Let’s talk about your hips. Or, if you prefer, let’s talk about mine.
A ways back I attended a back pain seminar with the great Dr. Stu McGill. It was one of those events where there were so many truth bombs flying about that it was hard to absorb it all. We’re three years past that now, and I still find myself going back and discovering new things.
Of course, I also bought his book Back Mechanic, to help me remember. It’s a great book, you should read it.
Anyway, he gave us a little exercise to figure out our hip structure, and told one of those little throw away stories that all great teachers have. This one was about average hip socket insertion. It turns out that over the course of his research he discovered that the Celts (Scots, Irish and Northern French) have the deepest hip socket insertion, an average of 40%, in the world. This compares to 20% for central Europeans.
What does this mean? Well, Dr. McGill’s joke was that it explained why all the weightlifting records are held by Bulgarians and not Scotsmen.
In seriousness; if you have deep hip sockets, before you can get down into the squat for the clean and jerk, your thigh bones impinge on our hip sockets. This means your lumbar spine begins to round. In turn, this means that at the start, you’re lifting with your back muscles instead of your leg muscles.
Powerlifting with your back, and not your legs, is an express ticket to a blown lumbar.
So. Forgetting competitive lifting, what does it mean? It means for exercise (yes, including yoga), and even for everyday life, we need to know our hips’ range of motion. Knowing this will give you a very powerful piece of knowledge, a tool you can apply to all motion, to ensure a healthy spine.
Okay, then, what is the test?
Scouring the hip. You need a partner for this one.
- Lie on your back, arms to the side.
- Have your partner pick up your leg, by heel and calf and
- Slowly, gently raise the leg, pushing the knee straight toward the shoulder
- When the thigh and hip impinge, your leg will begin to turn to the side
That moment, when the leg must turn in order to move, is the deepest you can bend with your legs straight forward before your lumbar begins to flex.
When I did this, my partner was a lady from Sub-Saharan Africa. Her knee went pretty much straight to her shoulder. My leg only got to 90° before my thigh started to rotate. (Name redacted) has effectively 180° range of motion in her hips, Andrew has 90°.
What does this mean?
It means that if you have deep hip sockets (like the Scots/Irish) a whole lot of East Asian/South Asian exercise is very bad for you “out of the box.” That is what inspired me to write my Bikram Yoga critique (if you’re interested, start here, it contains a link to all of the posts). If you have deep hips and you do Bikram according to the script you will wreck your back. It is not a flaw in the program, it is not a flaw in you, it is simply physical differences in the way you are built. It was designed for people with hips that are very different from, say, mine.
Circling back to back pain and posture, adapting your daily routines and your exercises to your anatomy allows you to live and exercise with your back in the correct shape. This, in turn, ensures the correct muscles are doing the job, whatever that job is.
One funny, throwaway line, and a 2 minute test to determine the hips’ range of motion has completely revamped the way I live and exercise. In doing so, it has helped release me from a life of poor posture and back pain.
Thanks Dr. McGill.