The lateral rotator muscles consist of six muscles. The piriformis, the obturator externus, the obturator internus, the gemellus-which is actually two muscles, and the quadratic femoris. All of these muscles work to externally, or internally rotate the upper leg. They also help to stabilize the hip as we walk. They contribute greatly to our ability to maintain our balance especially when one foot is elevated off of the ground.
The greatest method of training these muscles is to increase the range of motion though actively stretching them. When we increase the range of motion in this group of muscles we minimize the risk of injury, or strain. One of the simplest and most effective stretches for theses muscles, is something we very likely already perform daily. When we cross our legs and place our ankle over the opposite leg while sitting, this stretches our lateral rotator muscles. Maintain a straight back when performing this stretch, and plant the opposite foot flat on the ground. Push down on the knee with the elevated ankle for about 10 seconds. This exercise can also be performed in a supine position with our back flat against the floor, and our knees bent, and feet planted firmly on the ground. Cross your leg over your opposite knee and proceed as above. These two exercises are important in maintaining your piriformis’ range of motion, and flexibility.
The muscles that combine for lateral rotation are small, but also very tough. This means that training them requires very little weight. That’s not to say we can’t progressively increase the weight, but because they are often neglected it is important to start off light and increase the weight slowly.
Both of the following exercises may be completed at a cable station with a bench placed between the two weight plate stacks. To train the external rotators, sit on the bench and attach the cable to the ankle of the leg closest to the stack. Place both hands on the knee under tension to ensure it does not move as the exercise is performed. To complete the exercise, rotate the upper leg so that the ankle tucks under the opposite upper leg and behind the calf farthest from the stack. When you complete the desired reps, follow the same procedure on the opposite leg. For the internal rotators, the exercise is similar in position except that the cable will be attached to the leg furthest from the stack, and the movement will tuck under the leg closest to the stack.
The last exercise is not exactly a rotator exercise, but is worthy of mentioning because of its multifaceted application. It works wonders when it comes to increasing range of motion, as well as increasing strength. We have talked about the lunge as an extremely well-rounded exercise that incorporates just about every muscle in the upper leg, lower leg, the hip flexors, and extensors. The next exercise falls into the same category as the lunge, but it is a hybrid lunge. The movement in this exercise targets all of the same muscles as the lung, but focuses more on the adductor muscles, as well as increasing our range of motion.
A friend that competes in strong man competition introduced me to this exercise. He swears by it, and after trying them I can see why. He calls this exercise a swamp lunge. Basically it’s a lunge, but we are lunging at an angle of about 45 degrees, and pivoting the trail foot to align with that angle. Start by standing with both feet about shoulder width apart. Initiate the movement by lifting the lead knee and foot up to the air. From this point we are going to rotate the knee outward while simultaneously pivoting on the ball of the trail foot at about a 45 degree angle. This should be an over exaggerated step like we use in a regular lunge. Make sure that your knees don’t track over your toes, or inward/outward. Make sure that you’re trail leg does not make contact with the ground, stopping an inch from it ideally. From this point we begin to bring up the trail leg and lift the knee straight up and again step outward at about a 45 degree angle.
These three exercise, combined with proper stretching, will help to maintain the flexibility of the rotator muscles. When we do this we limit the potential for injuries within the hip. The best way to make progress with our training is to avoid injury, so it is always worth doing the work to prevent them.