Hip Muscle Activation Improves Single Leg Balance
Did you know that 40% of our time is spent with our weight on a single leg? When walking, the foot on the ground works to propel the body forward as part of the gait cycle. Many sports we enjoy include weight transfer to one leg such as skiing, golfing and running which is why “uni” lateral or single leg strengthening is so important!
The unilateral exercises Joseph Pilates developed on the mat, the chair, reformer and Cadillac are very effective in improving one’s balance involving the foot, ankle, core and hip muscles.
The Bones of the Pelvis
The bones that make up the pelvis are the sacrum and the two os coxae or “hip bones”. Other bones that affect pelvic stability are the femurs or “thigh bones” and lower leg bones. The focus on glutes and thighs directly impacts the forces produced in the pelvic floor and a stable pelvis.
A stable pelvis involves deep core pelvic floor, transversus abdominal engagement with a counter reaction from the fascia in our thoracolumbar spine or low back. The latest article I wrote on “Spontaneous Pelvic Floor Connectivity” identified how load and alignment are key to automatic pelvic floor engagement.
Lateral hip muscles impact a Stable Pelvis –
Lateral Hip stabilizers include Gluteus Maximus, Medius, Piriformis, core abdominal and back muscles. Attaining strength in these muscles is required to keep your pelvis stable when balancing on one leg. In walking, the pelvis is meant to both tilt and rotate, so that one leg clears the ground. If the bones on your standing leg are not in alignment the weight of your body doesn’t travel through the center of your joints, like it should. Lack of lateral hip stabilization sends the weight of the body where it shouldn’t be such as your low back, your knees, and can over-load the ligaments of these joints!
However, when our standing leg’s bones are supported and aligned, we can maintain and even build bone density as Barbara Loomis an RMT of Alignment Monkey states, “When our bones are aligned correctly, it helps build and maintain bone density, specifically the neck of the femur (thigh bone) as it is one of the main areas of the body where fractures happen due to osteoporosis.”
What is Pelvic Listing?
With every step you take, one must have lateral hip strength to avoid collapsing at the hip joint causing loss of balance or knee pain and injuries. Pelvic Listing a term I learned through Katy Bowman a bio mechanical movement specialist, helps clients find and activate their outer hip muscles which helps to stabilize the pelvis in movement.
Pelvic Listing activates our stabilizing hip muscles; the Gluteus Medius, Maximus, Piriformis and deep core muscles. Once engaged, these muscles can do their primary role of keep the pelvis stable and become more important when balancing on one leg.
As an exercise to help clients find, activate and condition their lateral hip line I will utilize a block to practise Pelvic Listing. One stands on a 3-4 inch block or stack of books with one foot/leg (important to keep weight mostly over your heel). Lower and lift your opposite leg by engaging the gluteus maximus, medius, and piriformis on your stabilizing leg, while keeping your knee straight. This exercise can also be done sideways on a set of stairs. See the picture above or check out Katie Bowman’s Pelvic Listing video.
Two cues I often use are “Root through your foot or shin” (whether standing or kneeling) and “Close your hip drawer into your mid-line”. These call attention to your standing straight stabilizing leg more than the leg that is moving as your pelvis aligns.
Its important to lower the higher hip without hiking up the lower hip as you want to avoid your lower back lifting your foot off the floor. Focus on your stabilizing leg that is on the block which engages your hip abductors or outer hips!
Benefits of Pelvic Listing
- Pelvic listing loads your hip joints, strengthening the hip muscles to stabilize the pelvis and improve your balance;
- Pelvic listing can quickly lighten loads to knee joints;
- Pelvic listing can help build and maintain bone density, decreasing the chance of a hip fracture.
Without outer hip stability and strength, “Trendelenburg Gait” can occur. Caused by a unilateral weakness of the hip abductors, specifically the gluteal musculature, Trendelenburg Gait causes the stabilizing leg to collapse at the hip joint. This means the hip joint shifts out to the side causing an imbalance of weight distribution.
Weak gluteus medius, part of the lateral hip joint, can also cause Iliotibial friction or patella-femoral syndrome. This syndrome is one of the most common causes of “Runner’s Knee” where overuse injuries can lead to hip or knee replacements. Definitely something to avoid!
Unilateral training one limb at a time with Pelvic Listing forces the stabilizing hip muscles to activate more than they would otherwise, improving your balance with every step you take!