There are many athletes who experience a common challenge during squats – the hip shift. Now, this is when your body weight leans towards one side. It can be pretty frustrating for those aiming for a smooth lift. We understand it all too well. The question is, should you invest time in correcting it? Let’s break down the reasons behind hip shifts and whether addressing them is necessary for your squat game in this blog.
Reasons for Hip Shift During Squats
There are quite a few reasons that can lead to hip squats. Knowing the exact reason is key to determining whether or not a correction is necessary. So, let’s take a quick look at these potential causes:
- Mobility Restriction: Limited ankle or hip mobility on one side can lead to a shift towards the non-affected side.
- Strength Disparity: A stronger leg may naturally cause a shift in that direction during the squat.
- Pain or Injury: Discomfort or past injuries might result in pushing more on one side, causing a shift.
- Habitual Patterns: Previous pain or injury may lead to a habit of pushing with the non-affected leg.
- Femoral Version Differences: A varied femoral version between hips can influence the shift, particularly based on your stance.
Once you have figured out the exact reason, consider whether it occurs only under heavier loads and if it causes current pain. Small shifts that don’t induce pain often don’t require correction.
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Why Not All Hip Shifts Need Correction
Not all hip shifts during squats need fixing. If your squat consistently involves a minor hip shift on one side, especially if it’s consistent across weight loads and repetitions, it might be perfectly natural for your body. Why? Our bodies are adaptable, and as long as your progress isn’t affected and you aren’t experiencing pain or discomfort, forcing a “correction” could cause more problems than it solves.
However, if squatting causes pain and your hip shift gets worse with fatigue or heavier weights, then it’s likely time to investigate the cause. Let’s explore some reasons why hip shifts might happen in squats.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at some of the reasons why hip shifts might happen in squats.
Hip Shifting Due to Mobility Restriction
If you notice a hip shift during squats, especially with lighter weights, it could be due to limited mobility either in your hip or ankle. Restricted ankle dorsiflexion or limited hip rotation mobility may lead to this shift during squats. For instance, if your right hip lacks internal rotation, you might lean towards the left during squats. Similarly, a restriction in right ankle dorsiflexion can cause a shift to the left.
Now, to assess this mobility limitation, don’t just assume; check for it! Lie on your back, place one foot on the opposite knee, and observe if there’s a significant difference between your legs. If so, you might have a hip external rotation limitation. You can also perform seated tests for more insights.
Another potential limitation is hip internal rotation. Lie on your back, move your feet outward, and try to touch your knees together. If one side feels tighter, it could indicate a hip internal rotation deficit.
Ankle dorsiflexion also plays a role. Different squat variations demand varying levels of dorsiflexion. Low bar squats with a wide stance need minimal dorsiflexion, while front squats require more. To check ankle dorsiflexion, try the half-kneeling knee-to-wall test.
If you find significant differences and perform ankle-dorsiflexion-intensive squats, consider wearing elevated heel lifting shoes and work on improving ankle dorsiflexion mobility.
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Hip Shifting Due to Recent Injury or Pain
If you’ve experienced hip shifting in squats due to recent surgery or injury, don’t worry—it’s a common challenge. When reintegrating the squat after something like a knee replacement or ACL repair, your body tends to shift toward the non-affected side. It’s a subconscious protective response.
To avoid this shift becoming a long-term habit, take it slow when loading post-surgery. Instead of jumping into heavy squats immediately after an ACL repair, consider a gradual approach. Start by reintegrating the squat pattern at a low load, where minimal to no shifting occurs.
At the same time, do unilateral exercises like lunges and variations on single-leg exercises. This two-pronged strategy—training both the bilateral movement and specifically targeting the affected lower extremity—can be your key to minimizing any ongoing or future hip shifting during squats.
Chronic Hip Shifting After Past Injury
For those of you experiencing chronic hip shifts after a past injury or surgery, addressing it is crucial. Without early intervention, this tendency to shift away from a once-injured side can persist for years, even after you’ve recovered and the pain has subsided.
Here’s the thing: if you allow a hip shift during early rehab stages and reinforce it with increasing load, your body and brain adopt it as the “new normal.” Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, it’s not that simple.
A helpful guide to deciding whether to correct a chronic hip shift is to observe if it’s consistent across all reps or worsens with higher volumes and intensities. If you notice it escalating, especially under heavier loads, it’s a good idea to address it to avoid potential injury down the line.
Mobility Deficits Leading to a Hip Shift
If you’re dealing with a hip shift during squats, it’s likely tied to mobility issues. Let’s break it down by focusing on ankles and hip range of motion.
For ankles, kick off your shoes and go barefoot. Stand with your big toe about a hand’s width away from a box. Place your hand against the box and aim to touch your knee to the wall. Ensure you’re moving straight without any rotation.
Now, for joint mobility, you are going to want to lie on your back and, if possible, get a partner to help. Bend one leg so that your knee is directly over your hip. Your partner will bring your leg in while keeping the knee-over-hip position. Assess how much hip external and internal rotation you have on each side. Compare them, and you might find differences that contribute to the hip shift. Working on targeted mobility for each side can often help correct the issue.
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Hip Shifting Due to Suboptimal Foot Positioning
Ever wonder why you might experience a hip shift during squats? Well, foot positioning plays a crucial role. Here’s the scoop: there’s no one-size-fits-all squat stance. What works for someone might not be ideal for you. Contrary to the myth that everyone should squat with toes forward or adopt a moderate stance, it’s simply not true.
Moreover, your hip anatomy, specifically the femoral version, contributes to your comfortable squat stance. Some folks have hips that naturally turn outward (retroverted), while others have hips rotated inward (anteverted). This variation influences how your toes should point during a squat.
For instance, if you’re more retroverted, a narrow stance with toes forward might not feel great—it could even cause discomfort or pain in the front of your hip. In such cases, you’ll naturally find a more comfortable squat stance with toes turned out. It’s all about finding what suits your unique hip anatomy for a smoother squat experience.
If you’re uncertain about your optimal squat form or struggle to identify what works best for you, consider exploring online zoom classes or seeking personal training. Participating in virtual classes led by experienced instructors can provide valuable insights and guidance, allowing you to refine your technique from the comfort of your home.
Fixing Hip Shifts – Practical Approaches
If you’ve got a slight and stable hip shift during squats, you might wonder whether it’s worth fixing. Well, here’s the deal: if your hip shift remains consistent with both lighter and heavier weights, you might not need to worry too much. However, if it’s getting worse with increased load, volume, and fatigue, it’s time to take action.
Here’s what you can do: Train your squat at a volume and intensity just below where the shift occurs. Simultaneously, add two key elements to your routine—tempo unilateral lower extremity work and RNT squats.
Now, if you find yourself shifting more as the load increases, there could be an underlying strength deficit to address. Try adding a tempo rear-foot elevated split squat to your routine. This variation can help you push through the weaker leg.
Adding some reactive neuromuscular training (RNT) can also work wonders. RNT uses external resistance, like a band around your hips, to encourage your body to auto-correct its movement pattern. In the case of squatting, having someone gently pull your body in the direction of the shift can trigger your body to “auto-correct” by pushing more through the affected side.
So, if you’ve been dealing with a persistent hip shift, give this combination a go. It’s a powerful trio—increasing squat volume just below the intensity of the shift, incorporating tempo rear-foot elevated split squats, and dosing in RNT work—to help address and improve that hip shift, especially under heavier loads.
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Assessing Hip Version for Uneven Squat Stances
If you’re grappling with a hip shift during squats, understanding hip version is crucial. Hip version refers to the rotation of the femoral neck relative to the femoral condyles, and it can vary from one hip to the other. For instance, someone may have retroversion in one hip and anteversion in the other.
Here’s where it gets interesting: attempting to force both hips into the same stance might backfire. For example, if you force a retroverted hip to match the toe-forward position of an anteverted hip, it could lead to a shift away from the retroverted side during the squat.
Now, if you’re dealing with a hip shift, pay attention to whether there’s a significant difference in femoral version between your hips. If there is, consider experimenting with a squat stance that includes more toe-out on the retroverted side. This adjustment might just be the key to addressing and remedying your hip shift.
Fixing a hip shift isn’t as simple, and it requires a practical and systematic approach. It’s about understanding your body, making gradual adjustments, and ensuring your squat feels comfortable and pain-free. So, hopefully, this piece helps you in navigating the world of hip shifts in squats.