I had three intertwined issues with my hips which I decided to address.
Tight hip flexors: these are haunting me for a long time now. I have tried to get my front splits for over a year now, and my hip flexors hinder me from getting them flat. It took me a long while to figure out I don’t do lunges properly, and a longer while to figure out I need strength in my opposing muscles to stretch properly.
Anterior pelvic tilt: I have a some degree of APT, not too bad but noticeable. APT is a result of a muscle imbalance, where the glutes and lower abs slack off their duty to stabilize the pelvis, and the hip flexors pick up that slack by tightening up. Usually I wouldn’t fret over it, but after reading about it I realized that it could be why it is hard for me to stretch my hip flexors.
Flat Butt: it’s not really an issue as such, but who wouldn’t prefer a rounder and bigger bum. The glutes, which are the muscles that make your butt defy gravity, also serve as the opposite muscle group that needs to contract to make the hip flexors expand. Considering the fact that it can be both pretty and useful I’m definitely putting it up as one of my goals.
What is the cause? The most common explanation is sitting all day, rounded forward with short hip flexors at constant static tension, glutes stretched out and lower abs flopping instead of supporting the spine. The answer to my vows seems to be address the root cause and get a standing desk. But while I wait for that one to happen, I’m doing this small challenge.
The challenge consists of doing a small daily practice that aims to strengthen and utilize lower abs, strengthen and utilize the glutes, and stretch the hip flexors.
For the lower abs I took my cue from this excellent post. The instructions were clear, and I felt sore the day after. They work, so I’m content.
- Deadbugs with exhale at the end. Lowering the leg and arm in a controlled manner and holding them low with the lower back flat on the floor is not much of a challenge to me. But that exhale really puts my core to work.
- Plank. The breathing into the stomach and constantly checking my form really brings the most from this otherwise underwhelming exercise.
For the glutes I tried to find exercises that not just work on the regular range of motion, but also strengthening in the ranges where the hip is extended and where it will turn useful for aerial split one very beautiful day.
- Squats. Starting off with 20 reps with intention to add more and use a weight.
- Glute Bridges. My chiro suggested this one for me as the best glute activating exercise out there. I make a point of engaging my butt and abs, posteriorly tilting my hips, and lowering the back from the top down (instead of touch butt first = anterior tilt = no good) which makes this much harder.
- Glute Bridge with a bent leg. Also from my chiro. In this variation you bend one knee to chest and either hold it with the hands or squeeze a ball between the thigh and the belly. It makes it harder to tilt hips forward and puts more load on the other glute.
- Glute Bridge movements. Got it from Cleo’s Rocking Legs and Abs. In a glute bridge, move knees in and out while maintaining a good form. Do hip circles to both sides.
- Donkey Kicks. With bent knee or straight leg, abs engaged. Bonus points for Fit&Bendy variation where you do a serious posterior tilt and only small pulses with the leg.
- Three Legged Downward Facing Dog. Lowering and rising the leg with control and trying to get it as high as possible.
- Sideways Legs holds. Not sure of the actual name. Standing on all four, extend a leg to the side, internally and externally the leg, move up and down, circles and other controlled slow movements.
- Foam rolling. Always nice to start off stretching by foam rolling. For this challenge I foam roll the quads and the inner thighs.
- Very poteriorly tilted lunge. Start with a regular lunge, tuck the tailbone in, engage abs and glutes, put hands on your hips and push with the thumbs on the back of your hips to tilt them even further back. Push forward until hip flexors are stretching without compromising the form. Pushing more will not mean stretching more with this one, because you need to engage a lot of different areas hard and the more forward you go the harder is to not compromise the form.
- Couch Stretch. The infamous couch stretch.
- Lunge with a bent back leg. Stretches out the quads, which are the secondary tightness contributor in our hips.
- Elevated back leg lunge. With a yoga block or chair, this will put the back leg in a different angle in relation to your torso. Increasing height does not mean increasing intensity level, it’s just different.
- Pigeon Pose. The front leg inflexibility may prevent this stretch to be effective on hip flexors, but it’s a good one for learning to remain upright with one leg extended back.
- Butterfly Pose. With proper foot placement, this pose is going to stretch the inner thighs, which seem to be linked to hip flexors tightness.
- Frog Pose. Another inner thigh stretch.
- Wall facing middle split. Sit in a straddle facing the wall, push your feet into it and let them slide to the sides, keep knees engaged and locked. This variation allows to control completely the intensity of the stretch, and works well on inner thigh flexibility.
Obviously, I’m not going to do all of these exercises each day. I’ll take a handful from each section depending how I feel that day. I’ll also have RLNA a few times a week, which contains a lot of the above in one form or another.
Let’s see how this plays out!