by Steve Bechtel
If you want to see the damage that a desk job can do, teach squats to a group of adults. Many of us spend our days sitting at a desk, drive in a car for an hour or more, sit on the couch for a couple of hours, then curl up in bed…with our hips at basically the same angle. Those of us that are active might throw in an hour of weights or time in the rock gym, but it’s hardly enough to balance the time spent in the seated position. As we sit, our hip flexors (primarily the iliacus and psoas major) are held in a shortened position, while the hip extensors (glutes in this case) are held in an artificially lengthened position. Luckily, hip mobility drills can help.
Over time, this position becomes “normal” for our hips, and we begin to hold a similar position even while standing, relying not on our bones to maintain erect posture, but the muscles of the back.
Postural problems aside, a lack of hip mobility creates problems for the athlete. Like the group of adults I mentioned above, most of us are unable to do a normal range of motion squat once we pass adolescence. This is a fundamental human movement, and being able to effectively use that range is critical to success in climbing. The deep squat pattern isn’t the only one we’re talking about, either. We also need “turnout”, we need the ability to high step both inside (in front of the body) and outside (to the side of the body), and we need to be able to fully extend, such as in tip-toe long reaches.
Just like shoulder mobility, hip mobility needs to take a priority spot in your training. Treating this training just like any other exercise is the only way to see forward progress. Yes, you can dedicate whole sessions to it. Yes, you can take Yoga classes. But in my experience, people who are willing to dedicate time to Yoga aren’t the ones who need help…it’s rare for a very immobile person to take up a passion for mobility, much as it’s rare for a fearful climber to suddenly take up headpointing on grit. For most of us, the mobility work needs to “sneak” into the program.
“Treating this training just like any other exercise is the only way to see forward progress.”
I suggest doing mobility as a “third” exercise in a group that includes a big primary movement and a supplemental movement. For example, you could do a set of 3 heavy deadlifts, 5 front levers, and a hip mobility drill. Over the course of one workout, the mobility serves as active rest, and will get trained for several minutes each day…all without feeling like you’re “wasting time” doing it. If I asked you to do 10 minutes of hip mobility at the end of a session…you’d have somewhere you needed to be instead. You can also hit the hip mobility drills in the midst of a bouldering or route session. I suggest doing a couple of problems, then a hip mobility drill, a couple more problems, then shoulders, etc.
The basic prescription is to do mobility one day per week for each decade of your life. You’re in your thirties – do three days of mobility. In your fifties, do 5. By doing several one-minute sets of mobility drills within the framework of your normal training, this is pretty easy to fit in, and will pay off big dividends in the end.
Frog With Hip Rotation
Kneeling Hip Flexor
Tug of War Squat