Tight hip flexors are common these days. Here’s how to get more out of your hip flexor stretching.
We’re going to use a PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) technique, also known as MET (muscle energy technique). Some benefits of using this over a passive stretch are:
Getting a deeper stretch
Building a neuromuscular connection
Creating mobility, not just flexibility
Longer lasting effect
How does this work? By using a submaximal contraction of the same muscle we are stretching followed by the stretch itself, we can take advantage of a response called autogenic inhibition. Without getting into the fancy terminology, this basically creates a relaxion response that allows us to sink a little deeper into the stretch. By contracting the muscle in the lengthened position we’re creating neural pathways that let the brain and body know we can use this muscle in this lengthened state. Knowing we can use the muscle begins to create a new range of motion that you can build control with. Control of your flexibility is mobility. This gives you a longer lasting effect.
Isometrics can be a great way to strengthen weaknesses throughout a range of motion in a movement.
In this example I’m using an assisted low range isometric squat, but you can take the principle and apply it to anything. Use that pause to connect with your muscles and feel what’s working, what’s not, what should be. Take the time while in that pause to figure it out and get everything responding the way it should be and then groove it proper. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so find it and strengthen it.
I’ll typically start people between 2-3 sets of 3-6 reps with 5-6 second pauses per rep. I like this for slowing down mechanics and working on grooving proper patterns.
I’ve found this exercise to be an excellent way to get people comfortable with the bottom position of a squat. (Note: Make sure the range of motion is there first.)
Most of us are one-side dominant in our daily activities. We typically open doors, carry groceries, get in and out of vehicles more frequently on one side than the other. Over time these unconscious movements add up and create imbalances in our body which can sometimes lead to insidious aches pains or injuries. One of my favorite stretches that can both expose imbalances from left to right and help restore some balance is the Banana Stretch. Here’s a quick video tutorial! Hope you enjoy!
Our hips play a huge role in our mobility. They are at the center of where all the action takes place. Just about every way we move involves the hip joint in some capacity, whether it be direct or indirect when we initiate movement, forces travel through the area. It’s needless to say that keeping them healthy will have a huge impact in our overall well being and quality of life.
So, how do we keep them healthy you ask? With 21 muscles crossing this incredible piece of architecture you might think that the answer is going to be complex. Many experts will give you numerous stretches and exercises to take to task however the most important thing to do is keep them greased by keeping them moving regularly through all their movement ranges. This is something that should be done daily however most of us have set patterns throughout our day that have us using our hips in a very limited capacity and so they become limited to that.
There are 6 primary ranges of motion that the hip joint provides for us:
Flexion – when the thigh bone moves forward ahead of the hip.
Extension – when the thigh bones moves backward behind the hip.
Abduction – when the thigh bone moves out to the side of the hip.
Adduction – when the thigh bones moves across our mid-line.
External Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points out away from the body.
Internal Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points in toward the body.
Do you move your hips through all these ranges in a deliberate manner daily? Chances are that you don’t and by limiting the range of motion and freedom of your hips the cascade effect of compensatory patterns and the insidious onset of pain occurs.
To help mitigate this terrible outcome, I’m going to provide you with one simple dance that takes just seconds to perform to keep those hips greased and mobile daily. Whether you’re young, old or currently experience some form of discomfort, this little jig has got you covered. I have to give full credit to Kevin Darby, strength coach/educator extraordinaire and the authority in Canada for Fascial Stretch Therapy, as I picked this up from his playbook.
You can read this description, but the video provides a clear and easy visual as well as instructions. While my mother is from South America, you’ll see that I clearly didn’t inherit those well greased dance hips often associated with South American populations. Enjoy!
Step 1: Take one foot and plant it to the ground. Remember, plants don’t move so this foot will stay where it is for the whole dance as we maneuver around it.
Step 2: Take your other foot and step forward. (Planted foot hip is now in extension)
Step 3: Take that same foot and step back. (Planted foot hip is now in flexion)
Step 4: Now take a step across your planted foot to the side. (Planted foot hip is now in adduction)
Step 5: Step over to the other side. (Planted foot hip is now in abduction)
Step 6: Step back over to the other side crossing that planted foot and facing your whole body that way. (Planted foot hip is now in internal rotation)
Step 7: Now step back over to the other side again and rotate your whole body to face that direction without moving that planted foot. (Planted foot hip is now in external rotation)
Can you see how we’ve just covered all of the primary ranges of motion for our hip? It’s genius! You can repeat these steps and each time you go through them as your hip frees up, you can take larger and deeper steps increasing the range of motion.
We have an annual hill climb challenge at Active Life Condition called the Grind. It’s about a 2.2km trail that ascends 237m up Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario. With this challenge seems to come a sudden increase in the amount of hill climb training volume and in the past, this has led to the surfacing of knee aches and pains. I wanted to highlight an often-overlooked weakness that can contribute to knee pain to help mitigate these issues.
Often the knee itself isn’t the initial problem but becomes the primary concern when other structures in the body aren’t functioning optimally. Hips and ankles are the two most common areas that directly effect the health of your knee. When we look at the biomechanics of a hill climb, due to the incline and increased forward angle of the torso, the demand placed through the hips differs from walking or running on a flat surface. The force that is driven through the ankle and foot also changes dramatically due to these angles and combining this with the uneven ground surface of a trail, the demand for ankle and foot mobility intensifies as well. Having the stability and awareness to maintain the proper alignment to channel these forces through your body in the safest most efficient manner is crucial, and what we often see is the poor knee having to take up the slack being sandwiched between rigid or unstable hips and ankles.
The glutes get a lot of attention when it comes to hills or stairs, but I find the hip flexors tend to be a little more overlooked. With an incline they are required to move the thigh higher into a range of motion often not used and generally weaker. This leaves them prone to quicker fatigue and compensatory patterns occurring to achieve the hip flexion movement. The videos below lend an explanation as well as an exercise tip to help create strength within this range. Remember, this is just one of many things that could be occurring, it’s important look at the big picture, and take everything into consideration. Enjoy!
In the past I’ve mentioned how I’ve felt that the hip adductors seemed to have been a little neglected with the glute focus that’s been so prevalent in the past few years. I’m happy to see a lot of higher profile “guru’s” starting to bring them back into the fold again due to their importance in core, pelvic and knee stability.
If we look at their functional anatomy we can see that they play a huge role in core and pelvic stability. In my experience I’ve found that many patients with deep core dysfunction also have dysfunction with their hip adductors or vice versa. If you follow the deep front net of Thomas Myers Anatomy Trains, this makes sense as you can see how these structures are interwoven with one another.
In my practice I’ve found a lot of people unable to coordinate this sling which leaves them very vulnerable to back strains or more serious injuries. In working with a soccer team over the winter months (who won a tournament in Italy in the Spring. So proud of them!), my colleague and I noticed many of them were giving up a lot of power due to this instability. This movement prep exercise was discovered to try and help them connect and strengthen this line. I’ve found it to be quite effective with most populations. It requires the deep core and hip adductors to work together creating that link. Give it a try!
Isometric Supine Straight Leg Raise Adduction
Attach a large O-band to a secure anchor about knee to mid-thigh height.
Lie on your back with body parallel to anchor placing feet inline with the anchor point.
Position yourself away from the anchor point at a distance that will provide a challenging tension for you.
Loop the O-band around the mid-foot portion of your inside leg.
With the band under tension, clamp your body into the ground maintaining a neutral spine.
Use your hamstrings and glutes of the outside leg to squeeze into the ground and anchor your sacrum and hips keeping them square with shoulders throughout. Lock down this position.
Ensure that rib cage does not rotate or glide laterally out of alignment with hips. These are common errors.
Start movement by raising inside leg up to about 30-45 degree angle and squeeze in toward mid line of body keeping leg straight with knee and toes point up toward ceiling. Hold contraction for specified time.
Slowly release but do not let leg drop before repeating next repetition.
The majority of the injuries that I see with my patients are usually the result of some form of structural imbalance. What do I mean by this? Let me try to explain…
Our bodies are designed in such a way that everything is interwoven and in a pre-tensioned state. When everything is balanced as it should be, we are able to adapt to and withstand different ranges of internal or external forces. This is what makes our bodies so resilient. To give you an idea of how this works, Fascial Stretch Therapy founders Chris and Anne Frederick often use the example of a geodesic dome (think of a dome tent). When the poles and tent fabric are placed together and under balanced tension, you have a durable attenuating structure. By themselves, the fabric or poles wouldn’t be able to stand erect with integrity if at all. The term tensegrity is used to describe this sort of structural phenomenon.
So, we have bones which act similar to the poles of the tent, and soft tissues such as fascia, muscles, ligaments, etc. that are like the fabric. If any of the soft tissues are tensioned more or less than they should be, the entire structure will be unbalanced and compromised.
Of course we can still function, but not optimally and usually at the expense of an area of our body that is compensating for this imbalance. You can drive a car that’s slightly off alignment for quite some time, but more wear is put on the tires and they will need to be changed much faster than if the car were aligned properly. Sometimes that extra wear might result in a premature flat. Often times our joints are like the tires of a misaligned vehicle. This is why I am so keen on structural balance as it can provide a solution or prevention to many of the ailments we experience.
I hope this simplified video explanation of tensegrity helps!