Hip Mobility and Lumbar Stability!

Grey Cook and Michael Boyle are famous for their Joint-By-Joint approach. In essence, this approach presents a simple alternating schematic for deciding the prioritization of stability vs mobility at a particular joint. In the modern world we all sit – a lot! Often, we have stiffness at the hip where we need mobility –  and excessive movement at the lumbar spine where we need stability. Overtime, our backs start to hurt and our hips start to feel stiff because they’re not being cared for properly and because they (and their muscles) are trying to do “jobs” that aren’t theirs to do!

From this schematic it becomes easier to look at an athlete, client, or even ourselves and assess dysfunctional movement. Stiff hips? That might be a clue pointing us towards the culprit of that nagging low back pang. In essence, loss of the “ideal” at one joint causes compensation upstream and/or downstream and this (typically) causes dysfunction, increased injury risk, or pain (the canary in the mineshaft, not the culprit!).

I don't move well and I'd like to move better?

Let’s start with a daily practice to improve lumbar stability!

Stuart McGill (aka Backfit Pro) and his colleagues hunted for the best lumbar stabilizing exercises through arduous lab testing so that we don’t have to! The three exercises they determined were best they deemed the “McGill Big 3” they are as follows:

1) Bird Dog

2) McGill Crunch

3) Side Plank

You can preview these in the video below and read more about them in Stu’s book The Gift of Injury. In addition I’d highly recommend reading his other books Back Mechanic and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.  

Ok, I think I'm getting good at this spinal stability thing...now what?

  • Now let’s get your hips mobile! There are 1,001 ways to work on hip mobility, but some simple tactics can ensure that you’re getting the most benefit while not demanding excessive time out of your day. The Unbreakable Pilliars of hip mobility are as follows:

1) Do a little every day, not a lot all at once

  • Self explanatory in many ways, much like a language a little big of movement “vocab” practice every day will get you further over the long term and save you miscommunication(dysfunctional movement) and frustration (injury!) later on. 

2) Practice a quality warmup!

  • Skip your usual 10 minutes on the treadmill for something meaningful! The hip is a joint capable of movement in many directions. Warming up all planes of hip motion (front back, side to side, full range flexion and extension) will prepare you for better quality movement in your main workout. 

3) Do soft tissue care! 

  • Take a tennis ball/roller/barbell to your glutes, hammies, quads, and hip flexors at the end of a session or on your day’s off. Better still, receive massage!

4) Move often!

  • If you sit or stand in place for work for long hours try to take breaks to stretch and move through different ranges you don’t access during your work day to sustain movement and function throughout the day. 

Exercises and warmups to practice the pillars of hip mobility:


This article doesn’t take the place of advice by a qualified health professional. What’s appropriate for one individual may be counterproductive for another. If you are suspicious of an illness, injury and/or are in constant pain I encourage you to see a doctor and a therapist to get a proper diagnosis and rule out illness. Illness, pain, and injuries are complicated topics that have a variety of causes and presentations. You should see your doctor before beginning any exercise program. I am not qualified to prescribe treatments, diagnose, or assess medical symptoms or conditions. This article and any information contained there-in is for informational/educational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for medical advice. Please talk to your doctor and medical care providers before starting any exercise or fitness program.

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