All sports require some form of a hip rotational component whether it be running hurdles in Track and Field or hitting a baseball. We as personal trainers and performance coaches, do a great job when it comes to training to enhance rotational speed, strength and power with Olympic-style lifts and medicine ball exercises. However, it may be common practice to assess hip rotation unloaded (non-weight bearing) in either the short-sit or prone positions and perform passive, unloaded (supine or prone) stretching, with the assumption that the gains will translate when the athlete is on his/her feet.
While I am not saying to totally disregard these testing and stretching positions, I believe it is equally important to assess hip rotation when the lower extremity is tolerating load AND fixed in a closed-chain position, as is seen in the half-kneeling position. After all, during the hitting and throwing motions of a baseball or softball athlete, upon foot contact the lower extremity is essentially “anchored” into the ground to create a rigid and stable system for increased force transmission. Therefore, when this “anchoring” occurs the athlete requires freedom of rotation of the pelvis over the femoral axis in addition to rotational capabilities of the femur with the acetabulum (socket) of the pelvis.
The assessment process for loaded hip rotation is beyond the purpose of this article, but rather my goal is to show a quick and easy stretch in half-kneeling, that may enhance hip rotation capabilities in a weight-bearing scenario. We are all familiar with the standard half-kneeling hip flexor stretch. An easy twist (pun intended) on this popular setup position that may enhance loaded rotational mobility is the traditional execution of the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch with the modification of placing rear leg in both internal and then external rotation. You may choose to hold the stretch statically for time (e.g. 3 sets of 20-30 seconds per side) or perform repetitions (e.g. 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions per side). Additional techniques such as bands to offer a mild joint distraction or use of a resistance band to encourage core activation before the stretch are all great options.
I would like to add that I still believe in and perform soft tissue techniques and other skills that fall within my scope of practice, in addition to light static and PNF type stretching techniques with the athlete prone and/or supine on a treatment table. This may be even more useful to the personal trainer or strength coach who may not have manual techniques within their scope of practice. The above half-kneeling modification may be used to compliment and potentially enhance your desired results of improving functional hip rotation.
Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Internal Rotation
Stephen C Gamma, MS, ATC, CSCS holds a Master of Science in Athletic Training from the University of Idaho and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Stephen is a former Minor League Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coach and recipient of the 2010 Appalachian League Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year award. Stephen is the Assistant Athletic Trainer at Mount Saint Mary College (NY) and Director of Sports Performance at Pro Prospects Training Center (NY). Stephen has presented research (poster) at the 2014 FWATA Annual Symposium and 2015 World Federation of Athletic Training and Therapy World Congress. Publications include the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, The Sports Digest, and Joeygreany.com