The Hip Flexor Stretch
I woke up yesterday morning, made a cup of coffee and went straight to writing. I ended up sitting for about 8-9 hours straight. I noticed a little twinge (wait is that a word? eh, let's go with it) in my lower back after a while. I immediately knew what was happening and went to my go-to hip flexor stretch.
Is Sitting worse than smoking?
In today's post, we'll not only be covering the hip flexor stretch, we'll also talk briefly about how sitting is [possibly] worse than smoking cigarettes and how it's effecting your fat loss attempts.
According to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.
(Yeah, I was shocked to hear this statement too.)
Dr. Levine continues to explain that, sitting, not only increases our risk for obesity, but also the risk of cancers (like lung, endometrial, breast and prostate), heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Some of his recent analysis and many other studies show that, each hour we spend sitting, takes about 21 minutes off of our lives (while smoking removes 11 minutes off of our lives).
Here's what Dr. Levine found:
- 1We burn 50 less calories per hour when we sit (compared to standing)
- 2Sitting can lead to muscle atrophy and tightening of the muscles on the front of the body and even lead to chronic low back pain.
- 3Prolonged sitting can reduce insulin (our transportation hormone) sensitivity and increase our risk of insulin resistance.
Pretty crazy, right?
Sitting is one of the main reasons you're struggling to get stronger, lose weight, and fit better in your clothes
Our body/joints are controlled by two opposing sets of muscles: extensors and flexors, these muscles MUST work together in unison to allow us to move gracefully.
Sitting for a prolonged period of time results in the muscles on the front (anterior) of the body to shorten/contract (these muscles are generally flexors, hence the name hip *flexor*). This chronic shortening/contraction results in your anterior muscles becoming tight or over-active.
Which creates a long term reciprocal inhibition.
In order for the anterior muscles to contract, the opposing muscles of the posterior (backside) must relax. This chronic lengthening/relaxation of the muscle, results in your posterior muscles (the muscles that use the most energy) becoming weak or under-active.
So what does this have to do with fat loss? First, checkout these two pictures real quick:
The muscles that use the most energy (i.e., burn the most calories) like: the glutes and hamstrings can no longer do their job (accelerate hip extension) because the opposing muscles like the hip flexor are tight.
Essentially the hip flexor is putting the brakes on your glutes and hamstrings. These are the same muscles that allow you to perform explosive movements like sprints and kettlebell ballistic exercises (i.e., swings, cleans, and snatches).
Quick note, did you notice the picture on the left?
According to Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3, For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds. This may or may not be the reason behind the increased cases of migraine headaches but, I think it's worth looking into.
The Hip Flexor Stretch – The Fountain of youth?
This is arguably the best stretch to release the hip flexor (it's not the only one). I talked about reciprocal inhibition (RI) earlier. In today's episode of Movement Monday, we will use the hip flexor stretch to leverage RI in our favor.
The hip flexor (the muscle on top of your thigh responsible for bringing your knee towards your chest) and the glute are neurologically connected. Through RI, if you contract the glute, the hip flexor must relax.
You might have to do a little soft tissue work first; like 5 minutes of foam rolling. This will reduce the adhesions (knots in the muscle) temporarily and restore mobility.
The moment you restore mobility, it's essential to back it up with some strength work. Enter the hip flexor stretch. I've said it before, you must have mobility to access your strength but, you must also use your strength to control your mobility. Strength and mobility are not mutually exclusive.
The set up – Use your strength:
Start in half kneeling, with your legs in a 90/90 position. Be sure to keep your hips level. Once you're stable, posteriorly tuck your pelvis by contracting your glute of the down leg.
You will immediately feel a big stretch in your hip flexor. *This* is reciprocal inhibition in action.
From there, keeping your glute tight, shift your weight forward to enter the hip flexor stretch. Be sure to use your breath to take you through the stretch. After each stretch, return to the starting position and relax the glute.
Then re-engage the glute again to put the hip flexor on stretch and repeat. (Always reset the glute between each stretch.)
*NOTE* avoid going too far into the hip flexor stretch. It is a very small range of motion. If you go too far, instead of stretching your hip flexor, you'll be hanging off the ligaments of your lower back.
Reps and sets:
Perform anywhere from 3-5 stretches per side or until you feel you've released the hip flexor. Ultimately, use your best judgement.
Tactic: If you're in the middle of training, performing the hip flexor stretch between sets of swings or deadlifts is not a bad idea but, don't spend all day there. 😉
Give this a try and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.