Monday Rehab: Hip Drop vs. Lumbar Rotation

Today’s exercise is more about cleaning up the intention behind it in addition to the form.

How many of you have tried, or had a trainer take you through either a Scorpion or a Lumbar Rotation Exercise?  If you have not experienced these before, here is what they look like:

Good in theory right?  The golf swing requires rotation, these exercises look like rotation, they must be good for me.  Every time I see these being performed though, I have to fight the urge to cover my eyes and run crying the opposite direction.  Why you ask?  Let’s break  down the body to put it in perspective.

As they teach in the Titleist Performance Institute certifications, but originally written by Gray Cook, the body consists of an alternating pattern of mobile and stable joints.  In order for one joint to be mobile, the joints above and below must stabilize to help produce the desired motion.  Here is a breakdown of what that looks like:

joint-by-joint-300x287

Key joints to note here are the hips and the breakdown of the spine.  Your hips are mobile, low back stable and thoracic spine mobile.  Yes, the low back is not built to rotate it is built to stabilize!  It has maybe 1-2 degrees of rotation per segment, which essentially is nothing.  So when you hear someone talking about rotation in the golf swing, hopefully they are referring to your hips and thoracic spine not the lower back!

Let’s go back to those first exercises I showed you now.  What are they actually doing to your body?  In both cases, you are pinning or stabalizing your thoracic spine to the ground while rotating your lower back.  Hmmmmmm………..Isn’t that the reverse of what our body is built to do?

The next question is, if these exercises reinforce the opposite pattern to how the body functions, why are they being used?  My personal opinion is that the world went rotation crazy.  In the breakout of golf specific fitness, people started to believe that anything that looked like a golf swing had to be good for it.  So started a world of throwing heavy medicine balls, taking golf swings with the cable machines and laying on the ground twisting violently from the lower back.

But I put the challenge out to everyone who performs those exercises, video tape them in slow motion and really look closely at where you are producing movement.  A majority of the golfers I work with sit during the day.  This many times equals tightness in the hips due to the shortness of the hip flexors and weakness in the glutes as a byproduct, and also a lack of mobility in the thoracic spine from being hunched over the computer.  So if the two areas that need mobility are unable to move, what will happen to the joint between them?  A lot of holy crap my low back hurts every time I swing a golf club, that’s what happens!  Your poor low back will start crying out for help, and the more you try to force the rotation the sadder it gets and sadder I get.

But alas, there is hope!  Yes, there is a way to change these exercises that while may not look as bad ass as the others, your low back may take me out for a nice dinner and a movie for fixing it.

Meet Hip Drops, a simple exercise that reinforces lower back stability and hip mobility (we will leave the thoracic mobility exercise for another day).  It looks a lot like the lumbar rotation exercise, but is much safer.

A few keys:

  • Do a few pelvic tilts first to find neutral spine, the lower back will be just touching the ground
  • Position the feet wide to allow room for the legs to move
  • Arms can rest by your side, across your chest or you can increase your stability by squeezing a soccer ball with your hands
  • Start by letting one knee drop to the center slowly, focusing on the lower back staying stable
  • If light appears from under your back, you have gone too far!
  • Many people feel like they want to get as much range of motion as possible in this exercise, but remember that is not our intended purpose here
  • The primary goal here is to reinforce lower back stability while mobilizing the hips

Start with 10 reps on each leg and see how it feels.  I find most of my clients are astounded at how difficult it is to maintain the lumbar stability here.  They also find that after a few weeks of doing it, their hip mobility begins to increase.  Yes, improvement in mobility without stretching!!  That is because often overlooked in the body is the need for stability to produce motion.  This does not hold true for everyone by any means, but we do see it fairly often in our office.

Have fun with this one!

-S

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