Ever been doing some abdominal exercises on the mat, maybe a one leg stretch or a bicycle in table top, and one, or both hips are clicking as the leg extends? If you have, you are definitely not alone.
Generally speaking, this can be something that occurs when the leg is extending unsupported, therefore adding load to the front of the hip.
Assuming there is no discomfort, or other underlying concerns, this is an experience many Pilates participants have reported when they’re on the mat. Here are 3 reasons why it might be occurring:
- Tight, overactive hip flexors:
Generally speaking, the hip flexors may be tight and overactive, or over-dominant. The hip flexor muscles run along the front of the ball and socket hip joint. When they contract, they aid in flexing the hip joint and essentially bringing our thigh bone closer to our chest.
Given the ever flexed nature of our hips in sitting, which is such a huge part of our lifestyles these days, it makes sense then that the hip flexors may be tight and overactive. So, when we then extend and lower the leg, it has been suggested that these hip flexor muscles may either rub over the bony structures at the front of our hip, or affect the way that these muscles actually pull on our femur (thighs bone) within the hip ball and socket joint. This can make it more susceptible to that ‘CLUNK’ sound.
IT is important to note that tight or overactive hip flexors can still be WEAK hip flexors! So while stretching may be of some benefit , strengthening might still definitely have relevance.
2. Weak deep core and surrounding pelvic muscles:
This point links up pretty seamlessly with point three below. But it’s important to take a step back and think about the movement we are performing. If it’s a one leg stretch such as the picture above, yes the hip is extending from a table top position. BUT we still require deep, and outer core control! We still require all of the other muscles with an attachment point on the pelvis offering some support. This includes the upper hamstrings and glutes at the back of the pelvis (which often get forgotten particularly in abdominal focused exercises).
The moral of the story? If there is any weakness in other surrounding muscles such as the deep core, and even the glutes, the hip flexors will have to work even harder to support the movement. The hip flexors may therefore be overcompensating, resulting in the CLUNK.
3. Poor alignment and control:
If you build a house on sinking sand, it probably won’t be the most stable base. Studies have found that maintaining optimal bony alignment, and particularly ‘neutral’ alignment around the lumbar spine (lower back) and pelvis, creates a more optimal environment, particularly for the deeper core muscles to function from. It really makes sense that if the bony attachment points of any particular muscle are stabilised optimally before a muscle contracts, there will be a far better quality contraction. There will be less surrounding muscle compensation, and more optimal movement efficiency. (READ: that person that you see doing bicep curls in the gym, shrugging their shoulders, holding their breath, rolling forward through their shoulder, and extending through their back…. probably isn’t moving very efficiently for a humble bicep curl! And this comes down to poor alignment and control).
Some easy strategies to reduce the clunky hip sound effects? Lower the legs! Make the exercise ‘closed chain’ meaning that the lower limbs remain in contact with the floor the whole time. Building up strength and endurance in surrounding muscles, or using props to support the activation of these muscles throughout the movement might help too.
Again, if in doubt always consult with your health professional, and we hope these tips have been gripping – don’t mind the pun!