Approximately 15 degrees of hip extension is required to walk normally. If hip flexors are tight then in order to walk, compensatory movement needs to take place through the lower back causing back pain and premature disc degeneration. Like other joints, if we fail to take them through their full range on a regular basis we eventually lose mobility.
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.
Tight hip flexors can result in lower back pain, hip pain and injury. A lot of strain is put on those muscles during activities that involve sprinting and kicking. For example, runners are more prone to hip flexor injuries because of the small, repetitive movement during running. But even if you’re not an athlete, hip flexor injuries can occur during everyday activities (for instance, slipping and falling or running to catch a bus). When those tight muscles are suddenly stretched beyond what they are accustomed to, you might also experience pain in the upper groin region, typically where the hip meets the pelvis.
If most inner-thigh openers feel too easy (and your ankles and knees are injury-free), try Frog Pose. Get down on all fours, with palms on the floor and your knees on blankets or a mat (roll your mat lengthwise, like a tortilla, and place it under your knees for more comfort). Slowly widen your knees until you feel a comfortable stretch in your inner thighs, keeping the inside of each calf and foot in contact with the floor. Make sure to keep your ankles in line with your knees. Lower down to your forearms. Stay here for at least 30 seconds.
Unfortunately hip mobility issues like these are some of the most common problems I see in the weightlifting population. However, the issues manifest differently in different people. In some, it's a basic inability to descend below parallel—or anywhere near it—in squat variations. In others, it can contribute directly to debilitating lower back pain, even in people who spend hours every week strengthening their backs.
Athletes with marked weakness of the hip abductors will exhibit the classic Trendelenburg gait pattern. Hallmarks of the Trendelenburg gait pattern are depression of the swing phase pelvis (as the stance phase hip abductors cannot resist the pull of gravity on the unsupported side of the body).4,8,13 Athletes often find ways to compensate for a relative weakness, such as with a compensated Trendelenburg gait pattern. With this pattern the athlete exhibits increased deviation of the body in the frontal plane toward the stance leg. This causes a decrease in the moment arm of gravitational forces pulling on the unsupported half of the body and a relative decreased load on the stance phase hip abductors (Table 12-1).8,13
Thomas Plummer: Fitness Professionals Only Have Two Speeds Gray Cook: Chop and Lift Basics Stuart McGill: Scientific Odds Ratios and Injury Gray Cook: Rolling Isn’t Magic Sue Falsone: Cervical Thoracic Junction Yoga Mobility Drill Chuck Wolf: The Big Movement Rocks Upper and Lower-Crossed Syndrome in Athletes Stuart McGill: Testing Athletes with Jumps T-Spine Mobility: Why It’s Important Mark Reifkind: Body Maintenance — The Power of Routine
Keep adjusting your position until you find a hot spot ("A what? I don't know what you're ... Oh! My God! There one is!"), and then hold that position for at least 30 seconds. Your first impulse will be to tense up when you feel tenderness, but it's important that you relax and continue to move around the area. Keep it up, and don't hurry. The more slowly and more often you can do this, the better.
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.
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.