Hip Mobility Week 4 - The 1/2 Kneeling Hip Flexor Mobilization
By David Drinks
I’m back this week with part 4 of the hip mobility series! I hope you’ve been practicing your leg raising and lowering that we went over last week, and are now ready for the next mobility drill.
In week 4, we’re still focusing on improving the straight leg raise test that we showed you in the self-assessment video a couple weeks ago. As I alluded to last week, the leg that’s raising may not be the only problem if you’re struggling to pass the straight leg raise test.
While it is important to have enough mobility on the back of the leg that’s being lifted, it is equally as important to have enough mobility on the front side of the leg that remains on the ground. Stiffness in either the front or the back of the legs, or a combination of both, will limit your ability to pass this test.
As we also talked about last week, being able to achieve at least an acceptable level of mobility within your straight leg raise pattern is crucial to avoiding potential problems with pain or injury when you need to use that pattern to walk, run, climb, lunge, or perform any other similar motion.
Basically, if you can’t perform this pattern laying on your back, it’s also not going to look so good when you’re on your feet doing a dynamic movement. What’s more, not only will it not look so good, but it will also cause you to compensate and get the needed mobility from somewhere else in the body. This usually leads to unpleasant consequences.
So, if you’re limited in your leg raising ability, then you’ll want to start practicing today’s hip mobility drill – the ½ kneeling hip flexor mobilization – in addition to the mobility drills we went over last week.
Check out the video here to learn how to perform it properly:
As you can see, this version of the hip flexor mobilization can correct many of the problems in proper form that we often come across. Most of the time, a failure to create core and pelvic stability – just as I talked about last week – will prevent you from being able to successfully mobilize the hip flexor muscle group.
If you look carefully at how I demonstrate it in the video, you’ll notice that when I perform it properly, with proper core engagement and pelvic positioning, there’s little movement through my upper body. Instead, the focus is entirely on moving the leg I’m kneeling on into hip extension in order to stretch the front of the thigh and the hip flexor muscle group located on the front of the hip.
Unfortunately, what I often see when people go to perform hip flexor stretches on their own, is just the opposite. The back collapses, the pelvis drops forward, and instead of mobilizing the hip flexor muscles, they’re just mobilizing a bunch of things that we don’t want to be mobile (like ligaments of the hip, the hip capsule, and ligaments of the spine).
When someone performs a hip flexor stretch in this improper way, they almost always feel like they don’t get any stretch unless they move WAY into it. So, they glide as far forward as they can and still don’t feel much stretch. So, they determine that they don’t have tight hip flexors. Maybe, maybe not.
If you take a moment to understand where the hip flexors attach on the body, you’ll see why performing a “hip flexor stretch” with a collapsed back really isn’t a hip flexor stretch at all.
First, however, the hip flexor isn’t a muscle. Instead, the “hip flexor” is really just a catch-all term that refers to a group of muscles on the front of the hip that together perform the action of flexing the hip (i.e. bring the knee toward your chest).
While there are a number of muscles that play a role in flexing the hip, there are a few main players that we refer to as the “hip flexors”:
· Psoas Major
· Psoas Minor
· Rectus Femoris
· Tensor Fascia Latae
Of these six, the Psoas muscles are the ones that connect the spine to the legs, as they attach to the lumbar spine, as well as to the femur (or the thigh bone). Because of this, you really can’t get a quality stretch on these muscles if you don’t maintain your low back position. As soon as you collapse the back and arch it, you put some slack on the psoas muscles and don’t allow that true hip flexor stretch to happen.
The other muscles all attach to the leg (femur or tibia) as well as to the front of the pelvis. That means that as soon as you dump the pelvis forward and lose that neutral pelvic position, you’re putting some slack on these muscles and preventing yourself from getting a proper hip flexor stretch.
With that in mind, the only way that we’ll truly know if you have hip flexor tightness is to first put you back into the proper core and pelvic position by engaging the abdominal muscles, and squeezing the back-leg glute muscle hard.
As a matter of fact, quite often if you attempt to squeeze both your abs and your back-leg glute muscle to put you in what we call a posterior pelvic tilt (i.e. tucking your “tail” underneath you), you’re going to feel a pretty intense quad and hip flexor stretch without even moving forward at all!
Don’t believe me? I’m not the only one talking about this. Here’s physical therapist, Mike Reinold demonstrating what he calls the “True Hip Flexor Stretch”:
So, to truly mobilize the hip flexor muscle group, you really need to focus on core stability first. You must get into the proper core and pelvic position, and the hip flexor stretch with the dowel rod that I showed you today will help you do just that.
When you set up for the hip flexor stretch, grab a dowel rod or PVC pipe, set up in a good 1/2 kneeling position, and drive the dowel down into the ground. Doing that will create tension throughout the core, and help you maintain the proper position while you stretch the hip flexor. If you can maintain core tension while squeezing the back-leg glute muscle, I guarantee you’re going to feel a deep hip flexor stretch.
Making this mobility drill a part of your routine can put you on track to better hip mobility and a better straight leg raise pattern!
The hip flexor stretch, as with pretty much all of the mobility drills that we’ll go over during this series, should be performed often if it’s something that you need to improve.
I usually like to incorporate one set of 5-8 reps on each leg into a warm-up routine. This way it can be done multiple times per week before each workout. Of course, it can be done as often as every day, if needed, and if you want to.
As far as how long you should hold the stretch on each rep, I typically like to focus on holding it for no more than 5 seconds before resetting. This allows you to make sure that you’re maintaining good core and glute tension throughout the stretch. It also ensures that you are working on mobilizing the hip flexor by moving in and out of the stretch, which can be more effective than just holding it for 30 seconds straight.
However, I also like to incorporate breathing into the hip flexor mobilization, and so I often have clients hold for 1-3 deep breaths rather than just counting to 5. This serves two purposes. Number 1, it ensures that you’re using breathing to relax the nervous system and allow the stretch to happen. Number 2, doing a full exhale can actually help you engage the core even more effectively, as you must use the core muscles to fully exhale.
So, now you know how to do it and how much to do. Go ahead and start stretching those hip flexors!
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