Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Before you continue read part one of our series on Tight Hip Flexors. This post explains the anatomy of the hip flexors and how to check for tight hip flexors.
Stretching The Tight Hip Flexor.
First I recommend seeing a superstar physical therapist. I went to three PTs, a chiropractor, a physician, two massage therapists and an acupuncturist and they helped but we never got to the root of the problem. I think there are two reasons, first people still don't understand the muscular requirements or movement patterns for aerial arts and pole: it's dance, gymnastics, weight lifting and acrobatics combined. Second, we aerialists and polers are not only strong but flexible. The normal prescribed stretches for hip flexor release may not be enough for us to release.
What Actions to Take for Tight Hip Flexors
Make Sure You Are Engaging Your Abs and Glutes
Learning to engage the core and glutes simultaneously then performing a complex movement is demanding. If you are struggling with activation of the core and glutes, start taking Pilates. Pilates technique and basic movement can do wonders for understanding how to engage the core and connect other muscle groups to simple movement patterns. If you need some help with understanding how to engage the abs properly for aerial arts, check out this post. If you need to work on core strength because your hip flexors are working instead of your abs, here is a post on core exercises and here are posts on rotational core exercises and in-home core exercises. As you can see, this is a hot topic and you are not alone if you struggle with proper engagement.
Become Aware of How You Are Standing
This is the tricky one, because most of us are not taking notice of how we are standing at all times. We want to have even weight in both feet, softness in the knees and attempt to keep the toes semi-facing forward. Everyone has a natural standing posture, but we also have tendencies that may not be great for our bodies. Many of us do not realize we are favoring one side and shifting our weight into that side, then dropping the hip. This "dumping" often releases the abs and over activates the hip flexor and can the shortened/tighten a hip flexor. Also check in with your knees, we want to have softness in the knees, a lot of people have a habit of locking the knees or a knee while standing around. This brings us to the toes, everyone's hips are built differently and our natural turn out in unique. For alignment purposes we want to attempt to have our toes pointed more forward then outward. Next time you are standing around in class, at a party or in a line, note what your body is doing.
Stretch and Take Note of Hyper Mobility
How much stretching is happing after a class or training session? In the world of aerial arts and pole many of us are hyper mobile. Do note that you can be hyper mobile but not hyper flexible. Our industry is like rhythmic gymnastics, we love over splits and contortion and we tend to think that if you don't have an over splits you are not mobile. Wrong! The average person can barely touch their toes. Aerialists and polers should to be extra careful, most of us are actually very flexible and our joints are hyper mobile. A basic set of stretches may help, but you may need techniques beyond stretching to release a tight hip flexor. Hyper mobility greatly increases the chance of injury in stretching, particularily if the hyper mobile person is not aware or has not built strength around a hyper mobile joint.
Basic Lunge Stretch
Start with a knee down lunge stretch. I recommend putting some serious padding under the back knee. Start with the front leg at 90-degrees, square the hips and release the hip flexors down toward the floor. As stated above many of us are actually flexible and may need to walk the front leg forward to get to the hip flexor. This is the crux of the problem, if we are flexible but have tight spotsnormal stretches may not do it for us. Thus meaning, you may need myofascial release, PT, massage or other body work to get the hip flexor.
Lunge Stretch Variations
The stretch variations above are more extreme.
Foot up the Wall Lunge
Keep the hips square to the front, place the shin up a wall or pole and try to keep the ankle over the knee. Use blocks for the hands, this will help keep the torso upright. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Ankle Grab Lunge
Begin in a knee down lunge and reach the same side arm back and lift the back leg up to hold the ankle. If you cannot reach the ankle, try a strap around the ankle. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Please note that you need to protect the back knee with padding, not as seen in the photos, we are talking rugs and mats. These stretches are intense and are not for everyone. You need to have body awareness and realize it is ok to back down from a stretch. If you push too hard you may injure yourself.
For more about hip flexors, here are links to the rest of this blog series.
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)
Here is a past post on other Auxillary Hip Flexor Stretches.
The next post will be on releasing the hip flexors are myofascial release and muscle activation techniques.