Tight hips are an epidemic here in the western world. From preschool to retirement, we tend to find ourselves strapped to our seats, which wreaks all kinds of havoc on our bodies, tight hips being on of them. It's no wonder why people even in their early 20s have lost the basic range of motion that allows them to sit cross-legged without their knees coming up to their chests. To make things worse, tightness in your hips can trickle it's effects onto your lower back and thighs leading to things like spinal disc injuries and sciatica. Are you one of the many who has a hard time squatting down or lunging? Maybe you have an ache in your hip or lower back that just doesn't seem to go away?
This post will explore the basic mechanics of our hip-flexors and why they're especially prone to becoming tight when we sit for prolonged periods of time. I'll take you through exercises and stretches to work into your day to day routine. Just 10-15 minutes a day of these exercises will go along way to improve your hip mobility and get you on your way to healthy hips!
In a nut shell, the bundles of muscle and connective tissue that make up your hip-flexors start at your lower spine, extends over your pelvis and connects to your inner upper legs. Overall, they're responsible for pulling your thighs and your torso towards each other. For example, they help you lift you legs off the ground or pull your torso up when your doing a sit-up. The hip flexors also play a role in internal and external rotation of the hip. As a result of the way these muscles work and where they're located, when they get tight they can have huge impacts on your overall mobility in many simple day-to-day activities.
When we sit, our hip flexors are brought into contraction. Do this for hours each day, eventually the contraction in a seated position will become a chronic condition; your hip flexors become short and tight. If you think back to where the bands of muscles in our hip flexors are located and how they act, you can probably imagine what this will do to your posture. The tight and shortened hip flexors draw the pelvis forward bringing your back into a "swayback" alignment that can compress the discs of your lower spine. To make things worse, since your muscles in your butt are stretched and inactive here, they get weak and eventually loss their ability to fight this forward pull.The human body is meant for movement rather than sitting for 8 hours a day. It's no surprise that standing more frequently (in moderation) and having an active lifestyle will go a long way to maintaining healthy hip mobility. Before we get into exercises to overcome your tight hips, I just want to mention that prevention is the best remedy. Simply put, sit less and move more. If you work a desk job, see if your employer will allow a standing desk. If that's not an option, 5 minute breaks from sitting every half hour or so is a great compromise. Stand up, take a walk or maybe do some of the exercises below.
The following are exercises that will help you open your hips and understand the alignment of your pelvis. I challenge you to spend 10-15 minutes a day working on these or other hip opening exercises!
Samastitihi (Tandasana/Mountain Pose)
This is a great pose to start exploring the alignment of your pelvis. Stand at the front of your mat with the bases of your big toes touching and heels slightly apart, coming into what you feel is a neutral spine. Bring your fingers to the front of your pelvis bone. You should be able to feel a small and round protrusion on each side, called the anterior superior iliac spine or ASIS. These are good indicators of pelvic alignment.
If you tend to stand in a swayback alignment, your pelvis will be drawn down into an anterior tilt, which you'll be able to feel in your ASISes. If yours are pointed downwards, use your fingers to guide them up, bringing your pelvis into more of a posterior tilt instead. While a posterior tilt can create some problems if you keep your pelvis aligned there, as your spine be flattened and there will also be pressure on your low back, it's good to feel the difference. Now drop your ASISes a wee bit lower from your posterior tilt so that your spine is brought into a neutral position and your ASISes are pointed ahead of you. Work on keeping this healthy neutral alignment throughout the day in your day-to-day activities.
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)
If done with proper alignment, Virabhadrasana I can be a great hip flexor stretch. Stand with one leg forward and one back, they should be about 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Your front foot will be pointed forward and the heel of your back foot can stay lifted for now. Feel free to bend your back leg slightly. Draw your rib cage and pelvis to face towards the front of the room. Exhale and bend your front knee so that it's over your front ankle and shin is perpendicular to the floor, be sure not to bring your knee ahead of your feet.
Like we did above, find your ASIS with your fingers and make sure your pelvis is in a healthy alignment and not tilted downwards. By bringing your pelvis into a neutral position, you'll be able to feel a much deeper stretch at your hip flexors. If it's accessible, draw your back heel towards the mat, grounding the outer edges of your feet. If you've opted to move your heels towards the ground, your feet will be at about 45 degrees to your front foot. Wherever you are, stay here for 30 seconds to a minute and then repeat on the other side. Feel free to lift your arms overhead to come into the full variation of the pose.
source: spine center florida
Low lunges are a great way to open up your hip flexors and are especially beneficial if you struggle with Sciatica. From Downward-facing dog, exhale and step your right foot between your hands with your right knee aligned over your right heel. Lower your left knee to the ground, be sure to keep that right knee in place. Like we did in Warrior I, draw your rib cage and pelvis towards the front of the room. Slide your left knee back until you can feel the stretch in your left front thigh and groin, it should be a comfortable stretch and not painful. Come onto the top of your left foot.
On an inhale, lift your torso upright and rest your hands on the top of your thighs. Doing the same action that you did in samastitihi, draw your tailbone down towards the ground with your ASISes drawn forward. For a deeper stretch, place your hands on the ground, making sure your right knee stays aligned over your right ankle. If it's comfortable, you can either drop your forearms to the ground on the inside of your front foot or come back onto your feet and lift your knee off the ground. Wherever you are, stay here for 30 seconds to a minute and remember to breath! Repeat on the other side.
Thread the Needle
Come onto your back with your knees bent and thighs parallel at about hip distance apart. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, keeping your left foot in a flexed position with your toes drawn back. This helps prevent your foot from sickling, which can put stress on the ankle and knee ligaments. Keeping this alignment, pull your right knee towards your chest and "thread" your left arm through the space between your legs, clasping your hands around your hamstring.
If this is hard for you to do without pulling your shoulders off the ground, opt for a strap. For a deeper stretch, clasp your hands around the front of your right leg; only do this if your can keep your upper back from rounding off the ground. Whichever variation you choose, aim to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed as you open your hips. As you draw your right leg towards your right shoulder, press your left knee away from you. Here you should feel a good stretch along your hip flexors.
Thanks for stopping by, hopefully this post was informative. If you have any questions, queries, conundrums or concerns, leave them below in the comments, on The Eco Well's facebook page or shoot us an email!