It seems to me that in this day and age we do a lot of sitting. We sit to drive a car, we sit to watch TV or play video games, we sit in class or at work, and we sit in front of a computer. All of this sitting can be quite a problem if you are also trying to run faster or jump higher. Why? Read on to find out.
When you sit all the time your hip flexors and psoas (from here on referred to simply as the hip flexors) are constantly in a state of flexion and your glutes in a state of extension. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what happens when you sprint or jump. When you jump your glutes are contracting hard to maximize hip extension and your hip flexors are extended.
The problem from a running and jumping point of view is that over time your hip flexors can become chronically tight from being in flexion all the time and your glutes, because they are always in a stretched state start to have firing issues, i.e. they won't contract properly. Don't laugh, this is a very real and surprisingly common condition..
When this happens you start to find that you can no longer achieve a powerful hip extension without inhibition from the tight hips and lazy glutes. In short your ability to generate maximal power becomes severely compromised and you can't run as fast or jump as high.
On top of that already frustrating state of affairs is the fact that when you do have tight hips/lazy glutes your body in its infinite wisdom tries to overcome the problem by letting the other parts of your body pick up the slack. This means that the surrounding muscle groups and joints of the quads, hamstrings, knees, and lower back are doing more work, and in the case of jumping, absorbing more of the impact.
This of course can and does lead to injuries. Lower back complaints are the most common one but also knee, ankle and even shoulder issues can be traced back to tight hips/lazy glutes. I wouldn't be too surprised if researchers discovered that the combination of tight hips and lazy glutes is a major cause of Jumpers Knee.
It isn't difficult to tell when people are tight in the hips. For a start they really hate doing split squats. If I were to estimate as a percentage the number of people I have worked with who hate doing split squats it would be, oh, about 100%. When your hips are tight you can barely get any depth on this exercise before you start complaining - even with just bodyweight or very light loads used.
The test to see if you glutes aren't firing properly is also pretty easy. If the issue is severe enough you can actually just stand on one leg and try to contract the glute muscle. It is particularly obvious if one glute is working well and the other one isn't because you will find in the leg with the non-working glute that you can really feel the contraction in your quads as they try and compensate to pull your hips forward.
Another simple way to test for glute firing issues is to perform single leg glute bridge holds. If the glutes are firing properly you will feel it mostly in the glute itself. If they aren't working so well you will feel the tension in your lower back and hamstring.
The following section is by no means a comprehensive description of all the methods that you can use but what is described is both simple and quick and also doesn't require any fancy equipment. The process I use involves 5 steps. Release, lengthen, activate, loosen and most important, repeat
When you drill down into the problem of tight hips and lazy glutes you will often find that there are trigger point issues that need to be worked out before moving onto the other steps. If you try and stretch, activate, and loosen these areas without addressing the trigger points first you will find it much harder to get good results. To do this you need to:
It isn't complicated and should only take a couple of minutes to do. Also before I move on you can use a foam roller instead of a ball but for the glutes and hip flexors I find the ball much more precise.
Once you have done a bit of trigger point work it is time to do some stretching of those tight hip flexors. The simplest stretch is the warrior lunge stretch. I do the warrior lunge multiple times every day and I would go so far as to say that if you only ever do one stretch, this is the one to do. Note that I am definitely NOT saying just do one single stretch. You should be stretching a number of muscle groups. It is just that the hips are frequently the biggest problem area.
Perform the warrior lunge stretch for 15-20 seconds per side, 3 or 4 times each.
The next step involves trying consciously to contract the glute muscles themselves to get them firing properly. While there are a number of good glute activation exercises I like the simple glute bridge. Either single or double leg works well. Do 4-5 reps of 15-20 second contractions resting for about 30 seconds between reps.
Once you have taken steps to get the glutes firing and to release some of that tightness in the hip flexors it is a good time to do some mobility exercises to get the hips warmed up and moving. Over and unders, high marches, deep squats and leg circles are all good choices that can be easily performed anywhere. Some of these are shown in the warm up video below.
As mentioned this is probably the most important step in getting your hips loose and working properly. Most of us sit around for hours at a time, day after day. Doing a few stretches before a workout isn't going to fix the problem quickly. If you are extremely tight and you do have some glute dysfunction you are going to need to spend more time working on this until things start to return to something resembling good working hips.
An athlete who is having a lot of trouble might consider starting his day with the above steps, then doing it again as part of a more comprehensive pre-workout warm up, and again either after the workout or before bed. Obviously the more frequently you work at it, the quicker the issue will be fixed. Prevention is always better than cure though so if you can start developing good stretching and mobility habits now rather than after you have developed a dysfunction the better your results will be.
The fastest way to improve your vertical jump has been proven time and time again to to be by focusing your training on your specific weaknesses. Some athletes need more strength, some need more plyometrics, some need to improve body composition, others just need to work on their jumping technique.
What doesn't work so well is doing something that you are already good at. This provides minimal results for your time and effort. The problem is most people don't know what their specific weaknesses are or how to work it out.
This is where we can help. Verticaljumping.com offers a very unique vertical jump coaching service that can assess you for your strengths and weaknesses and prepare custom training programs to help target those areas. In doing so you will improve your vertical jump faster than following a pre-written training program that isn't suitable for you.
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Due to all the sitting we do tight hips and glute dysfunction is probably the single most common issue facing athletes today. The inability of your hips to extend without inhibition and the loss of power caused by misfiring glutes can not only rob you of inches on your vertical jump, but is also a common source of injuries that can prevent you from training properly.
Unfortunately far too many people fail to appreciate the role of a good routine and end up with all sorts of related injuries and dysfunctions. Don't let something that can be easily countered stop you from reaching your goals. If you do have these problems than setting aside a bit of time each day and especially before each workout to help address them will help you train harder, move more freely, get better results and decrease the likelihood of injury.
Stretching and Jump Performance
- Stretching is an important part of any athletic program. Here we take
a quick look at what sort of stretching you should be doing for maximum
Injury Prevention - No one likes getting hurt. By taking a few precautionary steps you can reduce your chances of getting injured significantly.
Foam Rolling for Faster Gains - Like stretching, foam rolling should be an integral part of your vertical jump program.
Vertical Jump Coaching - Get a 100% customised training program to rapidly increase your vertical jump.