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.
It’s well known how important core stability is, and
while static exercises like planks are a great place to start and learn how to feel
and engage your core for stability, you’ll need to advance and be able to
maintain stability with weight and or force transfer. I’ve found that most people are good with sagittal
plane stability (resisting a forward or back bend), but poor with coronal (side
to side) and transverse (rotational) stability.
The latter two are especially important for all populations as something
as simple as getting in and out of your car requires the awareness and
stability of all planes.
The Palloff Press is an excellent movement choice that incorporates stability work in all planes, with focus on the transverse and coronal while adding some force transfer through the press. I like starting with the half-kneeling variation to promote the locking in of good pelvic stability, and for people with tight hip flexors and quads, you get to work in a nice open hip position on the knee down side. I’ll initially use an isometric hold at the top of the extended range to make sure that people are able to feel and adapt appropriately to the force transfer.
This is a fantastic movement to include in your movement prep. or warm-up exercises.
See the video below for a full demonstration and explanation.
Here’s what it looks like:
Anchor a Large O-Band or resistance band to a stable object at about shoulder height when you are kneeling.
Face 90 degrees away from the anchor so that your torso is perpendicular to it. Holding the band with inside hand first and overlapping with the outside, center hands over solar plexus (mid-torso) and move away from the anchor so that there is resistance on the band. (Distance will depend on your current level of comfort and strength.)
Assume a half-kneeling position with inside knee down on the ground inline with hips, shoulders and head. Outside leg should be forward and flexed 90 degrees at hip and knee with foot maintaining full contact on ground. Ensure pelvis is level and lock it in by contracting glutes, hamstrings and core.
From this position slowly press hands forward straight away from torso fully straightening arms and maintaining shoulder height.
Keep hips and shoulders square with one another and resist the torsion of the band. Hold arms extended position for specified time and then slowly bring hands back toward torso.
Remember to breathe throughout.
Complete full set with weaker side first before switching.
Recommended variables to start with:
2-3 sets, 4-8 reps per side, 3-5 second holds in extended position.
Mobility is a buzz word that is often used interchangeably with flexibility, however mobility is not just being flexible, but the ability to control your full range of motion and flexibility with proper muscle coordination patterns and awareness.
If you want to maximize performance and movement efficiency, mobility is a must! So, it’s not just about being flexible, but also being in control throughout your entire motion. You need to be able to own it. Here’s where implementing things like slow reps and isometrics come into play. Before you start to just move weight through a movement, you should be able to go through that movement in slow motion and be able to pause it at any point throughout it without deviation. If you can do this, you will reduce your risk of injury and overload and create a more fluid and efficient movement pattern.
Here are a few techniques and examples you can try:
Isometrics – I’m a huge fan of these! In gymnastics just about everything we did included being able to hold the movement position isometrically before being allowed to progress to the sexy stuff.
Example: The Back Extension – this is a movement I always see performed poorly in the gym. Most of the time I see a swing up with momentum. Try just holding your body at the top position for 5-10 seconds and see how it goes. You can try pausing this movement at any point in the arc and holding to see where you may have weakness. It’s a humbling experience and will really make you see what muscles you’re working, and what ones you aren’t.
10 Second Negatives – One of the greatest power lifters of all time, Ed Coan talked about these at a SWIS conference one year. He explained how you should be able to control every aspect of your squat throughout its entire motion.
Example: The Squat – a lot of people like to rush through this movement letting gravity push them through the negative. Try counting out a full 10 second negative with your squat keeping the motion constant and smooth. This will allow you to feel every little deviation and instability you may have. Guess what? The more stability you have, the more force you will be able to generate and the bigger your real lift will be.
Think of the Opposite – I encourage this with every movement in order to stimulate the full use of your stabilizers as well as help maximize the agonist contraction.
Example: The Bench Press – instead of just letting gravity push the bar down to your chest, think of pulling it down instead. Envision squeezing or rowing it through the negative. You’ll find a much smoother and solid movement, and actually get a nice explosive pop into your positive out of the bottom!
This video gives a contrast between the typical momentum rep, and isometric rep and a slow controlled rep.
In my last post I went over the McGill Curl-Up as a movement to assist in core stability to help prevent low back pain. I mentioned that it is the first movement in Stuart McGill’s Big 3 movements. The movements should be performed in the order of the Curl-Up, Bird Dog and Side Plank. I’ve previously posted a demonstration of the side plank, and thought that I should probably finish off the series so that you have a full reference. So today I will outline the Bird Dog.
The Bird Dog involves the extensor muscles in your posterior chain (back line) and can be performed with legs only or arms only as a regression. Another option for regression is to begin with lifting your hand and knee only slightly at first and making sure that you are able to maintain your balance and stability. From there you can slowly begin to extend in small increments over time until you are able to perform the full movement.
Taking your time with these exercises and focusing on the execution makes all the difference. It’s the small nuances that separate okay results from great results. These movements in particular are meant to be very controlled and deliberate. Just flying through them using momentum and zero thought which is unfortunately how I generally see these performed, will not yield any benefit. Please take your time and have patience.
This movement begins in the quadruped position with hands placed under shoulders, knees under hips and spine in neutral position. Your hips and shoulders should be square with one another maintaining this throughout the entire movement avoiding torsion.
Engage your core similar to how we did with the McGill Curl-Up by thinking of cinching a corset tight around your waist, holding in your pee and poop, and bracing as if you will be punched in the stomach. There should be a slight draw in of your navel and you should still be able to breathe with this engagement. Maintaining the slight draw in of the navel will be more challenging in this position as gravity is pulling down on your insides and your torso isn’t resting on the floor. Your TVA will need to work a little harder.
Slowly raise opposite leg and hand and extend them thinking of placing them into position. Think of length through your torso and reaching to touch the wall of the room you’re in with your extended hand, and the opposite wall with your extended leg as opposed to raising up toward the ceiling. In fully extended position, leg and arm should be aligned with your torso, spine still in neutral position from head to tailbone and shoulders and hips still square.
Hold extended position for specified length of time before slowly returning to start position and repeating with opposite arm and leg.
Avoid excessive arching through your lower back and any twisting through your torso or lateral hip sway.
The video below outlines the full Bird Dog movement, but feel free to modify as necessary. Thanks!
Recommended Variables to Start:
2-3 sets with 60 seconds rest in between, 6-10 alternating reps, 5-10 second isometric holds each rep.
When it comes to the topic of low back disorders, Stuart McGill is considered the top authority. His research and methods have assisted countless people. He’s authored many books such as Low Back Disorders and Back Mechanic that go into detail regarding many low back issues and how to treat or avoid them.
Low back pain is one of the most common conditions that I see, and in many cases the lack of spinal stability is due to weakness through the core region. An easy fix is to incorporate some basic movements into your daily routine, to keep your core active and strong. Stuart McGill has a series of movements often referred to as The Big 3 that include the Curl-Up, Bird Dog and Side Plank. In today’s post I’m going to outline the Curl-Up. This movement focuses on the anterior (front) abdominals and Transversus Abdominis (TVA). It is generally the first movement performed (after performing your Cat-Camel to warm-up to reduce spinal viscosity) of the series.
I’ll usually see this movement being performed with too much trunk flexion. The rectus abdominis (6-pack) is the primary muscle used for trunk flexion and because this movement involves some flexion through this area, it’s easy to dominate with it. However, the TVA is the deep muscle that provides the most spinal stability and it wraps around the torso creating a cylindrical like compression when engaged. This is the muscle that we would like to be the most involved with this movement. To trigger this engagement we need to focus on the compression with only some flexion. To do this, try imagining a corset cinching tight around your waist. Your TVA muscle is essentially a built in corset. There will be a slight draw in of your navel (belly button) toward your spine, and then a small amount of flexion is added in the form of the curl-up to maximize the contraction. So the curl-up isn’t the primary goal, it’s maximizing the contraction of the TVA which requires more cinching and some flexion. When you add the curl-up portion of the movement, if you notice your stomach bulge out, so your navel is no longer slightly drawn in, you’ve lost that cinching engagement and are now primarily using your rectus abdominis. If this happens, regroup and start over. You may need to start out just working on the cinch without even adding any flexion, or if you can manage some flexion, you may need to start with some assistance from your elbows adding some support on the ground.
Below are the instructions and notes to perform this movement. Please watch the video for the full description. Enjoy!
Lie on your back on the floor with one leg bent about 90 degrees so that knee points up to ceiling and place hands under the arch of your low back with palms down so that finger tips touch one another. If placing your hands in this position is uncomfortable, you may use a rolled towel as a bolster.
Engage core by thinking of cinching a corset tight around your waist, holding in your pee and poop, and bracing as if you will be punched in the stomach. There should be a slight draw in of your navel and you should still be able to breathe with this engagement.
Slowly raise your torso off the ground just enough that shoulder blades are hovering, maintaining a fairly neutral spine from head to tail bone with only slight flexion. Think of being long and cinching around waist as opposed to crunching. Hold position for specified time.
Slowly return to start position and repeat. Switch bent leg each rep or set.
**Note: Only raise torso as far as you can control your core and stability. If you begin to crunch and your low back arches excessively (loses contact with your hands), or you notice your stomach pushing out instead of slightly drawing in, back off a little until you can control the movement throughout. You may need to assist with a little pressure into the floor from your elbows until core becomes strong enough to support without.
Recommended Variables to Start:
2-3 sets with 60 seconds rest in between, 3-5 reps, 5-10 second isometric holds at the top of each rep.
This video/article is intended to assist those who have consulted with their health practitioner regarding their specific condition and received this exercise as a prescription. Please consult your health practitioner before performing any exercise on your own.
The side plank is an often prescribed exercise intended to help build core strength focusing on the oblique abdominal muscles. It’s an exercise that I find many people brush off as relatively easy. They feel that to really get those oblique muscles they should be torquing and twisting their torsos. If we’re being honest, a medicine ball twist certainly looks like more fun that just hanging out in a static hold. So, I can appreciate the allure.
I always feel that simple is often better, and if you think a side plank is too easy, then you are not doing it properly. I don’t think that anyone would argue that gymnasts have some of the strongest mid sections around, and as a former gymnast I can tell you that before we ever started twisting, we spent a lot of time in basic static holds. Another consideration is that if you’ve already got some sort of low back discomfort and you’ve been told to “strengthen your core,” picking twisting movements that require you to already have a strong core are not going to help you, and you’ll probably end up hurting even more.
The side plank is a fail-safe exercise to build a strong mid-section. If done right, it is highly effective and difficult at nearly any level. It’s a rare occasion that I see it performed properly, so I hope that this article will help you with nailing down a proper side plank.
To execute this exercise, lie on your side on the floor and prop your torso up by using the floor side arm and placing the elbow stacked under your shoulder with forearm flat on the ground.
Align your body so that head, shoulders, hips and ankles are all square and stacked with one another.
Raise hips off the ground creating a straight line from the top of the head through to your feet with a neutral spine as if a steel rod were passing through you.
Core should be engaged by thinking of cinching a corset tight around your waist, holding in a poo and pee, and bracing as if you will be punched in the stomach. You should still be able to breathe with this engagement. Hold for specified time.
Think driving elbow and forearm through the ground to give shoulder space and proper support. Shoulder blade should be braced against rib cage throughout movement.
Your body should have a slight tilt forward so that your shoulder blade follows the curvature of your rib cage and is in optimal position for support. The slight tilt will also put emphasis on the obliques. If stacked perfectly perpendicular to the ground, the load distribution begins to be shared with other lateral support muscles such as the quadratus lumborum (QL). This might be okay if that’s your goal, but I have found that most people are fine in this position, but as soon as the slight tilt is implemented, they start to collapse.
Slowly return to start position and repeat.
The most common error I see with this exercise is a twist through the torso where the shoulders are usually tilting forward and the hips are rolled back. This will give you the illusion that you can hold the position for a long time as instead of using your muscles, you are counter balancing the load. Shoulders and hips should remain square with one another. Avoid twisting and rolling back of hips. I find that balancing on the side of your mid-foot with your heel slightly floating off the ground helps keep you conscious of this.
See the video below for instructions.
Suggested Variables to Start:
2-3 sets with 45-60 seconds rest in between, 3-5 reps each side of 5-10 second isometric holds.