When we walk, jog, jump, kick, swim, bike, or sprint, our hips have to perform two very different movements. One side of the hip is going through flexion while the other side is going through extension. This is what I call hip dissociation—the separation of the two legs and their movements at the hip joint.
When you sprint, each leg cycle consists of one leg dynamically performing hip flexion (knee drive) while the opposite leg simultaneously performs dynamic hip extension (leg extending toward the ground). The two legs are performing separate and simultaneous actions at the hip joint. When we train, we typically perform movements where both sides of the hips are performing the same movements. In typical squats, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings, glute ham raises, and hip thrusts, the legs and hips are working together on the same movement in the same plane.
Yuri Verkhoshansky (quit possibly the smartest coach ever!) was the first coach to realize these two opposite movements and he tried to implement a way to train them. He came up with some pretty innovative exercises to train both of these simultaneous movements. However, for some reason, they never really stuck, and you’d be hard pressed to find any program that trains this quality.
You might be thinking that I’m advocating switching bilateral exercises for single-leg movements, but in reality, almost all single leg work doesn’t attack this hip dissociation fully. Take a single-leg squat. One leg is performing the squat, so it’s going through hip flexion and subsequent hip extension. But the other leg is just statically staying put, not going through any range of movement. It’s performing a low intensity, isometric contraction at an almost neutral position.
While split squats, lunges, and RFESS do stress the opposite actions of extension and flexion in each leg, they don’t stress full range of motion or dynamic movement in the back leg. Think about it—the hips are in two different positions, but the back leg doesn’t go through a full range of motion, dynamic movement, or resistance, which is seen in actual movements. Most of these movements consist of one leg performing the movement while the other doesn’t move and contracts isometrically or performs only a small range of motion without any resistance.
The purpose of hip dissociation exercises is to stress, load, and mimic these movement patterns. Instead of training these qualities separately, you kill two birds with one stone. Not only that, but as Pavel Tsatsouline has been known to say, you’re “greasing the groove.” You’re teaching this separation and developing this movement pattern while in the weight room.
On top of the added mechanics and loading of a specific movement pattern, you also get a great contralateral core stabilization exercise. These movements won’t only stress your hips, but they present contralateral forces on the body in which the torso will be forced to stabilize. Your torso will be forced to act as an anti-rotator to keep the body positioned.
So overall, these exercises:
- Provide simultaneous strengthening of hip extension and flexion
- Develop hip and leg coordination and dissociation
- Develop sprint/jumping mechanics
- Allow you to engrave this very important movement pattern
- Stress contralateral core stabilization
- Allow loading from all different planes, vectors, and positions
I’m not claiming that these movements will change the way you train, but they could be of great use if you train athletes who need great movement skills. Experiment with them and see if you find some carryover into your movements. Hell, if Dr. Verkhoshansky thought to train these qualities, that right there is enough for me to think that they must be important. So let’s get to the good stuff and see what I’m talking about.
Glute bridge with isometric hip flexor:I like to start with this progression because it helps to learn how to create simultaneous tension of hip flexion and hip extension in a more controlled, static position rather than jumping right into dynamic movements.
Band-resisted leg “scissors”:We pick up the speed of the movement a little bit. But again, it’s still in a controlled state to engrain and stabilize the movement pattern.
Isometric glute bridge with hip flexion:Hip extension stays under tension, and we pick up the velocity of hip flexion. This is really going to stress the posterior muscle sling to stay stable.
Single-leg glute bridge with hip flexion:Now we fully piece together dynamic flexion and extension. An easy way to load hip extension is to use chains, sand bags, or dumbbells/kettlebells.
Single-leg hip thrust with hip flexion:Now we progress to a greater range of motion, which will require more coordination and allow for more velocity. You can always add chains, sand bags, or dumbbells/kettlebells to the hips to further load hip extension.
Step-up with hip flexion:Now, we move up to our feet to load more vertically rather than horizontally like in the previous movements. I find that a band is the best way to load the back leg (hip flexion), but ankle weights are another option. Adding a vest or increasing the speed or box height of the step-up will enhance the hip extension portion.
Reverse lunge with hip flexion:Finally, another option is to use a reverse lunge into hip flexion. This hybrid loads both the horizontal and vertical vectors. Make sure the band has tension on the reverse lunge aspect. Otherwise, the band has a tendency to slip off the foot (or you could always wrap it around your ankle a couple of times to keep it tight). Again, using a vest is an easy way to load the reverse lunge.
ConclusionThere you have it—hip dissociation. I really feel that these exercises have a lot of bang for your buck and do have a place in a program (at least in mine). I really like using these during my warm up for activation or between sets or as auxiliary exercises.
As always, Go Get ‘Em!