What’s long and hard and as stiff as a plank of wood? Get your mind out of the gutter…I’m talking about your hip flexors. Tight Hip Flexors can be a big problem, and so easy to get. In a previous post, Pain At The Desk, we saw how sitting down affects your hip flexors. I know when I sit at the computer too long, I tighten up very quickly, and after a long flight from Down Under to Europe I’m as tight as a drum.
Where Are Your Hip Flexors?
The ‘Hip Flexors’ are a group of muscles that, well, flex the hip. There are quite a few muscles that actually flex the hip, but two that are specifically referred to as hip flexors. The Illiopsoas group consists of the Psoas and the Iliacus.
Both attach to the femur. However the psoas attaches to the lower back, whereas the Iliacus attaches to your hipbone. Sitting down puts these muscles in a shortened position, and as a result leaves them pretty tight. The Psoas attaches to the lower back, if it’s tight, it can pull your back forward, and is a common cause of back pain. A tight hip flexor will also go a long way to inhibiting your bum, which means whatever work you are doing for it, you probably aren’t getting the desired results. No bum means you are susceptible to many more injuries, and have a lack of power in simple things such as walking.
What Can I Do To Loosen Them?
Well, there are a couple of ways to get these babies loose again. Massage, Acupuncture, Foam Rolling, Self Massage are all great ways to loosen up your hip flexors. These should always be accompanied with strength exercises and hip flexor stretches.
When you think of loosening a muscle, stretching automatically comes to mind. However, you can also loosen your hip flexors through exercises. It works by taking your muscles through their range of motion dynamically. I’ll outline some of my favourite exercises for loosening your hip flexors, there are a few more, and if you want to add your favourite, please leave a comment.
This is possibly the best exercise you can do for opening up your hip flexors. It is basically a normal lunge, but you hold a medicine ball, or a light plate above your head. Out stretch your arms, keep them straight, directly above your head, and complete the lunges. You have something that is called fascia; it’s basically a sheath that runs over your muscles. Your fascia is a big issue in hip flexor tightness, and often when that is loosened, the muscle is too. Holding something above your head whilst lunging stretches this fascia out, and you get the added hip flexor stretch.
Same as a forward lunge, but done in reverse! When you step back into the reverse lunge, you are recruiting your bum. Recruiting your bum inhibits your hip flexors, meaning they will relax. Stepping back straight away puts the hip flexors on stretch, and as you do the exercise, you take them through a large range of motion.
Performing a squat whilst holding a bar overhead, opens up your hip area, and promotes hip flexor range of motion. When most people attempt this to start, the lower they get, the more they will want to bend forward. If you picture the hip flexors, they attach from the upper thigh, onto the lower back, if these are tight, as you try to get lower, your hip flexors will pull you forward. By holding the bar above your head, you have to stay up straight, basically lengthening your hip flexors during a dynamic movement. Read more about the overhead squat here.
Hip Flexor Stretches
Stretching is an obvious and essential way to loosen those babies. I’ve just taken a picture of my favourite stretch. I’m not sure if I made it up or where I got it from, but for now until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll claim it. I often make up stretches just trying to pin point an area. Basically you get down on one knee, stretch your arms up, then try and touch your opposite hand to opposite foot behind you. Check these pictures to aid my terrible explanation.
There are many variants of hip flexor stretches. That one is just my favourite. This video shows you a few more.
If you have tight hip flexors and suffer from hip pain, start adding these exercises and stretches into your workout, and you will see a difference. If you have some favourite exercises for loosening your hips, leave a comment and we’ll discuss them.
Being able to stretch your hip flexors will loosen them a lot, but taking it one step further and releasing them manually will be even more effective. Use a combination of the two and you can’t go wrong. Hitting your Hip Flexors isn’t the easiest task, and takes a few little tricks. If you have a tennis ball at home, then you have the tools.
Lying on your stomach, you can place the tennis ball directly under your Psoas, which you will find about 1.5- 2 inches to the right or left of your belly button. It helps to raise the ball up with a book, or something substituting as a block. You should hold that position for at least 30 seconds, or until you feel a release. For more information on how to release all the muscles in your hips plus many many more, make sure you check out my new self releasing guide!