Hip differentiation is a fundamental concept in Pilates. These words can sound as hard to understand as the skill is to execute. Let us break it down Swan style.
Do your hip flexors always feel tight? Does it feel like your legs and pelvis always move as one piece or it is really hard to isolate the movement of one leg? Maybe your lower back responds each time you move your legs. Your hip bone is connected to your leg bone, right? Well, yes. But for healthy hips and lower back, you need to figure out how to free the movement of your legs from the movement of your pelvis. This freedom is known as hip differentiation.
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint which means it is constructed to have a large range of motion, not just function like a hinge (think knee). Hip joints are lucky because they have a large movement potential structurally without over-involving the neighboring joints.
One of the most challenging and most important skills to develop within your Pilates practice is understanding how to move your legs, but at the same time stabilize your pelvis without gripping the surrounding muscles. This skill is called hip differentiation. When you move it all like a brick or like a noodle (yes, flexible people have a hard time with this too!), it is easy to have irritation in your lower back, pelvis, develop sciatica or overwork your hip flexors. A lot of this irritation can come from over-mobilizing small joints that are not meant to have as much movement as your hips or over gripping and lessening space with surrounding muscles.
Understanding the concept it the first step to mastering and executing the principle!
Can i work on this at home?
Here's a simple exercise. It's called knee stirs. Lie on your back and hugging your knees into your chest, place one hand on each knee and straighten your arms. This keeps your feet off the floor and brings your knees more or less right above your hips. Find a neutral pelvic position and your co contraction (if you don't know what that is, you may need to come in for a session!) to help stabilize your pelvis. Keeping your hips relaxed, use your arms to circle your knees in opposite directions. Make big circles and feel like your hip sockets are getting deeper. Circle in both directions. Don't move your pelvis or lower back! This is an assisted exercise to help you open your hips and get them used to moving without taking everything else along for the ride.