Note: If you are having a deep ache in the hip-joint, sharp pain, diffuse pain or it just doesn’t feel quite right in there, visit your medical provider!
The hips are quite complex. There are many muscles that attach to the hip bones themselves and there are plenty of ways that dysfunction can sneak in. Muscle imbalances are most often to blame for problems in the hips, stemming from posture and work-related positions, like sitting.
Hip Muscles And Their Function
The abductors (glutes) will move your leg away from the body, adductors (groin) bring it back in. We already know that the quads straighten the knee and the hamstring bend it. Enter the hip flexors and extensors!
The glutes are hip extensors and abductors, working to rotate your leg at the hip and swing your leg behind you along with the hamstrings. The hip flexors bring your leg up and forward, like hiking up hills. They also receive some help from one of your quads as well as Tensor Fascia Latae, Iliacus and Psoas muscles, commonly called the Iliopsoas.
Why Problems Occur
This graphic was also featured in our first series on overpronation. Recall that what happens at the hip is happening at the ankle too. If the foot collapses, it can lead to the hips rotating forward, this is called an anterior pelvic tilt.
Hips can also tilt forward without someone being an overpronator. Tight hip flexor muscles can tilt your hips forward.
Think of your hips as a bowl of water. If the muscles on the front are tight, it tilts the bowl forward and you spill out the front. Now if the hips rotate too far back, you lose water out the back. Extremes here are not good, you want to be in the middle, not spilling water one way or another. This not only protects your low back, but it also helps keep muscle imbalances from beginning.
When the hips roll forward, it increases the arch in your low back. This also shortens one of the deep muscles, the Iliopsoas. When muscles are shortened, they can inhibit other muscles from working properly. In this case, it’s the glutes.
What Does This Mean For Hikers?
The glutes do a lot for the hip: they help support the low back, stabilize the hip and hip-joint, rotate the femur in the hip-joint and help move your leg behind you. If the glutes aren’t doing their job, the hamstrings are the next best group to help out.
There’s a problem though.
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The hamstrings can help swing your leg behind you, but they don’t offer any sort of hip stability or rotation. With normal walking, your glutes rotate the femur head out little as the leg moves behind you.
With the hamstrings taking over, the femur head doesn’t rotate as it should. Instead, the femur head is pushed forward in the joint, which can cause a pinching feeling in the front of your hip.
As we fatigue or strain under heavy pack loads (hello resupply day!) we tend to lean forward slightly. This allows the pack to rest more on the back instead of the shoulders and hips, where it belongs. This may also be a pack fit issue.
It is not usually a conscious decision to change your posture, rather, a decision that your mind has made to help with the stress its feeling. With a stronger core, the body is better able to handle the stress of a heavy pack and long trail miles. This also means less risk of injury!
Core strength here is key, so plan on spending time strengthening up before you hit the trail.
- Hollow rocks
- Kettlebell swings
- Russian twists
- Farmer carries
- Sled pushes
These exercises are some great ways to sneak in core strength. YouTube will have a plethora of videos to help you with demonstrations and instruction.
Having strong glutes will also benefit you, I like lunges for that. You also can’t go wrong with exercises like:
- Step-ups – front, side, and cross-over
- Hip thrusters
- Weight lifting
- Romanian deadlifts
- Banded glute exercises
Again, YouTube will have a plethora of videos to help you with instruction.
Other things to help would be a properly fitted pack that is not overloaded. Jamming closer to 40 pounds into a pack that is meant for 30 is gonna hurt. Make sure to buy the right size pack for you and watch the manufacture videos for finding a proper fit. Getting a pack that allows for a replacement hip belt is nice too. If you lose enough weight, you may need a smaller hip belt.
This stretch is easily done while hiking! I would often have my knee on my pack instead of the ground for comfort. It’s a great way to show some love to your hip flexors that help you climb up, over and down those hills!
You can reach me email@example.com with any injury issues, past or present that you feel will impact your hike. Training questions are also welcome – I am happy to help!