Last month, I talked about the unique complexity of the shoulder, and how a problem there can produce effects throughout the upper body. Well, the hips are just as complicated, and pelvic dysfunction can be just as far-reaching. Your erectors, glutes, hamstrings, abdominals, quadriceps, hip flexors, and more all interact at this junction, and a problem with any one of them can lead to debilitating immobility and weakness in lifting and in life.
Pull your shoulder blades down and back and reach down with both hands to grab the back of your left thigh to pull your knee toward your chest. Keep the right leg straight and push the back of the right heel into the ground; feeling your right glute muscle contract. Keep your abs and core tight and as your hip relaxes, pull it in closer if possible. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Take a step back and think about where you spend most of your day. If you're a young athlete, you probably spend most of your time at school or maybe work or practice and even a little time at home, if you're lucky. Now think about what position your body is in during those periods. I would bet that you spend most of your day sitting down. You may walk to class or run in practice, but the majority of your day is spent in a seated position.
When a muscle contracts, it shortens. Take the biceps for example. Without getting too technical, the biceps are attached at the forearm and shoulder. When your biceps contract, they shorten and bring those two points closer together. When you rest, the muscle returns to its normal length, and the two points move farther away. Constantly contracting your biceps over a long period of time would cause them to get shorter, even at rest.
This stretch targets the abductors and deeply opens the hips and groin while lengthening the hamstrings. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Keeping your right leg straight, extend it up to your side, reaching hold of your ankle with your right hand. Continue to pull your leg higher up to your right side, into a half-split pose. Hold this position for 30 seconds before releasing and attempting with the opposite leg.
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If you can set aside time apart from your workouts, try Starrett’s couch stretch: In front of a couch or wall, sit on all fours. Place the shin of one leg parallel against the wall or couch, then bring one leg up into a kneeling position with your knee above your foot. Straighten your torso and fire your glute, as if to slide your two legs together. Hold for two minutes per side, contracting and releasing as you wish.
The hip is a very stable ball and socket type joint with an inherently large range of motion. The hip contains some of the largest muscle in the body as well as some of the smallest. Most people lack mobility due to a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Periods of prolonged sitting results in tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings. Tightness in the muscles and ligaments can created joint forces that result in arthritis, postural problems, bursitis, and mechanical back pain.
While each muscle functions slightly differently, their overall combination allow them to flex the hip joint, anteriorly rotate the pelvis, and extend the lumbar spine. Due to its’ attachment on the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine, the psoas also plays an important role in lumbar spine stabilization (1), an often forgotten function of this muscle.
The iliopsoas muscle group consists of two muscles: the psoas muscle and the iliac muscle. These muscles work together to help the hip flex. The psoas muscle connects to the lumbar vertebrae L1 through L5. The other end of the psoas muscle connects to the tendon on femur bone. The lumbar plexus, a nerve bundle that originates at the middle of the spine, supplies the psoas with nerves. The iliac muscle connects to the ilium, the largest bone of the pelvis, on the top and runs under the psoas to the same tendons of the femur bone as the psoas muscle. The nerves of the iliac muscle are supplied by the femoral nerve, which is located in the leg.
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There’s much more happening behind the scenes when the hip flexes! Learning the attachments of the 11 hip flexor muscles is the best way to begin getting a handle on what’s happening when personal training clients complain of tight hip flexors or seem to have referred back pain from an imbalance in the muscles. You’re then able to design and suggest stretches and exercises that are specific to the issue at hand when you understand the form and function of these muscles. Here’s a few thoughts for you when doing that…
I recommend finding out what’s really wrong from a professional. But it probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover your core is weak or your butt could use a little muscle tone! :) Here are some exercises you could do in the meantime, or sign up for a Fit Tutor membership to help keep you balanced, strong, and fit! Check out membership options here: Fit Tutor Membership Levels
Those are some great stretches! I own a personal training studio in Severna Park, Maryland. Majority of my clients have physical limitations – so it’s important for them to stay flexible. I send these to my clients and even do these exercises for myself. I highly recommend these stretches to anyone, even people without physical limitations. I love the fact these are actually videos and not just stretches because it’s so much easier for people to figure out how to perform the stretches. You guys are the real MVP!
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left knee so that your knee, shin, and foot are on the floor, parallel with your pelvis. Bend your right knee and place it on top of your left ankle so that your right knee is above your left ankle and your right ankle is above your left knee. To intensify the stretch, place your hands in front of your legs and very slowly walk them out as you lean forward. Stay relaxed and breathe. Repeat with the other leg.
Now doing the same thing over and over again and somehow getting a different response may seem like a good idea to some, whereas others may think they just need to “spend more time” with their hip flexor stretches to force that tight and unforgiving muscle to finally loosen up. But the simple fact of the matter is that if it’s not working, it’s probably not the right solution.
Of course, you know what it feels like to have a tight muscle. But tight hips aren't just uncomfortable—they can lead to all sorts of other aches and pains, especially in the lower back. "People focus on the hips and say their hips are tight, but we don't always think about the fact that the lower back connects to our legs at the hip," Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., instructor at Soul Annex in New York City and creator of Le Stretch class, tells SELF. Tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can cause your lower back to overcompensate, "and this can be a setup for lower-back injury," Teo Mendez, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at NY Orthopedics who focuses on operative and non-operative management of sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, and arthritis, tells SELF.