Starting in a seated position, place your bent right knee on top of your bent left knee. Try to have your knees perfectly stacked, one on top of the other, and to have your feet flexed to protect your knees. Both of your sit bones should be pressing into the ground. If this is not possible, then prop your hips up onto a blanket or pillow to allow equal and even weight on both sit bones.
You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the hips, but for many of us, our hips – or more precisely, our hip flexors – are tight, stiff and inflexible. If you’re an office worker you can probably thank sitting down at your desk 8 or more hours a day for your tight hip flexors. Habitual sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten – adjustable standing desks, anyone?
You can perform this exercise seated in a chair or on your back on the floor. In a chair, cross your left ankle over your right knee and then lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hip. On the floor, cross your left ankle over your bent right knee and then reach under with both hands and pull your right leg toward your head. Perform each variation on both legs.
Too much sitting is the enemy of stiff or achy hips, says Lisa Woods, a personal trainer and yoga teacher in Eagle, Colorado. The big problem, though, isn’t just the discomfort in the sides of your thighs. It’s the chain of pain that dysfunctional hips can create, including often-debilitating sciatic nerve pain that can start in your lower back and go down the backs of your legs.
How to: Sit down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you (a). Place your right ankle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot (b). Put your hands behind your body, fingertips facing away from your body and begin to press your hips toward your heels until you feel a stretch through your outer left hip. Keep your back tall and chest open (c). Hold for six to eight breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Back pain can suck the joy out of your days for week, months, even years. It can definitely be “serious” even when it’s not dangerous. I have worked with many truly miserable chronic low back pain patients, and of course the huge economic costs of back pain are cited practically anywhere the subject comes up. But your typical case of chronic low back pain, as nasty as it can be, has never killed anyone.
Good points on isolating the single joint hip flexors and avoiding compensations. I am curious about your perspective (and others) on why this is less likely to stress the anterior capsule? I tend to add trunk side ending before finalizing the stretch to bias the psoas. The stretch you have outlined seems like an iliacus and ant. capsule biased stretch. Thoughts? If I really want to protect the anterior capsule, I’ll also add a slight amount of hip internal rotation.
Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless traditions of the practice and teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings both internationally and online.
But mobile hip joints don’t just relieve pain. They’re also essential for walking, hiking, running, jumping, dancing, playing sports, and pursuing virtually any fitness goal safely and effectively. Want to develop stronger, more muscular legs? Hip mobility allows you to lunge and squat more deeply so you can reach your muscles’ potential. Want to avoid injury? Hip mobility improves range of motion so you can perform exercises more safely.
How to do it: With your bar on the floor in front of you, place your feet slightly narrower than hip-width apart. Make sure the bar is as close to your shins as possible, and position your hands on the bar, just outside your shins. With your shins perpendicular to the floor, flex your hamstrings and lift your butt up and back, extending your legs so they’re nearly straight, with only a slight bend in the knee. Slide the bar up and toward the shins. Then, bend your knees slightly and proceed to lift the bar all the way off the floor in a straight line. Extend your hips fully at the top and stand tall with neck relaxed, arms straight. Pinch your shoulder blades together, squeezing your abs and glutes. Keeping the bar close to your body and with a straight back, reverse the movement. That’s one rep.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks, then lift your hips off the ground and hold for about five seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down. Be sure to breathe throughout the exercise. As with the first exercise, you can work up to doing 30 repetitions, resting for a few seconds (or longer) between each. “If you start to get tired, stop and rest for a couple of minutes,” Pariser says.
If you’re lucky, you won’t notice your hips are tight until you’re trying to do the Half Pigeon pose in your yoga class. But if you’re not so fortunate, your tight hips are making themselves known every time you so much as walk to the bathroom or sit on the couch—expressing themselves in the form of lower back pain and muscle stiffness. Tight hips can even shorten your stride, slowing your 5K goal time!
Enthoven WT, Geuze J, Scheele J, et al. Prevalence and "Red Flags" Regarding Specified Causes of Back Pain in Older Adults Presenting in General Practice. Phys Ther. 2016 Mar;96(3):305–12. PubMed #26183589. How many cases of back pain in older adults have a serious underlying cause? Only about 6% … but 5% of those are fractures (which are serious, but they aren’t cancer either). The 1% is divided amongst all other serious causes. In this study of 669 patients, a vertebral fracture was found in 33 of them, and the chances of this diagnosis was higher in older patients with more intense pain in the upper back, and (duh) trauma. BACK TO TEXT
Stretching is your next move, but not just any stretches. "Before your workout, you want to go for dynamic stretches, or stretches that put the joint through a full range of motion," says Lefkowith. Moves like squats and lunges will get your muscles fired up (especially if you focus on squeezing your butt at the top of those squats), says Lefkowith.
Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Sarah Duvall, a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health and pelvic function, and who also loves to lift stuff off the floor while helping others do the same. She also has an awesome new course on Postpartum Corrective Exercise for fitness professionals which closes on January 22nd, so definitely check it out.
Tight hip flexors occur for a variety of reasons. Those who run frequently or engage in other activities that put strain on the hip flexors are likely to experience hip flexor tightness at one time or another. A blow to the hip or poor conditioning can also be causes of tight hip flexors. These causes can usually be attributed to tiny tears that occur to our hip flexors through rigorous activity.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift one foot a couple of inches off the floor. Then put it down and lift the other foot a couple of inches, all while remembering to breathe. “It’s like taking alternate steps,” Pariser says. Work up to doing 30 steps at a time.
Although some of us are familiar with a pinched nerve, which is associated with sciatic-like pain in the leg, irritation or inflammation of nerves in the low back region can also cause a sensation in the upper leg or hip region. It is important to realize there are many things that can go wrong in the spine. Remember, sciatica is not a diagnosis but, instead, a symptom of an underlying problem. It is possible to feel back-related pain in the hip region and upper leg as well. It depends on the nerves involved and ultimately the actual diagnosis. Back pain or hip pain is not a diagnosis but simply an explanation of the area of pain. Symptoms are correlated with physical examination and confirmed through x-rays and similar tests.
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.