Tight hip-flexors are a serious problem. They are annoying enough as is, getting super uncomfortable just walking around. But they can also cause you a number of other issues. For instance, they can prevent you from pulling yourself into a squat. They can mess with your stride efficiency when you run or sprint. They can cause your lower back to spasm in pain. And, as Drive client Sheila pointed out yesterday, they can make you look fat. “Is that why my belly sticks out?”
OK, that’s not entirely true. Nor could Sheila ever look fat. Lady must be walking around at 10% body fat. On the average day. At age 40. She’s amazing. But anyway, tight hip flexors can add the appearance of an extra few pounds by altering your standing posture.
Tight Hip Flexors Affect Your Posture
This is because tight deep hip flexors can pull on your pelvis in such a way that you end up looking like you have what I affectionately call “shelf butt.” Your tail bone points behind you instead of down. Your belly is lengthened (what Sheila was talking about) and your lower back muscles are shortened, giving you a significantly rounder appearance. You got a shelf back there. Not too difficult to understand how this extra stress can also cause you some wicked lower back at the end of a long day of work. Or why you can't seem to develop the lower part of your abs.
And these babies can get tight and unhappy for a number of reasons, starting with common culprit: sitting at a desk all day. Of course, wearing heels all of the time can also mess you up, while doing a lot of distance running can cause repetitive stress. Or maybe all three if you are living in NYC. Tight hip flexors are a common complaint of my hard-working Class Pass chickees.
And the reason why they are tight in the first place matters. Of course you want to know what you can do differently in the future. But you cannot change the past. Much like life, better to focus on the present situation. What’s going to make you happy right now?
Tight Hip Flexors Are Weak Hip Flexors
Well, what we do know is that these muscles are probably not just tight, but also weak. And that’s something you actually can change right now, in fact. And I’m going to show you how.
But first, how do we know they’re weak? Well, my lovelies, we need to talk a little science here. Don’t worry, I hate using big words. I like to keep even the most complicated of concepts simple and sophisticated, you know?
If your peripheral nervous system had a manifesto, it’s mission statement would read something like “on a life-long quest to constantly and accurately determine the level of threat to the body.” Consider it your personal risk management consultant.
And your brain, the central nervous system CFO, is super intelligent. It wants to protect you from risky moves that could lead to injury. So if the peripheral investigation reports weakness in a certain movement, the brain will limit your freedom of motion there, in order to avoid those dangerous ranges.
Now if only it was so good at assessing emotional risk of certain ex-boyfriends... I digress.
Why Stretching Alone Doesn't Work
Back to my point. You need to give your brain reason to believe that loosening the grip on your hip flexors is OK; that it’s safe. You need to teach them to be strong. But you won’t be able to do so successfully without first getting your pelvis to a neutral position.
So, yes, you still need to stretch your hip flexors to achieve that. But then you need to consider that this temporary release is nothing more than a magic moment, an opportunity that must be followed up directly with some good targeted strengthening exercises.
Cause if you don’t, you’ll probably be stretching your hips every day until the end of time. This is the reason you keep stretching them and it never seems to stick.
Now, mind you, this is not an automatic fix. But if you make a commitment to follow this protocol every day 2x a day for two weeks, or you add it into your warm-up for the next month, you should find that your posture improves, your back pain diminishes, and your squat numbers mysteriously jump 20 lbs. And as Sheila mentioned, you’ll look like you dropped at least a few pounds, easily.
Stretch Your Hip Flexors First
First, you’re going to stretch your hip flexors. The RKC hip flexor stretch is my fave. You just need a dowel, or a foam roller like I use (see below).
Start in a half-kneeling position with hips squared and the rear toes tucked. Inhale and push the roller into the ground while creating total-body tension. Exhale, releasing all tension except in the glutes, and push hips forward. Repeat for three breaths.
But, if you’ve got some knee issues, you could always use this basic bow stretch, following the same breathing pattern (see below).
Now, don’t stop here! Your hip flexors and back may already be feeling happier, but you must lock in the goodness and strengthen. In a rush? This routine requires but three more minutes to complete!
Then Strengthen Your Hip Flexors Effectively
Use this band hurdle hold exercise to challenge the hip flexors and low abs. Place the band (like this one from Perform Better) around your feet and lie on your back with your hands interlace behind your head. Pull one knee in and exhale as you reach the other foot away to provide resistance. Hold for three seconds. Repeat for eight reps per side.
Troubleshooting: Keep your spine flush to the ground. Place a lift like an aired pad or folded up mat underneath your head if your lower back cannot make contact. Keep in mind, the extended leg does not need to be locked out to create an adequate challenge. Just reach as far as you can comfortably.
Next, practice this slider exercise to challenge the psaos(one of the flexors). Start in a push-up position with the slider (like this Valslide) under the foot and out on 30 degrees. Exhale as you grind the slider into the floor and pull towards the midline on that diagonal. Reset on the inhale. Repeat for eight reps per side.
Troubleshooting: Push the slider into the floor as hard as you can! Keep you your shoulders and hips square.
As perviously stated, you can practice this five minute routine twice per day for two weeks to realize noticeable change. Or you can add the sequence to your daily routine for a few more weeks for equal success. Either way, you will be well on your way to #hipflexorhappiness without constant stretching. #sophistocatedstrength