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AG820: Open Hips and Fast Feet For Agility and Dog Sport Handlers

Instructor: Karen Kay

Course Details

A class to aid the handler in developing the mobility needed to “separate” their upper body from their lower body to improve their handling maneuvers.  

Mobility and flexibility of the 22 muscles in the hip region will be the focus in this class.  Huge changes can be made in six weeks to improve your ability to “open your hips.”  Along with these changes, you will learn how to make your feet faster so as to match your new found hip mobility.  All of this will add up to preventing injuries to the handler and more fluid movement for giving the right signals and getting to the right places for your dog!

You only need space slightly larger than a yoga mat to participate in this class.  The only equipment needed will be an exercise mat, a stretching strap or dog leash will do, some athletic or paint tape that can be put down on the floor, and some occasional “creativity”.  

I would also encourage you to let your dog participate in some form while you are exercising.  Get used to using that time for some training.  Mat work and other foundational skills can be practiced at the same time that you are exercising.  I never mind seeing your canine partners in the videos you send me and including them can make your time very productive for your team!

What are “Hip-Openers”? 

Everyone talks about “opening hips” to improve your front, back, and blind crosses in agility.  We also talk about “opening hips” to change direction more quickly.  Finally, we are told to “open our hips” to decrease back pain and improve our posture.  This process is much more complex than we often realize and most people unknowingly practice poses and stretches in a way which bypasses the actual hip-opening they offer.  We must learn to align our joints to find the “hip opening” potential that our bodies so desperately need.  

The hip is a joint, which means that it’s a moveable part of your body.  There are lots of movements available at the hip joint, including hip extension, hip flexion, hip abduction, hip adduction, and internal and external rotation.  Ideally all of these motions would be fluid and easy for you all of the time, but all too often, our hip joint movement is restricted in one or more planes (or all of them), resulting in hips we experience as “tight”.

What Does It Mean to Have Tight Hips?

Even though we talk about our joints being “tight”, the truth is that your joint itself isn’t really the issue.  It’s actually the muscles and fascia that cross your joint that restrict your movement.  And how do these tissues become restricted?  Well, your body adapts to what you do most frequently.  And the one body position that we as a culture tend to assume most frequently is sitting with our hips and knees flexed at 90 degrees.  Even if you don’t think you sit a lot, or if you have a job which requires you to stand, you’re probably forgetting all the other time you do spend sitting because it’s so ingrained in your daily lifestyle that you almost don’t even realize it.  

Our over-use of the sitting posture familiarizes our brain with a position of shortened hip flexors (the muscles that cross the front of our hips and attach around back to our spine) and hamstrings (the muscles that line the back of our thighs), as well as effectively “turns off” our otherwise powerful glutes, and throws our whole hip package out of balance.  This results in “tight hips” which then either causes pain and injury or makes it more difficult to execute the proper biomechanics for sport and fitness activities.  “Tight Hips” have a negative impact on everything we do in the sport of dog agility.  They make all of our handling skills more difficult and pre-dispose the handler to injury.  They also make it more difficult to execute the appropriate handling maneuver for your canine partner.  Tight hips will challenge your ability to change directions while you are running and or to move in a different direction to set your dog’s path on the course.  

What will we do in this class to open your hips?

There are 22 muscles that cross the hip on all sides and a varying angles, including your hip flexors in the front, your hamstrings, glutes, and deep lateral rotators in the back, your inner thigh muscles (adductors), and your outer thigh muscles (abductors).  

A “hip opener” is technically any stretch that lengthens any of the 22 muscles that cross the hip.  The most important thing is that you will learn how to position or align your joints in a way that actually stretches our hips.

Why does “Fast Feet” go with “Hip Openers”?

As you start to be able to “open your hips” more, it becomes more important to improve the fast twitch muscles in your feet and legs.  Once you increase your hip range of motion, your patterns when changing directions or sides with your dog will utilize a greater range of motion.  Thus, all of a sudden you are placing your feet in different places during your handling maneuvers.  

How will we train for “Fast Feet”?

In order to train “Fast Feet," you need to start new movement patterns slowly and then get faster at repeating them as you get accustomed to the pattern.  You cannot take advantage of your new found mobility in your hips if your feet are not ready to respond to the increase in range of motion during your handling maneuvers.  The goal is to move from one position to another much more effortlessly.

As you improve your “fast twitch” muscle fibers in your feet and lower legs, you are able to keep your feet low to the ground, but still move them into new movement patterns very quickly.  Your feet now become synchronized with your hip mobility.  This is a huge step toward improving all of your agility handling maneuvers and toward improving your ability to change direction more quickly while running the agility course.  

This class will help get you FASTER without actually RUNNING!