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How to Stretch Your Hip Flexors
The best stretches for tight hips.
Why does it seem like every time a yoga teacher asks students which areas of the body they want to focus on, almost every person in class screams, “Hips!” Are we all suffering from collective hip tightness? Why is everyone’s hip flexors driving them crazy?
“Sitting for prolonged periods without intermissions of movement or supplementary strengthening will definitely lead to tightness in the hip flexors,” says LA-based yoga teacher Hannah Dawe. But these days, who isn’t sitting for prolonged periods of time? Between online conference calls and staring at our phone too much, it seems like we’re all sitting more than ever.
According to a recent study, one in four people sits for more than eight hours a day. Even worse, one in ten people sits for more than eight hours and they’re physically inactive the rest of the time. Of course, sitting most of the day often cannot be avoided but that’s exactly why it’s so crucial to show your hip flexors some love. Here are our top tips.
How Do You Know Your Hip Flexors Are Tight?
Hip flexors are a group of muscles near the top of your thighs that play a key role in moving your lower body. Each time you take a step, you use your hip flexor muscles. So you’d think it would be easy to tell if they were tight or not, right? Wrong. Pain associated with tight hip flexors often shows up elsewhere in the body. “A sign of tight hips can be tension in the low back or loss of mobility in the spine,” says founder/teacher of The Sculpt Workout Kate Alvarado. “This can impact posture and spine strength. If it’s uncomfortable to stand with your shoulders back or you can’t hold that posture for very long, it can mean you have tight hip flexors.”
If you’re still not sure if your hip flexors are tight, Dawe recommends the Thomas Test. Lay on a table with your hips close to one end. Bend one knee toward the chest and extend the other leg so it’s off the table. If the thigh of the extended leg is higher than the hip, it’s likely the hip flexor is short. If the leg drops lower than the hip but you still feel “tightness,” it might mean that the muscle is weak or overused.
“Tight, short hip flexors can pull the pelvic bowl forward,” Dawe says. “This affects the position of the spine and inhibits one's ability to stand in an alignment that is energy efficient and lessens wear on the joints.”
Stretching The Right Way
There’s no right or wrong time to stretch your hip flexors — just doing it at all is what counts. “The best time for dynamic stretching is when you can make time,” says Dawe. “Consistency is vital to creating change. Better to do five minutes five times each week than 50 minutes once a week.”
One thing that shouldn’t be ignored when stretching your hip flexors though is focusing on your breath. “Breathwork is a HUGE with these stretches,” says Alvarado. “In fact, I’m not sure they can work without it. Breath helps keep you present in the pose, relax and calm the nervous system and allow the muscles to do the same. Counting your breath can also help you stay in a pose longer.”
The psoas muscle (the primary hip flexor) weaves throughout the pelvis to the head of your femur. When the breath is chronically shallow and short, the muscle becomes shorter and contracts. “You can influence the length of the psoas muscle through pranayama practices that lengthen the breath,” Dawe says. “Try laying on your back with one hand on your chest and the other of your abdomen. Notice where and how you feel the breath moving. Can you feel the breath soft and fluid in the abdomen? Give it time to explore.”
The only mistake you can make when it comes to stretching the hip flexors is doing anything that feels forceful or takes the body past a normal range of movement in the joints. Be gentle with yourself, and make sure to wear stretchy, comfortable clothing that allows for optimal mobility.
Get To Work
To best stretch hip flexors, Alvarado loves a “good old half pigeon.” But if that doesn’t feel good on your knees, figure-four pose on your back is a great alternative. For more targeted, specific hip flexor stretches, these are two of Dawe’s favorites:
1. Low lunge.
From a forward fold, step one leg back and lower the shin. Walk your hands on top of the front thigh. Firm through the glute and hamstring of the back leg and lift the frontal hip bones toward the bottom ribs. Stay for 10 breaths, feeling the breath move three-dimensionally in the abdomen and rib cage. Repeat on the other side. Observe - were there any differences from side to side?
2. Glute bridge variation.
Lay on your back with knees bent, feet hips width apart. Push into the feet to lift the hips and place a yoga block or thick book underneath your sacrum. Bend one knee toward the chest then start to straighten the leg while keeping the hips heavy on the block. Slowly lower the leg toward the ground without letting the pelvis tilt and then lift the leg just as slowly. Repeat 5-10x on each leg.
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