Stretch or Strengthen! What Are Your Hip Flexors Asking You to do?Sep 19, 2023
I posted the following thread to my IG a little while back and it received a lot of traction.
I expanded on the foot/calf one already in this blog post. So here are some more details on the hip flexor piece.
I see two camps of thought going around when it comes to hip flexors:
1 - Your hip flexors ARE tight and short, you need to stretch them.
2 - Your hip flexors AREN’T tight and short, they are just weak, and you need to strengthen them.
I think a little bit of both can be true, but I don’t agree in full with either of those!
In my opinion:
A lot of times the hip flexors are chronically in a shortened position, but stretching them isn’t going to make much of a difference long-term unless we change the position.
In the anatomy drawing above, the hip flexors are on the front and the hamstrings are on the back. If/when the pelvis is more tipped forward the hip flexors are in a chronically shortened position. They will struggle to lengthen (aka. Feel tight) because of the position of the pelvis. And then layered on top, they will likely feel tight because they are weak and are just doing all they can to hold it together all the time. It’s a both/and situation. We need to optimize the position of the pelvis AND strengthen the hip flexors.
How do we address the position?
Enter the hamstrings! See them there in the drawing above on the back of the pelvis? We can use the proximal hamstrings, the hamstring right up at the top by the pelvis, to help stabilize and tip the pelvis back more into neutral. Keep in mind that neutral isn’t the butt just tucked all the way under!
Remember how I always say the body is smart? It subconsciously tries to create a quick fix that isn’t necessarily the “right” fix. A lot of times the unconscious strategy to do this is to just squeeze the glutes in an effort to tip that pelvis back. We don’t want this! It just adds another layer of compression on top. Can you say pancake butt?
Here are a few ways to help find those proximal hamstrings and orient your pelvis without squeezing your glutes. If you’ve been here a while they’ll look familiar. I use them a lot, for good reason!
This one practices moving the pelvis through its full range, tipping forward and back.
Then this one uses those proximal hamstrings to find a bit more neutral. Do not over-tuck, just start with dragging the feet and feeling those muscles on the back of the leg kick in. Think of the lift (just enough to slide a piece of paper under your butt) as more of a lift and spread (aka. no glute squeezing).
A lot of times that tightness can feel worse on the left, even pinchy. Often this is because that tip forward is even more pronounced on the left. If this is the case for you give this a try:
Once you are fully in the 90-90 Breathing position (aka. step through all the cuing in the video before adding this part), get heavier in the heel of the left and press your upper right arm into the ground like described in the “asymmetric arm” part at the very end of the video. This will help you very slightly turn to the left and tip that side back a bit more. THEN we strengthen it!
This is one of my favorites to start with because it encourages finding the hamstrings and the pelvis position first right in the exercise itself!
And of course, breathing matters too.
I know, I know. Eye roll, she’s talking about breathing again.
Just do me a favor and look real quick at where that other pesky hip flexor, your psoas, sits.
The psoas is a hip flexor that is integrated with the deep core muscles AND the diaphragm. With each breath, the psoas works with the diaphragm and deep core to facilitate respiration and spinal stability. Chronic “vertical breathing,” rib flare, and states of stress and anxiety can leave the psoas overworked and over-tensioned in a way that stretching can never touch. I’ll definitely plan to expand on this part soon
The point is, it’s ALL connected!
That’s why in my Women’s Running Academy we get to know your body AS A WHOLE - everything from your breathing and targeted movement and posture assessments to strength training and running gait all to have you feeling strong and keep you making forward progress toward your goals!
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