How to increase kicking flexibility when hamstring stretching doesn’t work

Can your hips do this? 

Chuck looks like he’s got a lot of hip mobility! 

Hip mobility is a term that describes freedom of movement of the intersection of the leg with the pelvis. Three main structures are involved: the ball-and-socket hip joint, the connective tissues that attach the thigh bone to the pelvis, and the muscles that control 360* of circular hip motion. 

Hip Ligaments
Hip Stabilizers

If you participate in martial arts, kicking sports, or CrossFit, a good amount of hip mobility is required, not optional. Stretching long muscles like the hamstrings and quads is important. However, we’ve found that muscles and tissues around the hip socket itself are often neglected. Over time, this neglect leads to complaints of tight, exhausted muscles, low back pain, pinched hips, and poor squat form. 

Worst of all? Kick fails!

How do you measure up?

A simple screening test for hip mobility positions the legs to look like scissor blades when lying on the ground. Here’s how to perform the test, using a doorway and the floor: 

Photo credit: Gray Cook. Athletic Body in Balance.

Active Straight Leg Raise Test

  1. Lie on your back through a doorway, as shown. Place your arms at your sides, palms up, and head flat on the floor.
  2. Lift the leg that is closer to the door frame while keeping the foot flexed and the knee straight. 
  3. During the test, the other leg should remain straight and in contact with the ground, and the foot should not turn outward. 

Scoring the Test

  • Pass: the ankle bone (“lateral” malleolus”) of the lifted leg clears the door jamb, and the opposite leg on the floor does not move.
  • Fail: the ankle bone does not clear the door jamb, or the opposite leg bends or rotates out of position.
  • No grade: the movement causes pain. Have a healthcare professional do a thorough assessment of the painful area

Be sure to test both the left and right sides. A failing grade on one side is scored as an overall fail (sorry!). After all, each leg is responsible for 50% of the work when doing any training or activity. 

Martial arts instructor course – USMC Base Hawaii

If you’re not climbing over or crawling under something every day, you will likely need a bit of extra work to keep your scissor blades in good working order. Unfortunately, doing more kicks doesn’t work. Instead, get started on more mobile hips with a dynamic stretching series we use called Kicking Hips, designed to improve hip mobility in 360* of motion.

CAUTION: 

These exercises are not specific to any one structure that makes up the hip region. They are not appropriate if you currently have hip pain or injury. And, while some types of back pain may improve, other low back conditions could be aggravated with this program. The back is tricky!

It’s also highly likely that you’ll need some core stability work to ensure that muscles supporting the hip and pelvis can coordinate effectively. So, these exercises are a starting point, not a total program.

Kicking Hips Mobility Series

This series consists of three dynamic movements that incorporate classic yoga with myofascial stretching methods. The series is designed to address multiple components of hip mobility when more specific testing methods are unavailable. 

Kneeling Captain Morgans 

Step one leg out to the side. Stabilize with your arm.
Keeping pelvis directed forward, lunge to the side.
Feel a stretch in the thighs and pelvis.

Adductor Rock Backs

Extend one leg out to the side at comfortable angle.
With back flat, sit back to opposite heel. 
Feel a stretch in the inner thigh of extended leg.

Pigeon Slides

Rotate one leg inward. 
Slide opposite leg straight back. 
Feel a stretch deep in the bent hip.

We recommend moving in and out of each drill for around 10 repetitions, completing all 3 exercises on one leg before switching sides. 

For example: 

  • Right Leg Captain Morgan –> Right Adductor –>Right Pigeon.
  • Left Leg Captain Morgan –> Left Adductor –> Left Pigeon

Practice the Kicking Hips series every day for at least 3 to 4 weeks, then retest your Active Straight Leg Raise to measure any changes. The routine should take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes, and is best performed before workouts and before bedtime so that you can eliminate any left-to-right imbalances that developed during the day. 

Progress slowly and don’t force any motions! The shape of the hip socket can be very different from one person to the next. What is a flexibility problem for one person could be structurally incompatible for another. 

What if it doesn’t work? 

If the exercises cause pain, or if you don’t notice any improvements in your hip mobility, stop. Don’t force these exercises. You may need an assessment of your hip, spine, or core stabilizer muscles.

If you’re unsure about what you need or what you should do, get a second set of eyes on the problem. Consult with a qualified healthcare professional who regularly works with kicking athletes, such as a sports physical therapist or certified athletic trainer. 

For fun!

You can get your very own pair of martial arts Kicking Jeans! You can watch your new jeans in action in this classic (and cheesy) martial arts video: 

Do you have hip pain or flexibility problems that are not getting better? Send us your question at team@alphapnr.com. We answer every question.


References:

  1. Cook, G. Athletic body in balance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2003. 
  2. Roach SM, San Juan JG, Suprak DN, Lyda M, Bies AJ, Boydston CR. Passive hip range of motion is reduced in active subjects with chronic low back pain compared to controls. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(1):13-20. 
  3. Moreside JM, McGill SM. Hip joint range of motion improvements using three different interventions.J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(5): 1265-73.

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