With the increase in sedentary lifestyles and jobs that require you to sit much of the day comes at a big cost for our bodies. Many people are plagued with tight hips and don’t even know it so they can’t fix it.
To begin you need to know the muscles that consist of the hip flexors. First is the iliacus, second being the psoas major and third is the rectus femoris. Often times the iliacus and psoas major are combined into one and referred to as the iliopsoas and are the strongest group of muscles in the hip flexors, connecting the spine to the femur. This is what helps pull the thigh up towards your chest which is the repetitive motion you do while running and also the position you sit in. Your hips therefore are constantly flexed and regularly shortening the muscle which leads to tightness and imbalances over time.
It is a big domino effect when is comes to muscle compensations in your body. Shortened muscles led to shortened strides which makes your gait abnormal. This is what creates the compensations that lead to a multitude of undesirable effects such as weakness, imbalance and possible injury. This is why strength training, stretching and mobility work is extremely important for runners and people that have a sedentary occupation or lifestyle.
The way your body compensates for tight hips is called lower crossed syndrome. Every muscle has an antagonist so for the hips it is the gluteus maximus. An antagonist is the muscle that relaxes to the opposing muscle that is flexing. More examples of these muscle compliments that are involved in lower crossed syndrome are: tibialis muscles and the gastrocnemius, adductors and the gluteus medius, erector spinae and the rectus abdominis. So if you have tight hips you might also experience lower back pain, tight calves and tight inner quads. You might also possibly have weak glutes, weak abdominal complex, shin splints and knee pain.
So there are many different ways to fix all these problems but we will only be talking about releasing the hips. Here are a variety of different static and dynamic stretches for beginners to advanced.
1. Crescent Lunge to Knee-up: Strengthens the glutes and hip flexors and is a dynamic stretch so it is good to do pre-workout to warm-up your body
2. Full-Range Figure Four: Good dynamic stretch that opens hips and stretches glutes and increases range of motion. The picture is of just a static figure four stretch so to get the full range of motion just rock side to side
3. World's Greatest Stretch: Lunges are great strengthening exercises for all major leg muscles. In the lunge position you are lengthening the psoas of the back leg and also getting a stretch in the back with the reach up
4. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: Very easy beginner stretch. Static stretch that is done by kneeling and leaning forward keeping shoulders and hips square to the legs
5. Pigeon Stretch: This pose stretches the hip rotators which are the butt muscles and the hip flexors. This is a much more advanced and grueling stretch, especially if your tight, however there are different levels to it. To start off you can have the legs in the same position as the picture but with your torso straight up and arms supporting some of your weight. Then eventually move into full expression which is chest to shin with arms extended forward
6. Frog Pose: Stretches the inner thigh, groin and hips. This is an another more advanced pose. However you can modify the difficulty by moving your legs closer or farther apart. If you have issues with your knees make sure to cushion them with a mat or blanket. Always remember to maintain your breathe when doing intense stretching because it will help relax the muscles
One last thing that can help you a lot that isn’t exactly stretching but is similar is foam rolling. What you are doing when you foam roll is self-myofascial release which releases tension in your muscles similarly to stretching but many think the benefits are even greater. The only problem with foam rolling is that you need to roll directly on the muscle to get the effects and the iliacus and psoas major are not accessible from outside. These muscles lie within the pelvic girdle so they are surrounded by either bones or other muscles. However you can still roll your rectus femoris which helps in hip flexion. It is located on the the front side of the quad and runs all the way from the frontside of the iliac crest to the patella. It is important to know the origin and insertion of muscles because many people make the mistake of only rolling out one part of the muscle when you need to do the whole thing to find the tender spot.