Muscle strains may then be a further hindrance to exercise, perpetuating the cycle of inactivity and leading to an even greater decline in mobility. As we get older, our muscle mass naturally decreases and our activity levels decline. Inevitably, muscles grow weaker and joints stiffen up. Stretching can help reverse that aging process. Whether you are young or old, athletic or sedentary, stretching is a great way to improve your fitness and agility.
Like most of us in the profession, I did not previously make any distinction among members of the hip flexor group. All of the hip flexor muscles seemed to work together to flex the hip and that, at the time, was enough for me. However, my recent reading into the work of physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann has changed my thinking about hip flexors, as it has about many other muscle groups.
Another way to look at it, if you stretched a short and tight muscle and it regained length, it shouldn’t get tight again, should it? Whereas if the muscle wasn’t technically “tight” but rather holding excessive tone in order to keep your spine from looking more like a losing game of Jenga, stretching it will just give more opportunity for low back pain, and quickly lead to the muscle tensing up again to defend the spine. This is the problem with conventional hip flexor stretches.
The tensor fascia lata (TFL), quadriceps, and sartorius muscles comprise what I call the big three hip flexors. These muscles are often overlooked in rehabilitation with more focus placed on a fourth hip flexor, the iliopsoas. In my opinion, though, these three hip flexors cause much more damage due to their size, the fact that they alter pelvic and knee mechanics, and their involvement in just about everything we do with our legs.
Start kneeling on your mat with knees hip-width apart and hips directly over knees. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the mat. Bring your hands to your low back, fingers pointing down, and rest palms above glutes. Inhale and lift your chest, and then slowly start to lean your torso back. From here, bring your right hand to rest on your right heel and then your left hand to your left heel. (If you can't reach your heels, turn your toes under; it will be easier to reach your heels in this modification.) Press your thighs forward so they are perpendicular to the floor. Keep your head in a relatively neutral position or, if it doesn't strain your neck, drop it back. Hold for 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips and slowly, leading with your chest, lift your torso as you press the thighs down toward the floor.
The more than 20 muscles that make up your hips are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis, moving your legs from side to side, and shortening to draw your knees toward your chest every time you sit down, run, jump or pedal, explains Kelly Moore, a certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness, which brings health and wellness initiatives to companies throughout Chicago.