When learning to do the splits, a common mistake is to have your hips not be square. This can throw your entire body off balance and prevent you from getting that perfect open split.
Many dancers, circus artists, pole athletes, and other performers all train their hips to be square in order to gain more flexibility and stability. All of these are important things when stretching any part of your body.
In this article, we discuss why you are experiencing rogue hips and how to keep them in check. From diagnosing the issue to tips on how to correct them, we have got everything you need!
What Are Square Hips?
When watching someone perform the front splits, you may notice that their pelvis, hips, and torso are all facing forward. This is what square hips look like when in action.
Your two hip points (ASIS) and pubic bone are in alignment, and your hips and shoulders are pointing forward. This is referred to as having square hips.
Muscles are tense in this position, especially those in the inner thighs. The knee and top of the ankle should be pointing straight down toward the floor, and the back thigh should be neutral (not externally rotated).
It might be necessary for you to drag your front heel in order to pull the front hip back until your hips are in a straight line.
Now, as you are training towards a full split, you may find that squaring the hips causes you to be further away from your goal. However, this is the safest way to stretch the hamstrings and the hips without causing an imbalance.
What Causes Uneven Hips?
Uneven hips or a lateral pelvic tilt is common among people today due to the large amounts of sitting we do as a society. From working to lounging at home on the sofa or even the way we sleep our hips can become uneven which can then bleed into our everyday life.
Weakness and tightness in the muscles that support the hips and pelvis are major contributors to lateral pelvic tilt, also known as unequal hips or pelvis. The quadratus lumborum (QL), glutes, and adductor muscles are included in this.
The low hip is generally caused by a weak QL, tight glutes, and weak adductors while the high hip is caused by a tight QL, weak glutes, and tight adductors.
Are Square Hips Necessary?
In short, neither position of the hip is inherently wrong. You can achieve a front split without having square hips but most people will experience more discomfort when stretching and leaning into the position.
Generally speaking, we have tight outer thighs and weak inner thighs (overstretched). You can make that imbalance worse by expanding or turning out the hips.
When adding load, weight, or pressure, squaring your hips is a better position for the body since it is more balanced and anatomically “correct.” As a result, the stretch is more even and balanced.
However, for performance purposes, many artists prefer open hips as it allows for a greater range of movement in the back leg for posing.
This is not exactly dangerous but it is extremely imbalanced and can cause great discomfort and even lead to injury if not done correctly.
After training in a squared hips position you may find it relieving to use an open hip position. This will provide a wider range of motion and help increase your flexibility.
However, it is not advised to complete regular intense training in an open hip position as it can cause bad imbalances within the hips.
Why Do You Need Square Hips?
There are various reasons why it is preferred to have square hips when completing flexibility training. Such as:
Stretch The Hip Flexors
After your warm-up, you will discover that the hardest muscle to loosen up is the hip flexors in the back leg. These are necessary for various movements throughout the day and require a lot of stretching and mobility to warm up.
You are going to need them when it comes to getting that perfect split so make sure to stretch them.
Keeping your hips square requires more muscle engagement which helps your body to understand that this is a ‘safe’ position for stretching.
Once you master the front splits, you are going to want to add a backbend and square hips is an easier position to move from without excessive twisting and imbalances.
So, if you plan to advance your flexibility you are going to need to train in a square-hipped position.
Correcting Rogue Hips
If you are new to stretching and flexibility training then you may only be beginning to learn about squared and un-squared hips.
This means you probably don’t know that it is something that many athletes and performers still struggle with even after years of training.
It can be extremely difficult to control rogue hips, especially if you are new to stretching in general. But, once you know what you want to achieve (squared hips) you can begin practicing to reach your goal.
Below are a few tips to help correct your rogue hips and get them under control.
1. Use The Wall
When learning how to stretch your hips correctly, the wall is your best friend. It offers support when it comes to balancing and allows you to focus on really opening the hip flexors for that really deep stretch.
How To Do It
- Begin by kneeling in front of a wall with your back foot up the wall. The further away your back knee is from the wall, the easier this stretch will be. Make sure your foot or toes are pointing straight up the wall and that your shin is vertical. Your back leg is attempting to externally spin to avoid the stretch if your foot begins to slide out to the side.
- Keep your torso titled and lightly press your back foot into the wall for balance while you straighten out your front leg and front foot into your split. Keeping the back foot on the wall prevents the hips from moving and keeps your hips squared. You still need to be somewhat aware that you don’t overdo it since it is technically still possible to extend forward with the front leg so far that it drags that hip forward and causes your hips to become unsquared.
- Hold this position for 20-60 seconds, relaxing into the pose.
2. Use A Resistance Band
When you want to focus solely on controlling the hips, this resistance band stretch is truly amazing. You can get immediate feedback from the hips without having to think about the stretch in the front leg at the same time.
How To Do It
- Begin in a kneeling lunge position and loop a resistance band just below the glute and just above the ankle. If you do not have a loop band, simply step on the end of the band with the front foot.
- Slowly slide your legs and get into a deep lunge. Feel the band tugging your back-leg thigh and hip forward; the band is assisting in maintaining the front-facing hip rotation that keeps both hips “square.
- Rotate the hips to unsquare the hips. Allow the resistance band to pull the back leg hip back into a squared position.
- Repeat this movement of the hips 5-8 times to gain a better understanding of your hips.
This is an excellent exercise if you find yourself not knowing when you are losing control of your hips. The band will push to keep your hips square and when removed, you will begin to notice when your hips are going rogue.
3. Use Blocks
When you don’t have access to a wall or resistance band, blocks are a great way to take the intensity out of the stretch and allow you to learn control over your hips.
How To Do It
- Begin in a kneeling lunge position with a block on either side of you.
- Keep your pelvis tucked under with your check high and your hips facing forward.
- Slowly lean into the front leg while keeping your back straight and your pelvis tucked.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds.
This is a simple stretch that helps you focus on the hip flexors and the split alignment over the stretch in the legs which is where you can make mistakes. Really take the time to ensure everything is in place before removing the blocks.
To challenge yourself further, remain in the deep stretch position and move the block next to your front leg to the inside of your ankle, rotating the hip slightly out. Keeping the pelvis aligned goes deep into the stretch. This will help open the hips.
4. Lean Back
One way to help keep your hips squared is to lean back instead of forward. It is natural for us to go forward for balance and comfort when going down into a split but this causes the hips to go off balance.
How To Do It
- Begin in a kneeling position with your forward leg fully extended and a block on either side of you for support and control. Position the blocks slightly more towards the butt to keep your torso leaning back.
- As you begin to slide into your split, keep the emphasis on the back knee by keeping your torso back and your chest high.
- As you get deeper into the split, lower the blocks, focusing on driving the hips into the floor.
Focusing your weight on the back leg means you don’t have to worry about hips rotating and becoming imbalanced. If you find that the front knee is not yet ready to be extended, keep a slight bend and focus on stretching the hip flexors with the weight on the back leg.
Testing Your Hips
Now that we know how to correct the position of your hips, it is important to be able to identify when they are squared. Below are 3 tests you can do to determine if your hips are squared or if they need some work.
1. The Butt Cheek Test
This may seem a little weird and wild but it is a great way to check if your hips are squared. The Butt Cheek Test does require a mirror or recording where you can see your entire body.
You are going to slide into a front split with your front leg facing the mirror, camera, or phone. You should be able to see your butt not your crotch so have your phone in a landscape position to ensure you can see all of you.
Your hips are probably out of square if you can see both butt cheeks. To “hide” your far side butt cheek behind the one that is closest to the mirror or camera, try to rotate your hips such that both hip bones point forward.
Your hips are perfectly square when you can only see one butt cheek in the recording or mirror.
2. The Broomstick Test
This exam may be useful for those who prefer some tactile and visual cues. You’ll need a long, straight object, such as a broomstick or long dowel.
For this test, you are going to slide into your front split. Grab your broomstick and place it across the front of your hips. The aim is to flatten it against the bony part of the hips.
Now, take a look. Is the broom parallel to the front of the mat? Or is it slightly tilted towards the side? If the broom is not completely parallel to the floor, your hips are not squared and require a slight adjustment.
Remember, it can take weeks or even months to train your hips to be square. While it is a natural movement, if you are not used to the position, it can feel uncomfortable and weird at first.
3. The Finger Gun Test
The Finger Gun Test can seem rather silly but it is one of the easiest ways to tell if your hips are square. Especially if you have no equipment or a friend to help guide you.
Simply slide into your front split. Take your hands and make them into little finger guns, resting them in your hip bones. If you are shooting straight forward, your hips are square. If you are shooting slightly outwards, some adjustment is needed.
Keep adjusting until your finger guns are straight shooters! Simple yet extremely effective when training on your own.
4. Tuck The Back Toes Under Test
This one is for those who have the ability to go down into a split and want to ensure they remain square throughout the movement.
Begin in a front split position with the torso back, hips, and toes facing forward. Now, you can tuck the back toes under and see if you can elevate the back knee completely off the ground.
If you can lift the back knee off the ground without your thigh having to change direction, your hips are square. If your thigh changes direction, you need to adjust your hips.
5. Raise Your Arms Test
Another simple test that you can do in seconds to check if your hips are square when in a front split is to raise your arms.
Begin in a front split position, torso back, toes pointed forward. Now, slowly raise your arms straight above your head. If your hips remain in the same position, they are square. If they rotate outwards, they are off balance and need to be trained.
This is a great test for anyone wanting to perfect their splits and are preparing to take the next step in their flexibility.
If your hips like to go rogue and do what they want, there is no need to worry. Everyone has to deal with rogue hips every once in a while. Especially if they are not used to being in the squared position.
With a few simple exercises, you can work on squaring your hips when doing the splits and discover new levels of your flexibility.
Don’t forget to do a simple test every once in a while to make sure your hips are square and remaining in line!