Don’t do sit-ups, side bends or back extensions, train your hips for core strength & stability

Jan 17, 2022

In this tutorial we examine the theory that if you want to strengthen your core you need to train your hips. This is something I talk to my private clients about as well as covering in depth in my beginner’s Core Strength & Stability 12-Week Program.

So often in core training programs we find lots of spine bending exercises like sit-ups, crunches or twists. But these are not the most effective exercises for training the core. In order to better understand why this is, let’s talk about the anatomy of the hips and spine. Then we’ll look at some more appropriate exercises you might want to consider instead.

Anatomy of the hips

The different joints in our body work in different ways. They are designed for the purpose they serve. The hip is a ball and socket joint. This allows for a wide range of movement – flexion, extension, both internal and external rotation, abduction and adduction. In fact, it’s classified as a freely moveable joint. Hence, designed for movement.

But it is also lined with some pretty powerful muscles, the main one being the gluteus maximus. This too is designed for power – it’s the one we should be engaging when we want to move. Of course, it also has a supporting cast of other muscles, the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus for example. These too need to be working optimally to ensure stability in the joint, while the glute max is doing the heavy lifting, as it were.

So what about the spine?

Of course, understanding the importance of the hips in creation of movement is only part of the story. The spine is the place from which we naturally bend and twist, so we need to work on the muscles there too, right?

Back to anatomy and classification. All the joints in the spine are known as cartilaginous joints, they’re classified as ‘slightly’ moveable joints as opposed to the ‘freely’ moveable hips. This obviously doesn’t mean they can’t move, they can! But it does mean that their primary function should not be to create movement. In fact, the primary function of the joints within your spine is stability, The secondary function is to support movement. Movement that comes from the hips as well as from the shoulders.

Next, let’s consider the muscles. The spinal muscles are not big powerful movers. Some of those between the vertebrae have lots of sensors, the body uses them to detect the position of the spine. They’re not even really there for movement or contraction at all. And similarly, the bigger muscles of the back are there predominantly to stabilise the spine and anchor it to the pelvis. Again, not powerful movers.

If not sit-ups, then what?

What exercises should we be using to train the core if we’re focusing on the hips and not the back?

My advice is to start simple to make sure you’re focusing on the right muscle groups, then build on it by taking the complexity of the exercises up a notch.

In the video above I go into a number of exercises that will help anyone to build core, or train hips to support core, much better. They’re perfectly suitable for beginners or those simply looking for a new approach.

Have a watch and I’ll show you some pictures and talk about the standard bridge, useful to really engage those glutes as well as a quick extension involving resistance bands. We’ll put those bands into use again with a side-stepping exercise to work the glutes and hip flexors. And then we’ll look at options for single and double leg stands and bends to isolate and engage the glutes in particular.

Ultimately, it’s vital to choose right exercises to isolate the hip muscles and get them engaged and working hard. And to avoid injury and ensure the effectiveness of the exercises, it’s important to start simple before moving to more complex variations. The video above should help with this.  

If you take nothing else from this tutorial, remember that when it comes to core training you need to train and move from the hips rather than the spine.

Want to know more? Follow the link to enrol on my Core Strength & Stability 12-Week Program.

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