All that time spent sitting may well be causing your hip flexors to get over tight, pulling your hips into a forward tilt and leading to low back pain, tight hips and a waddle when you walk.
Your psoas, or hip flexor, connects to your low back and to the inside of your thigh bone just below the top. Along with the illiacus, which it shares a tendon and connection, it is responsible for hip flexion. At the other end, the psoas can pull your low back into extension, creating a hip tilt, tight low back and general grumpiness.
If, like most people, you get up in the morning, and sit down to have your morning brew, then sit on your commute to work, only to sit at a desk all day. Then sit on your way home and sit on the sofa for a Netflix binge, or if you go to the gym to sit on a variety of machines, then your hip flexors get adaptively shortened. Basically, they get used to being short and tend to stick there.
So, what to do??
I see this as a 2 pronged solution:
- Stretch the hip flexors,
- Strengthen the abs and develop better control of the hip position, without excessive shortening of the hip flexors.
There is a right way and a wrong way to stretch your hip flexors. On the left in the pic above, too much forward lean may well get you a stretch in the quads, but since the angle at the hip doesn’t change, the hip flexor can’t be getting stretched.
To do this stretch properly, set up with your back knee below your hips, then tuck your pelvis towards your belly button. Squeeze your glute and think about pulling up with your abs. This should immediately create a slight stretch in your hip flexor and rec. fem. (the only quad muscle to cross the hip). Then ease forward an inch or 2 to increase the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds per side. You should feel the stretch ease with time.
Abs and Ass
Or more accurately, abs and hip control. But(t) that didn’t sound as catchy…
One of the roles of your abs is to keep your torso stacked on top of your hips. They do this by stopping your hips from rolling away forwards. Building some strength in your rectus abdominis and external obliques, both of which attach to the pubis at the bottom of your pelvis, can improve your ability to control your hip position.
Incidentally, building stronger glutes can also help with hip control as squeezing your glutes will help tuck your hips under the ribs.
Smart ab training
The issue with some ab exercises such as sit ups, capt chair and reverse crunches, is that they inevitably use the hip flexors to generate some of the movement. This adds strength and shortening to already tight and short muscles. Not ideal when you are trying to lengthen them.
6 exercises to help build a rock solid midsection.
- McGill Crunches
- Bird dogs
- Side Plank
- 1 arm loaded carries
- Pallof variations
There is no surprise that the first 3 in this list come from Dr Stuart McGill. His “big 3” are a must for those with low back pain, helping create a good base of strength.
McGill crunches are a sit up/ crunch variation that doesn’t put excessive flexion through the low back or use the hip flexors to pull you up. While the range of movement is small, it’s wickedly effective.
Bird dogs. When done well, your abs light up like a Christmas tree, when done badly, you’re flailing around like a muppet. Weight should be evenly split between your supporting leg and arm, not mostly out back over your leg. Work hard to maintain a neutral back throughout, don’t go too high with the moving leg. For a challenging progression, bird dog laterals are a great option.
Side plank. Shoulder stability, upper back strength, serratus, abs, hips, adductors all get a benefit from a properly executed side plank. If a side plank is an issue due to shoulder problems, reverse side planks work wonders!
One arm loaded carries. Go heavy, walk tall!
Pallof presses. Anti-rotation exercises get your hips and obliques working hard to maintain good position. I’ve found with clients that bad position through the hips (hips rolling forward into an anterior tilt) get a rough time with these exercises. think about closing the gap between your pelvis and belly button slightly to get your hip “bowl” sitting flat. Variations on a pallof press include band rotations.