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Hip Flexors AREN'T Evil...Do They Hold The Key to Faster Running Speed?

 

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Secret Training Tip #221 - Hip Flexors AREN'T Evil...Do They Hold The Key to Faster Running Speed?

Home -> BetterU News Archive -> Issue #65 -> Hip Flexors

By Nick Nilsson

If you believe the magazines, you want to do everything you can to eliminate the hip flexors from your abdominal training. But can this bit of advice actually be HURTING your speed?



The mere mention of the hip flexors often sends personal trainers into a tizzy.

"Do whatever you can to eliminate them from the exercise!" they scream.

And, for a lot of people, this CAN be decent advice. TIGHT hip flexors can be a huge contributor to lower back pain. TIGHT hip flexors can cause what's called "anterior pelvic tilt"...this is your hips tipping forward because your hip flexors are pulling them forward when the lower back and abdominal muscles aren't strong enough to oppose that pull.

Now, you'll notice I highlighted the word "tight" in the sentences above.

STRONG hip flexors present no such problems, especially when balanced by strong abs and lower back muscles.

It's only when those hip flexors are never stretched and tighten up so they constantly pull forward on the hips that they present a problem.


Hip flexors are definitely NOT evil.

In fact, hip flexor strength is one of the greatest limiting factors when it comes to running speed!

Hip flexor training for faster speed

If you're an athlete, or if you train or coach an athlete, listen up.

A constant focus on doing exercises that eliminate or minimize the hip flexor involvement will slow down maximal running speed.

I'll tell you why...

In your head, picture somebody running...notice what happens each time they bring their leg forward. Looks like the hip flexors might be involved in that, doesn't it!

When you strengthen and TRAIN the hip flexors for explosive power, you can significantly (and very QUICKLY) boost running speed. Your body is able to bring your legs forward faster and you'll be able to accelerate faster.

Who do you think is going to win the race...the person with the faster stride turnover or the person with the slower turnover (assuming their strides are equal in length). Big duh.

The single most effective exercise you can do to increase running speed quickly in a person is not squatting or power cleans or anything like that. It's explosive hip flexion.

Now, it IS true that the hip flexors are highly involved in the sit-up exercise. But I'm definitely not recommending you do ballistic, explosive sit-ups to work the hip flexors.

You'll be much better off doing direct hip flexor work using bands or cables. Bands especially are excellent because you can explode strongly against them without having to worry about decelerating the resistance...the stretching of the band takes care of that for you.

So first, get yourself some training bands (if you don't have them or can't get them, a low pulley cable with an ankle harness will work just fine).

Click here to see where I got my training bands from.

The simplest exercise you can do is to attach a band to a solid object down near the ground (or use the low pulley with the ankle harness). Loop the other end over your thigh. Hold onto something solid then EXPLODE up against the band.

The exercise itself looks like you're trying to knee somebody in the gut as hard as you can. Simple as that. Do it against resistance and do it explosively. This will do more to increase your running speed than squats ever will.

[If you're interested in seeing more explosive hip flexor exercises, I'll have a link at the end of the article]

To prevent that tightening problem I mentioned above, be sure to stretch your hip flexors after every session and regularly throughout the day if you spend a lot of time in a seated position (which puts your hip flexors in a shortened position for many hours at a time).

To stretch them, drop down on one knee like you're in a lunge position then just lean your upper body back. You'll feel a great stretch along the front of your thigh up through your hip flexor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds then repeat on the other leg.


CONCLUSION:

Hip flexors are NOT evil.

They're CRITICAL, especially if you want to improve running and/or leg speed (I say leg speed because it's important in skating as well and I can't really call that running!).

By properly strengthening the related muscle groups (abs and lower back) and by stretching the hip flexors, you'll have no problem keep proper alignment in your body AND you'll experience great improvements in speed performance.



Explosive Band Knee-Ups
for Hip Flexors

When most people think of abdominal exercises, they think of slow, deliberate movements with squeezing and tightening, which is fine.

But other than keeping your guts in, stabilizing your core area, and looking good, what ELSE are your abs designed for?

How about explosive power! It's THE most neglected aspect of abdominal conditioning that can have the greatest effect on your athletic performance.

Most abdominal exercises do not use anything even close to a powerful stroke. Normally, when you see ab exercises done, they're done (like I mentioned above) in a very deliberate manner.

And for the most part, it's actually better that way. If you try and use momentum and explosiveness with a crunch, you don't get any muscle tension and get almost nothing out of it. If you use explosiveness in a weighted exercise, you put dangerous torque on the body.

That's where bands come in.

With bands, you get the resistance AND you get the built-in deceleration of the band as it stretches out. Bottom line, you can explode into a band HARD and not have to worry about hurting yourself because the band will stop the momentum very effectively!

With this exercise, you're going to use two bands - one high and one low. You're going to wrap one around your knee and grab the other with your hand. Then you're going to explode up with your knee while simultaneously yanking down with your hand.

The abs bear the brunt of this and will really get burning fast!

This is a GREAT exercise if you're interested in developing sprint speed. It's also an excellent one for martial artists as it helps developing kneeing and kicking power.

The reason this exercise is so good for developing sprint speed lies in the hip flexors. One of the biggest factors in running speed is the ability to get your leg back in front of you as quickly and explosively as possible.

When you get to a certain level and overall leg and body power is maximized, hip flexor explosiveness is HUGE. This exercise, in addition to training the abs, hits the hip flexors with explosive training. VERY effective for improving leg speed.

I always recommend IronWoody Training bands for all band work. Great prices and great quality. Get your Training Bands by clicking here.


How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups:

So to perform this exercise, you'll need two bands. I like to use reasonably thick bands (the green ones, if you're using the IronWoody bands I mentioned above) to get a really powerful movement.

Attach one band to something low and behind you while attaching the other band to something higher up and in front of you.

I use a cable cross-over machine (not attaching to the cables but using the frame of the machine). I attach the low band to one upright and the high band to the cross-beam on the other end.

Step inside the band with your right leg then pull the band up so that it's just above your left knee.

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

Now reach forward and grab the other band that's hanging down in front of you with your OPPOSING hand - e.g. if the band is on your left leg, grab it with your right hand). The bands should be hitched around these objects (demo at the bottom of the page on how to hitch bands if you need it).

That's your start position.

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

Now, with an explosive movement, drive your knee up as high as you can while bringing your arm down as hard as you can.

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

Step down and pause briefly at the bottom then repeat until you feel you can't put a lot of explosiveness into the movement - you'll know this by feel. Generally, with a powerful movement, it's about 4 to 6 reps.

Next, what I like to do is when I can't do more reps holding with the one hand, I'll grab the band with BOTH hands and continue.

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

Generally, it's the upper body that fatigues first, so switching to both arms allows you to keep going and burning out the abs and hip flexors.

Do several reps of this fast and explosively. With this variation, I like to omit the pause at the bottom and just barely touch my foot to the ground before exploding right back up.

Because you're gripping the band with both hands, your balance is better and you should be able to pop right back up pretty well.

When you're toasted on the one side, let go of the band then step back and let it drop off your knee.

Change legs and pull the band up above your OTHER knee.

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

Repeat the same procedure as above, grabbing the band with your left hand and bringing the two together. Again, finish with both arms on the band.

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

How To Do Explosive Band Knee-Ups

To really get an idea of the explosiveness of this exercise, be sure to watch the video. Still pictures don't give you the real impression of how powerfully this exercise should be done.

So if you want to improve abdominal power and explosiveness and increase your leg speed when sprinting, give this one a try!

 

 



Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

The hip flexors aren't evil...contrary to what you might read in a lot of fitness magazines about keeping the hip flexors out of the abdominal equation, they actually come in quite handy for stuff such as lifting your leg, which is itself very useful for things such as ambulation (a fancy word for moving).

In fact, hip flexors are one of THE most important muscles to work on for improving your running speed, which athletes are always looking for.

This exercise hits the hip flexors and the abs very effectively - great for running and for martial arts.

This one uses a cable cross over setup. A single handle on one end (I've also got a two foot chain attached to it to extend the line a bit - not a necessity but it made it easier to get into position).

The other end is set on the low pulley - you'll be needing an ankle harness for this one.

I'm using the full stack on the high pulley side and about half the stack on the low pulley side.

Grab the high pulley (have your ankle harness on already)...

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Now pull the stack up and clip the ankle harness to the low pulley. The clip part should be on your shin.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Turn and face the high pulley and grip with both hands, arms bent and pulled into your chest. Your clipped-on leg should be straight out behind you. The cable should run under your leg and to the inside of your foot.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Now with an EXPLOSIVE movement, knee up with your weighted leg.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Come up as high as you can and pull down with your arms a bit at the same time. Imagine you're kneeing somebody you really don't like right in the stomach.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

This explosive knee-up is what develops faster leg speed and overall faster speed. It's a GREAT exercise for athletes to use.

This version also helps develop balance because you're never setting your back leg down either.

I like to do one set then rest, then switch to the other leg. Be sure to keep things even.

Remember with this one, it's CRITICAL you use an explosive movement. That's what's going to help the most.

You'll find it really hits the abs well, too.

 



Kneeling Cable Knee-Ups
for Hip Flexors

The cable and band knee-up exercises are excellent for developing not only the abdominals but also leg speed by hitting the hip flexors strongly as well. Honestly, if you want to run faster, high-power hip flexor training is the key.

So you're going to perform this exercise with speed and explosiveness to really maximize the effects on your running speed (works better for abs, too).

I use the cable cross-over setup here but you really only need one low pulley for it, as long as you've got something else solid you can grab onto. You'll need something solid to grab so you can exert maximum acceleration on the cable.

You'll also need a ankle harness or two (I use two - one on each leg) so I don't have to constantly switch it back and forth.

Make sure the ankle harness metal look is on the front of your shin then clip it onto the cable.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Crawl forward and grab on with the opposing hand (e.g. left leg - right hand) and set your other hand on the ground.. I'm just grabbing the other low pulley on the cable stack. You're not going to be pulling the other cable - just holding onto it as something solid to anchor yourself on.

Now bring your knee up towards your chest. How fast it moves will depend on how much weight you're using but try to consciously accelerate the cable as fast as you can move it. Even it moves relatively slowly, it's the effort you're putting in to move it fast that counts (that's why in the video, it looks like I'm not moving the cable fast, even though I'm trying to - the weight is relatively heavy).

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Do as many reps as you can on one leg then switch to the other leg.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Same deal on this one - let the cable bring your leg back then blow it up to your chest.

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

Cable Knee-Ups for Hip Flexors

This is similar in concept to the standing version of the cable knee up. One of the advantages of this one is that you don't have as much balance component so you can focus on really moving maximum weight rather than on not falling over.



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