Updated: Feb 21, 2019
This series of posts was created to help the polers and aerialists who have had muscle overuse injuries centering in the hip flexors. I have worked with numerous students, instructors and myself on several muscle-based injuries. One of the the most widespread injuries is the tight dominant hip flexor and tight hip flexors.
Tight Hip Flexors (Basic Stretching)
Tight Hip Flexors (Myofascial Release)
Tight Hip Flexors (Facilitated Stretching)
Tight Hip Flexors ( Weak Glutes and Hip Flexors)
Pole and aerial arts are forms of gymnastics, acrobatics, and pure strength training. When progressing strength correctly in training or class, it's easy to forget the difficulty in basic moves. Aerial and pole requires complex movement patterns from very early in the learning stages. The basic inversions in pole and aerial are hard, but several months down the road the body and mind have adjusted to the demands and the basic inversion is not a problematic move. Aerial and pole have a lot of repeat movement in certain muscle groups, the hip flexors are one area that activates every time for straddles, tucks, inversions or any bend in the middle.
Guess what muscle group is active in this movement?
How the Hip Flexors Work
During an inversion the core and hip flexors activate to aid in lifting the legs and hips over the head. The hip flexors are an integral part of our muscular system, they originate at the back of the spine in the low back region and wrap forward and over the hip joint, connecting down the front of our legs and insert at the knee. The primary movement in flexion, example lifting the leg contracts the hip flexors. The abdominals and adductors help this movement too. The rectus femoris and Illospoas muscles are the major movers.
Why Your Hip Flexor is Tight.
Overuse, Repeat Movement Patterns.
First thing to know, muscle groups work together to perform a movement. If one muscle is tight or injured or weak the opposing muscles and helper muscles will end up taking on the burden. This can happen from muscle overuse and repetitive movement, like doing inversions two hours a night for four nights a week. The muscle gets tight and shortened and stops firing correctly therefore putting strain into a different group of muscles. In the case of the hip flexor, the adductors and the calves may try to take over flexion when the hip flexor is shortened. What can happen is not only pain in the hip flexor due to tightness, but pain on the inside of the thigh down to the knee because the hip flexors are no longer firing correctly and the adductor (inside thigh muscles) are taking up the slack. The calves may get tight and stop firing correctly too, adding more pressure onto the adductors.
Do you sit for long hours every day? Sitting at a desk is also a repeat movement pattern and can cause tight hip flexors.
Weak Glutes or Weak Core.
The core, hip flexors and glutes are all tied together. The glutes help stabilize the pelvis and if they are not firing, the hip flexors will take on the job of pelvic stabilization and this can also lead to tight hip flexors. If the abs are not firing properly or are not strong enough, then the hip flexors kick in and toil away for the abs. Developing core strength is another reason learning aerial movement with progression is important. Working moves that the body is not ready to perform can lead to overdevelopment and underdevelopment issues. So if your glutes and abs are both not firing properly, it's double trouble in the hip flexors. Also a tight or stronger side in the core can cause problems as well.
Favoring a Dominant Side.
If one hip flexor is shortened, the other hip flexor can be weak, such as tight right hip flexor and weak left hip flexor. This throws the pelvis and hips out of alignment and this misalignment can then strain the QL in the low back and throw the shoulders out of alignment. The body is linked together and having a strong side and a weaker side can produce chaos.
What a dominant hip flexor may activate or misalign
1. Pain in the tight hip flexor(s)
2. Pain in the pelvis and hips due to misaligned sides
3. Weak non-dominant hip flexor
4. Pain in the inner thigh and knee (adductors taking on flexion when the hip flexor is too tight)
5. Pulling on the QL and subsequently the rhomboids and traps, pulling the shoulder girdle out.
6. Tight calves
How do I know if my Hip flexors are Tight?
Tight Hip Flexor Lunge Test
Try a knee to the floor lunge stretch and see if one side is tighter then the other. Try to square the hips forward and release the back hip toward the floor to activate the hip flexors. You can be flexible and still have shortened hip flexors. Is your dominant side tighter?
Tight Abs, Obliques and Hip Flexors Stretch Test
Try reaching the arms overhead in a tall mountain pose and bend side to side in Reed Pose, look in a mirror, is you range of motion limited on one side. This stretch may give you a lead into which side is tight for abs and hip flexors.
How Do You Stand
Do you tend to shift your weight onto one foot and rest on it? Pay attention when standing around during class, when talking while standing or waiting in line. Most people favor a side and shift onto the leg unconsciously. Constantly shifting to one side can also tighten the hip flexor in the favorite leg particularily if you shift then release the core.
Discover how to stretch the hip flexors in our next post Stretching Tight Hip Flexors