Our hip flexors serve many vital functions. The goal of the hip flexor is to make it easy to for joints to move through their full range of motion smoothly. They’re responsible for important aspects of motion, like our ability to bend, run, or kick. Without our hip flexors, controlling the movement of our legs would be virtually impossible. Our hip flexors also work to stabilize the joints of the hips and lower body.
"As compared to a conventional deadlift, the sumo allows for greater recruitment of the adductors and a more stabilizing emphasis for the abductors," says Lindsey Cormack, a competitive powerlifter and CrossFit trainer. "Training sumo may feel less stable at first, but the balance requirement is what allows you to effectively train both the abductors and adductors."
How to do it: Rest the barbell across the upper traps on the back of your shoulders, as if it’s sitting on the collar of your shirt. Begin with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing about 15 degrees out, then widen your stance as needed so you’re comfortable. Make sure your knees are pushed out and your glutes stabilize your position. When you’re ready, push your glutes back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Aim for dipping your butt below your knees, but go down as far as you can without bending forward or losing balance. When you get the bottom of your squat, squeeze your glutes and drive up and through your heels back to start position.
There are cases of low back pain that have alarming causes, but it’s rare. Once in a while back pain is a warning sign of cancer, autoimmune disease, infection, or a handful of other scary culprits.7 Over the age of 55, about one in twenty cases turns out to be a fracture, and one in a hundred is more ominous.8 The further you are from 55, the better your odds.
Kneel with a wall or pillar behind you, knees hips-width apart and toes touching the wall. Arch your back to lean back while keeping your hips stacked over your knees. Take your arms overhead and touch your palms into the wall behind you. This bend does not need to be extremely deep to feel a great stretch in the hips and strength in the lower back.
Endometriosis (when the uterus lining grows somewhere else) can cause pelvic tenderness, which some women describe as hip pain. Pain from the back and spine also can be felt around the buttocks and hip, Siegrist says. Sciatica, a pinched nerve, typically affects one side of the body and can cause pain in the back of the right or left hip — the pain from sciatica can start in your lower back and travel down to your buttocks and legs.
Tight hamstrings are a common cause of lower back pain, and if you have a desk job, you’re at risk for both. Perform the seated forward fold paschimottanasana several times a day to stretch your shoulders, hamstrings, and spine. Sit on your mat with your legs straight, your feet together and flexed, your torso erect (but not arched), and your chin lifted like you’re proud to be performing this pose (which you should be!). Take a deep breath in, straightening up as much as you can, and then fold forward, walking your hands down the sides of your legs as you lower your torso as far as you can. Hold the pose for 8-10 breaths, and then slowly reverse the movement to raise your torso back up.
The good news is that a well-rounded strength-training program—like the one Félix provides below—can target every muscle in your hips to build better overall strength. Add this routine to your workout two or three times a week to target every muscle in your hips. For each move, complete three rounds of ten reps. If it’s a single-leg exercise, repeat those reps on each leg.
Sit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Acute back pain is often the result of muscle sprains or strains. Sprains occur when your ligaments are overstretched and sometimes torn. Strains, on the other hand, are caused by stretching — and possible tearing — of your tendons or muscles. Though the immediate reaction is pain in your back, you may also experience dull aches or discomfort in your hip.
To stretch your quadriceps at the hip, the idea is to do the opposite movement to flexion, i.e., extension. You can perform extension moves at the hip while standing, lying on your side, lying prone (on your stomach) and kneeling. Even basic stretches done at a pain-free level where you can feel a small bit of challenge, and that are held continuously for approximately 30 seconds may translate to better posture and less back pain.
Since someone has to do the job… (Side note: That’s one of the coolest things about our body. There is always a backup system. Always another set of muscles ready to take over. Even if they are not the most effective and it leads to pain and tightness.) So, who takes over for spinal stability when the abdominals aren’t fully working? The psoas of course.
Kneel on your mat with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and tops of your feet facing down. Bring your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart so they are slightly wider than your hips and press the tops of your feet evenly into the mat. Slowly sit down between your feet. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward. Then, lean back onto your forearms and slowly lower torso to floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Mike, I cannot thank you enough for this instruction on stretching the hip flexor muscle. Over the past three years, my driving has increased dramatically. It is not uncommon for me to drive 1,000 business miles or more each week. I have always been very fit, but now, in my early 50’s, I am finding that it is easier to get “wracked up” by things like excessive driving.
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.