Limited hip mobility and/or poor hip and core stability restricts natural movement and leads to compensatory motion often in the form of unwanted hip rotation, hip hiking, trunk sway in the frontal and sagittal plane. A common corrective exercise prescribed to improve core stability is a standing march (single leg stance) with straight arm pulling to engage the core.
Begin standing with the feet together while holding the cable handles with the palms down. Select a weight that provides ample enough resistance to maintain isometric shoulder extension for 30-60 seconds. Be careful not to select too little or too much weight as this will disrupt the execution of the exercise.
Next, pull the arms down toward the side and hold in that position. Maintaining an erect posture, slowly lift the left leg up (ankle dorsiflexion with knee and hip flexion) and pause for 2-3 seconds. Move the unsupported leg back to the start position but keep the arms actively extended. Repeat this sequence for 10 times on the left leg. Rest for 30-60 seconds and then repeat on the other leg. Perform 2 sets.
I tend to focus on unilateral consecutive repetitions (as described above) especially if there is a 2/1 asymmetry with the hurdle step. As the asymmetry is resolving, I will progress to a reciprocal pattern as this is more natural in life/sport. If a cable column is unavailable, alternate methods include using a suspension training apparatus or resistance tubing anchored high enough to accomplish the same upper body isometric pulling.
Poor hip stability and control in single leg stance is a common cause of overuse injuries in runners and contributes to increased risk for anterior knee pain and ACL injuries. Keep in mind that poor performance on the hurdle step movement can be related to weak hip flexors on the stepping leg, tight hip flexors on the stance leg, diminished hip stability and poor balance.
It is critical to assess the whole movement prior to assuming that there is just one problem or weak link in the kinetic chain. Restoring symmetric, optimal stepping patterns will promote proper hip disassociation, as well as training the body to synergistically activate core and hip musculature to demonstrate optimal single leg stability in unilateral stance.
Brian Schiff, PT, OCS, CSCS, is a licensed physical therapist, respected author and fitness professional. Currently, he serves as the supervisor for Athletes' Performance at Raleigh Orthopaedic in Raleigh, NC. Brian conducts live continuing education webinars and presents nationally at professional conferences and seminars on injury prevention, rehab and sport-specific training. For more information on his products and services, visit www.BrianSchiff.com.