Friday, February 29, 2008

Build Strong Hips

Another great article from Harvard Women's Health Watch. I'm teaching a workshop next Wednesday on Yoga for Bones & Joints (at the Claremont Resort in Oakland, call 510.549.8512 to register - you don't need to be a member to come), and as you can see I am collating some good data to share at the workshop.

Regarding hips: I find that women especially store emotions in their hips, and that yoga is a great way to release and process it constructively.

Happy hips,

dr. sara gottfried, m.d.

Harvard Women's Health Watch | December 2005

Exercise sampler: Building hip strength

“What weight-bearing exercises do you suggest for strengthening the hipbones?” asks a reader. Here are some suggestions.

One of our greatest fears as we get older is that we will break a hip, an event that can cause permanent disability, depression, and the need for long-term care. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer a hip fracture, partly because we have a greater risk for osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones.

The chances of developing osteoporosis vary with age, body type, estrogen levels, genetic makeup, ethnicity, lifestyle, level of physical activity, diet, and certain medical conditions. Women are especially vulnerable because they lose bone at an accelerated rate during the first few years after menopause. Along with adequate calcium and vitamin D, exercise is a cornerstone of osteoporosis prevention. It not only helps limit bone loss but also improves balance and coordination and strengthens the muscles we rely on to stay upright. This provides a hedge against falls — one of the main causes of fractures.

Weight-bearing and resistance exercise are especially important. This article highlights some exercises that are particularly good for building hip strength. Keep in mind that they work best as part of an overall program that includes a variety of aerobic, strength, and stretching activities.

Building bone strength

When you put demands on bone, it responds by becoming stronger and denser. Bearing or resisting weight — any activity that works against gravity — stimulates the growth of new bone tissue. Your weight-bearing bones are mainly in your feet and legs and they respond to such activities as walking, jogging, playing soccer, and climbing stairs. Swimming is good for overall fitness, but it isn’t weight-bearing and thus does not improve bone mass or density.

Resistance training, or exercising with weights (see “Working with weights,” below) or resistance bands, can have an even more pronounced effect on bone than weight-bearing exercise. It applies stress to the bones by way of the muscles and tendons. As muscles grow stronger, they pull increasingly harder on bone, which helps build bone mass.

The following exercises work on the muscle groups of the lower body and can help strengthen hipbones.

Working with weights

To perform the exercises illustrated here, you need a sturdy chair with a back and a deep seat; athletic shoes with nonskid soles; an exercise mat (a clean rug or thick towel will do); and hand and ankle weights (for the ankle-weighted exercises, you can use a single ankle weight).

Good free-weight designs include dumbbell-style hand weights with a padded center bar and screw-on end weights and Velcro-closing ankle cuffs with pockets for weight bars.

If you have had hip surgery or have osteoporosis or any other bone or joint condition affecting the feet, ankles, knees, or hips, see your physician or physical therapist before attempting any of these exercises.

How to get the most from working with weights:

To start, take at least 5–10 minutes to get your muscles warm and loose. You can walk (outdoors, indoors, or on a treadmill) or use a rowing machine, stair stepper, NordicTrack, or other piece of indoor exercise equipment.

For best results, do weight training two or three times a week, allowing at least 48 hours for your muscles to recover between workouts. If you have a regular aerobic weight-bearing routine (such as 20–30 minutes of walking or low-impact aerobics), do that first. Follow your resistance training with stretches (such as the hip stretch described here).

Start with a weight you can lift 8 times. (You may need to start with 1 or 2 pounds, or no weight at all.) If you can’t comfortably do 8 repetitions of an exercise, the weight is too heavy. If you can easily do 15 repetitions, it’s too light.

Move only the part of your body that you’re trying to exercise. Don’t rock or sway. Try to keep your hips even.

When lifting a weight, allow three seconds to lift, hold the position for one second, and take another three seconds to lower the weight.

Breathe slowly, inhaling as you lift a weight and exhaling as you lower it. Never hold your breath.

Do one set of 8–15 repetitions (reps), rest for a minute or two, then do a second set. As you gain strength, you may want to add a third set.

When you can perform 2 (or 3) sets of 15 repetitions easily, you’re ready to increase the weight. Add weight until you can lift it only 8 times. Add more weight each time you can easily do 2 or 3 sets of 15 repetitions in a row (don’t forget to rest a minute or two between sets).

Chair stand

Position a chair so that its back rests against a wall. Sit at the front of the chair, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Lean back in a half-reclining position with your arms crossed and your hands on your shoulders. Keeping your head, neck, and back in a straight line, bring your upper body forward, then stand up slowly. Pause. Slowly sit back down the same way you got up, returning to your original position. Do 8–15 repetitions. Rest, and do a second set. When you’re ready for more: Hold a weight in each hand and cross your hands over your chest.

Front lunge

Stand with your legs hip-width apart. You may want to hold on to a table or counter until you’re sure of your balance. Step forward with your right foot and plant the right heel on the ground. Your right knee should be directly above your right ankle, not in front of it. Roll your back foot forward onto its ball. Keeping your head, neck, back, and hips upright and aligned, lower your body until your right thigh is nearly parallel to the floor (the back knee will be lower). Do not allow the right hip to sink below the level of the right knee. Pause. Push back forcefully to return to the starting position. Alternate legs until you’ve done 8 repetitions on each side. Rest, and do a second set. When you’re ready for more:Hold your arms out to the side or in front of you. Or, try holding hand weights.

Dumbbell squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand, with your arms at your sides, palms facing inward. Slowly bend your knees and lower your buttocks 8 inches or more (but do not allow the hips to sink below knee level). Pause. Slowly return to the starting position. Do 8–15 repetitions. Rest. Repeat the set. When you’re ready for more: Increase the weight. You may also try this exercise holding the hand weights at ear level, just above the shoulders.

Hip extension

Wearing an ankle weight, stand 12 inches behind your chair. Holding onto the back of the chair for balance, bend your trunk forward 45 degrees and slowly raise your right leg straight behind you. Lift it as high as possible without bending your knee or pitching forward over the chair. Pause. Slowly lower the leg, returning to the starting position. Do 8–15 repetitions. Repeat with the left leg. Rest, and do a second set.

Side leg raise

Wearing an ankle weight, stand behind your chair with your feet together. Hold on to the back of the chair for balance. With both feet pointed forward, slowly raise your right leg to the side until it is about 8 inches off the floor. Keep your knee straight. Pause. Slowly lower your foot to the floor. Do 8–15 repetitions. Repeat with the left leg. Rest, and do a second set.

Hip flexion

Wearing ankle weights, lie on your back on a mat, with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands on your hipbones. Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly lift your right knee toward your chest until the right foot is about 12 inches off the floor. Slowly lower it. Keep both hips level (it helps to engage your abdominal muscles and press your lower back into the mat). Do 8–15 repetitions. Repeat on the left side. Rest, and do a second set. When you’re ready for more: Do this exercise with a straight leg. With your right knee bent and right foot flat on the floor, extend the left leg so that it is resting on the floor. Keeping the left knee straight, lift the left leg upward until the straight knee is level with the bent knee.

Back extension

Lie facedown on your mat with your knees straight and the tops of your feet against the mat. Place your right arm alongside your body, palm up. Extend your left arm flat on the floor above your head, palm down. Keeping your nose pointed downward, slowly raise your right leg and left arm off the floor (reach out as well as up). Try to keep your head and neck in line with your arm. Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position. Do 8–15 repetitions. Repeat with the left leg and right arm. Rest, and do a second set. When you’re ready for more: Try raising your shoulders and upper chest as you lift your arm and leg.

Hip stretch

You should always stretch after weight-bearing or resistance exercise. Here’s a good stretch for the hips: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your shoulders on the floor at all times. Gently lower both legs to one side, keeping your knees together, and turn your head to the opposite side. You should feel this stretch along the muscles of your hip and side. Hold for 20–30 seconds. Bring your knees back to center, and repeat on the other side.

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I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.