Now before you start panicking, NO, we are not going to be doing the stretch you see above, but we are going to show you a REALLY important stretch…
Most people are aware of the importance of stretching, and we have covered the topic on the benefits of stretching in an older post that you can read here, but what I would like to focus on today is the importance of stretching your HIP FLEXORS. As a Physiotherapist, I consider this muscle group to possibly be the most important muscle group to stretch, as it not only affects athletic ability but also your posture, and subsequently, chronic pain.
First for some anatomy. Your hip flexors are comprised of 3 distinct muscles namely: Iliacus, Psoas Major and Rectus Femoris (bet you probably never heard of them?).
Iliacus and Psoas Major (often grouped together and called Iliopsoas) are pure hip flexors (bringing your knee to your chest), whilst Rectus Femoris is a hip flexor and knee extensor (as it crosses both the hip and knee joint).
If you have a look at the first picture above (left), you will notice that the Psoas muscle is attached to the lower part of your spine. Thus, if it is tight, it actually pulls your spine down and exaggerates the curve of your lower back (anterior pelvic tilt). Together with the other two muscles being tight, this can account for “hyperlordosis” and lead to lower back problems and pain.
So why do they get so tight? Surely if you are not exercising these muscle, there is no reason for them to become overly tight?
There are two main causes for this. Firstly, we sit way too much, and secondly, we all like to have a six-pack, so if we do get a few minutes to exercise, we tend to do sit ups…
Now I’ve said it before, “Humans were just not designed to sit all day long!”, so for the majority of people that sit most of their day, these hip flexor muscles are in their shortened position for hours on end, and as a result, they become shortened and tight. Then when you do finally stand up, they are “fixed” in this position.
The second point was on sit ups and most other stomach exercises. Most people don’t realize this, but if you do a standard sit up (i.e. lying on your back, knees bent and then curling your back to bring your chest to your knees), your hip flexors are doing about 70% of the work…. Whether you bring your chest to your knees, or your knees to your chest, its the same movement– HIP FLEXION! (on a side note, thats the reason a lot of people get lower back pain when doing sit ups-tight hip flexors).
So here come the Rescue Remedy:
Its called many different names, but we like to call it the PROPOSAL STRETCH- for obvious reasons
I teach 2 different ways of doing this, either as you see above (more effective as you are bending the knee as well, so you are also stretching Rectus Femoris), or by placing your back leg on a chair (below). If you are doing it right, you should feel the stretch in the front of your hip, and possibly also slightly on the front of your thigh. People that do a lot of squatting movements (Crossfit, gym, skiing etc), or lunges (squash, tennis etc) would benefit immensely from this stretch, as It could limit your ability to get into those positions.
Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat for 3 sets, at least 2-3 times a day (more if you are sitting all day long).
BY: Riccardo Vaccaro
Back injuries, Hip injuries, Lower Limb injuries