As a rower, if you don’t have enough hip flexion, you won’t be able to get in an optimal position in the catch. If you are lacking flexion, you have a lot to gain from improving it.
Moving into the catch, as soon as you hit end range of motion with the hip, your lower back will start to round. This position does not allow you to get power out of your glutes. This reduces your ability to drive hard against the foot stretchers. Driving out of the catch with a rounded back is also a compromised position for the spine. This is also what happens to you when you squat with poor hip flexion. If you are descending into the squat and lack flexion, your lower back will round at the bottom, shutting off your glutes. Lack of flexion will negatively impact your running form as well, as it is difficult to drive your leg in front of you with each stride. Squatting and running are outside the scope of this article, but you can start to see the importance of hip function for all athletic activities.
Here’s a quick test to see if you have sufficient hip flexion: (see picture below) lying on your back raise your knee as high as you can without assistance, without rounding your back or moving the other leg. Ideally, you should be able to hit about 120 degrees before feeling resistance.
The good news is that there are some simple exercises you can use to improve your mobility – usually, you can see the difference immediately. Mobilizing your hips before you row (or squat) will usually allow you to get into a better position, allowing you to produce more power and reducing your chance of injury. Stretching after you row can help keep you limber so that you don’t tighten up further, and promote better mobility.
1. Banded distraction before your row: If you’re not familiar with banded distraction, YouTube has lots of good videos to get you up to speed. In general, banded distraction is not hard to do, feels great, and usually has an immediate effect. To explain how it works on a high level, the hip joint is surrounded by tight muscle tissue, which binds to the joint and keeps it from moving well. Think about knotting your t-shirt up around your fist, then trying to move your fist. If you loosen up the shirt, it’s easier to move your fist! It works similar with your hip joint and the surrounding tissues.
There are several variations, but here are two basic versions to try. I find just the first one works really well for me, but I need to get a lot of tension on the band.
Banded Distraction 1: 2-3 minutes per leg, moving around to find the positions of restriction.
Banded Distraction 2: 2-3 minutes per leg, as above.
2. After your row: Stretch and lengthen the surrounding tissues
Here are several variations of just one stretch, though there are many more ways to improve flexion. Partner variations are my favorite, as they allow you to relax completely, and your partner can keep the bottom leg from lifting.
I prefer these at 20-30 seconds per side, for 2 sets. But this is up to you depending on time and what feels right.
And let me know how that new PR goes after mobilizing those tight hips!