4. Just swing it. For the front-to-back hip swing stretch, lie on the left side with hips stacked, propped up on the left elbow. Bend the left leg to a 90-degree angle and raise the right leg to hip level with toes pointed. Keep abs tight and swing the right leg all the way in front, then swing it all the way to the back, squeezing the booty along the way. Switch sides.
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.
While leg lifts, certain ab exercises, and even hula hooping can all help work the hips, the hip flexors can still be a tricky part of the body to stretch Kinetics of hula hooping: An inverse dynamics analysis. Cluff, T., Robertson, D.G., and Balasubramaniam, R. School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Human Movement Science, 2008 Aug; 27 (4): 622-35.. To get them even stronger and more flexible, try these five simple hip flexor stretches:
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.
Then, consider that where there is tightness there might also be weakness somewhere near by. With 11 muscles contributing to the gross movement of hip flexion, it’s possible that some of the muscles are stronger than others. If some are stronger and work harder than others they might get overly tight. Identifying which hip flexors are weak and strengthening them is another way to approach hip flexor tightness.
Muscle Imbalances – The front of your hips, your hip flexors, are the muscles that will tighten and shorten while you are sitting for hours each day. While you are sitting, the back of your hips, your glutes and your hip extensors, are being overstretched. But just because they are being tightened and stretched respectively, doesn’t benefit either of them. They are also being weakened because of the lack of use of each muscle group.
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The wisdom that Sahrmann shares in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes explains many of the injury riddles of the Strength and Conditioning field, particularly the “hip flexor pull” or “quad pull.” The key to understanding the motion of hip flexion comes from looking at the anatomical leverages of the different muscles involved. There are five muscles that are capable of assisting in hip flexion:
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 rectus femoris is one of the quadriceps muscles. The rectus femoris arises from the front of your hipbone, runs through the middle region of the front thigh and attaches to the top of the kneecap. In addition to hip flexion, the rectus femoris straightens, or extends, your knee. This dual function increases the vulnerability to strain injuries. Stretching exercises to maintain flexibility and balanced training to equalize your quad and hamstring strength reduce the likelihood of rectus femoris strains.
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.
How to: Get on your hands and knees, in a tabletop position (a). Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go and bring your feet in line with your knees. Your shins should be parallel with one another (b). Flex your feet and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. (If the stretch is too intense, try putting your arms on a block or firm pillow.) Hold for eight to 12 breaths (c). If holding the stretch for longer, try slowly moving your hips forward and backward to bring the stretch to different parts of your hips.