach for like a dumbbell or medicine ball.
- **To make this harder, use a weight in your reaching hand (opposite hand of the working leg)**
Exercise 3 - Bridge - Ball - Bridge on a Physio Ball
- Lay on your back and put your heels on a physio ball
- Push your hips up, engaging your glutes and core, and make yourself flat like a bridge
- Using your heels, roll the ball toward your butt, then bridge up again
- Roll back to the start position, holding the first bridge the entire time.
- Repeat for ten reps