November 3, 2011 posted by

Heel Slide: The Most Important Exercise You’ve Never Heard Of

If I told you that adding one exercise movement to your workout could reduce your likelihood of injuring your knee by 90% would you be interested? If so, this is your lucky day. Introducing the heel slide.

You’ve heard me talk about heel slides for some time but I’ve finally gotten around to shooting a proper instructional video. While this movement is easy to do once your understand it, the position you need to get into is subtle and requires some explanation. This movement should be done two or three times per week, either alone (as shown) or tacked on to the end of any lower-body workout.

While originally slated for P90X2 we replaced it because it requires a body length of open wall space, which is something surprisingly hard to find in many people’s homes. You also contact your heel with the wall, which could blemish your house, further complicating the scenario. We thus replaced it with a similarly-effective movement but for those of you with the space, I suggest swapping heel slides for an exercise we called Tony’s Triangle during Phase 3 or, at least, alternating between the two. I would also highly suggest adding it to whatever routine you’re currently doing.

So what’s the big deal?

All the credit for this exercise goes to Dr. Marcus Elliott and P3 because I’d never seen it before training there. I knew the importance of strengthening the gluteus medius but the movements I’d been show by various trainers and physical therapist paled in comparison. In fact, most of them allowed me to unknowingly cheat and use larger muscles to shoulder the burden of the movement, actually creating a further muscular imbalance—so essentially there we heightening the problem they were supposed to fix.

Anyway, anyone who follows sports knows that more athletes break down than ever before. It seems like society accepts this as a byproduct to becoming bigger, stronger, and faster but research has shown that to be fallacy. We are breaking down because we are unstable in our hips (and shoulders). This causes a biomechanical tracking problem that radiates through the body. Someone who lacks hip stability puts excessive force on their joints each time they move. Add enough force to the equation and breakdown occurs, usually at the weak link, our soft connective tissues. This is so prevalent that “torn ACL” is about as well understood today as “I’ve got a headache.”

As proven by Elliott and his staff, this is mostly preventable. Studies done on elite athletes have shown that instances of hip instability usually exceed 90%, meaning knee injury is a when not if scenario. Teams trained by Elliott have seen instances of non-contact knee injuries drop to virtually zero. And most of this is corrected by one thing; strengthen a small muscle called the gluteus medius.

chicago white sox all star carlos quentin showing proper heel slide technique at p3

But this is not as simple as finding the muscle and isolating it. The pelvic girdle is a complex area where muscles wrap around bones and joints and criss cross each other. When out of alignment the body reacts in a way where the larger muscles will take over the motions that should rely on smaller ones that exacerbate imbalance. When this happens we tighten up. Our posture fails, followed by our movement patterns. No amount of stretching or adjusting will fix it because the imbalance we simply pull us right back out of alignment until all the muscle are strengthened and taught to work together properly.

Granted, heel slides alone won’t fix all the imbalances along your kinetic chain (though P90X2 is designed to do just that). But adding them to your routine is a great place to start.


  • Does hip instability lead to all sorts of non contact sports related leg injuries? Would the chance of a pulled hamstring from sprinting be lower from doing something like this?

  • Nicely done! Kudos to you and P3. I felt the burn just now; I obviously do not activate that muscle very often. Its a pilates-esque movement and us men should be doing it regardless of what other "manly" men think.

  • The move in 90×2 is from Pilates. This one is better but, yes, very similar and you are correct. I was at a seminar where a PT was presenting a movement like this and there was a military guy there who said "my guys would rather get shot." Not me.Yep, all lower body non-contact injuries are succeptable when hip alignment is off because nothing in the body is tracking like it should. This creates extra pressure. One of the test is to analyze the landing of a jump. You'll see those with issue wobble ever so slightly in the knees. When this is the case there is almost always trouble ahead.

  • Awesome, thanks for another kick ass post, Steve! I'll definitely be incorporating this into my training.

  • Steve,You seem to have your legs bent, whereas the White Sox players appear to have fairly straight legs.Is there a benefit to either, or should we switch between the two positions?(Or, is it just a matter of available wall space?)Thanks

  • Legs bent is how it's taught but that's because it's easier for most people that way. Once you know where it's supposed to hit you naturally get into position and I've noticed it varies quite a bit. I don't think his legs are totally straight but it is possible to use you glute med to raise a straight leg so they could be. Keep playing with the position until it feels like someone is sticking a knife in your top outside of your butt.

  • Is Lars Von Trier your cameraman? Buy a tripod.

  • Man, I don't know. Some kind of dissonance in my head going from Tommy on Mescalito to sliding along a gym wall.

  • That's the thing. He is our cameraman. Dogma forever.

  • You didn't read the transcript then. Those guys train like maniacs.

  • How soon should I feel the burn from these? I feel like I must have been doing them wrong, since I had to do about 15 per side to feel them.If that's not unusual, then how many reps should I target each day?

  • 30s – 1m sets. That's a good sign, though if you're using Beachbody products you're going to have better muscular balance than most people. People who train "old school" or just play sports tend to be a lot more imbalanced than those who do more functional fitness. This is a benchmark exercise. If you are strong at them you can do, say, three sets once or twice per week and keep your strength.

  • If this prevents me from blowing any of my joints even at a young age from squatting or any other heavy lift then by all means I shall incorporate this. You guys should definitely plan on creating a whole one on one DVD with tony on how to prevent injuries using methods designed by Dr Elliot.

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