Experiencing lower back pain, knee pain or ankle pain after or during training? One of the contributing factors could be weak or under-active hip stabilizer muscles known as the gluteus medius muscles. These muscles are located on either side of your hips, and are responsible for keeping the hips level during movements. They are also important muscles for BJJ athletes while working on the ground.
A simple test to see if you have either a weak or under-active gluteus medius muscle is to perform a squat. Keep the feet shoulder width apart, feet pointing forwards, sit backwards into a squat, while facing the mirror. Look at the position of your knees. Does one knee (or both) “collapse” inwards towards the bottom of the squat? If this happens, then you know you likely have a dysfunctional gluteus medius (amongst other things).
If this happens, don’t worry! There is a simple fix for these muscles. While there are many ways to preferentially activate the gluteus medius muscle, one of my all-time favourite exercises is the side-lying hip abduction exercise.
1) Lie on your side, with the “weaker” side leg facing upwards. You may choose to do this slightly in front of a wall, as a cue to let you know where your leg is in space
2) Bend the hip and knee on the bottom slightly for stability
3) Lift the top leg slightly, and push it backwards until the heel is in contact with the wall
4) Keeping the top knee absolutely straight, rotate the leg such that your toes point towards the ground as much as possible
5) Slide the heel up the wall as high as you can
6) At the top of the movement, pause and hold for 5 seconds
7) Slowly lower the leg to the start position, making sure that you do not let the top leg rest onto the bottom leg. This is to ensure “time under tension”, in which your muscle is continuously working throughout the set
8) Repeat for 10 repetitions
PS. It is absolutely imperative that you make sure the toes are pointing towards the ground for the entire movement! This way, you ensure that you do not compensate with your hip flexors (when your toes start to point up towards the ceiling).