Whenever I am asking a group of athletes to start a new squatting program there are always a few in the group that get hip pain. They usually describe this pain as deep pinching pain in the front of the hip or hip flexor. This can be debilitating and stop them from squatting. If you are among the people who feel hip pain during squatting here are some tips to help you relieve this pain get back to pushing heavy weights.
Do Not Stretch the Hip Flexors
I see this a lot with people who are feeling hip pain during their squats. Their first reaction is my hips are too tight, my hips need to be stretched. In fact, the truth is that hip flexor tightness likely has nothing to do with the pain you feel during squats. If we look at the movement the hip flexor is shortening during the squatting movement. This extra stretching can make the issue worse.
Whenever a muscle is painful it does not respond well to stretching. Typically, there is pain in a muscle because it is taking on too much work from another group of muscles not doing their job properly. If we stretch a painful muscle it will continue to tighten up.
What you should be focusing on if you are feeling this pain is learning to activate your posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). We spend a lot of time sitting and this can often lead to our posterior chain losing its ability to activate. Try incorporating more pull throughs, hip thrusts, and glute bridges in your program and really focus on feeling your butt muscles do the work.
Narrow Your Stance
If you are experiencing this hip pain look at your squatting stance. If you are excessively wide you will need a large amount of adductor flexibility to be able to keep your knees in line with your toes. Often what I see with athletes who have an excessively wide squatting stance is that they also allow their knees to cave in towards the middle. This is because there really is nowhere for their knees to go and it becomes hard to drive them out in line with the feet.
I try to coach my athletes to have active hips when they are squatting, I use cues like spread the ground with your feet, or knees drive out like you are riding a motorcycle. Right away when athletes work to get into this position they will feel their hips activate thus taking the tension off their other structures and promoting safer squats. The fix here is to narrow up your squatting stance and focus on activating your hips by spreading the floor apart as you squat. While this may feel weird at first as you become accustomed to it, your squat weights will surely increase.
Improve Your Ankle Range
I see many athletes now with reduced ankle range of motion. This may be caused by sprains, or braces over time. When this is the case 1 of 2 things happen to the squat if the ankles are not able to move.
The athlete will have an excessive forward lean and bend mostly at the waist.
The athletes feet will widen or turn out excessively.
Both problems increase the strain that is felt at the hip. The first combination of excessive forward lean and large amounts of hip flexion work to close the hip joint. This will cause a pinching sensation. Excessively widening, or rotating the feet out will cause problems like wide stance squatting. I have written before about ways to improve your ankle mobility [Here] and [Here]. Follow those protocols, and exercises to eliminate this issue and relieve some of the tension you are feeling at the hip joint.