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.
Disclaimer: Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.
An issue that’s becoming
more prevalent in my practice is lack of ankle mobility, particularly with
dorsi flexion (foot flexes up toward shin).
I’ll hear comments about how calves always feel tight even though the
individual is always stretching them out.
While the calves feel like they have an issue, the problem might stem
from somewhere else. In a case where I
hear comments such as above, looking at the body globally and assessing postural
alignment can help find the source.
Two fairly common postural
patterns that are just about guaranteed to produce limited ankle mobility as
well as many other problems that I won’t dig into in this article are “sway
back” and “hyper lordosis.” In both
cases a dysfunction through the core triggers compensatory patterns in order
for the body to keep balanced.
Sway Back – In the case of the sway back posture the pelvis
shifts forward off the plumb line usually presenting with a posterior pelvic
tilt and flattening of the lower back.
There are many possible reasons for this that may include weakness in
the transversus abdominis (TVA), imbalanced internal and external obliques,
glute weakness, poor sequencing etc. But
it’s the lack of support through the core that displaces the weight creating an
“S” like posture when viewed from the side.
With the pelvis shifting forward, the upper torso needs to shift back
making the head shift forward. In the
lower body knees will usually lock out in hyper extension and due to the angle
that the weight is being driven through the tibia, a constant posterior glide
at the talocrural joint (ankle) stresses the Achilles tendon.
Hyper Lordosis – With hyper lordosis a slightly different “S” like
pattern forms as the pelvis dumps forward in an anterior tilt which tends to
create a flatter upper back and exaggerates the arch in the low back shifting
the torso forward off the plumb line.
The weight displacement of the upper body causes the lower body to
compensate by pushing the pelvis backward as well as the knees in a lockout
position. As with the “Sway Back”
posture, this places the tibia at an unfavorable angle to bear load through the
There are a number of
other issues that are also formed with these postures, but since this article
is about tight calves, I’m just going to highlight how they are affected. In both the sway back and hyper lordosis
cases, these postures produce a constant stress on the calves through both the
knee joint as well as the ankle joint. The
calves are in a lengthened state crossing the knee and working hard to fight
hyper extension and stabilize the joint.
Through the ankle, because of the way the weight is being distributed
through the tibia (lower leg) and the angle that it is forced to meet the talus
(foot bone), they’re again stretched and working hard to combat the posterior
glide and stabilize. The body’s nervous
system will perceive these areas as being unstable causing the calf muscles to
brace for stability making them tight. No
amount of stretching will remedy this type of tension. In order for mobility to take place in any
joint, there needs to be stability for your nervous system to allow the
To address the constant
tension through the calves, postural improvement is needed first to place the
load of the body in an optimal position where the joints are stable. Improving the function of your core will
generate the greatest success in these situations.
In this video I explain the compensatory patterns and offer a simple tool to help improve your posture.