It seems like everyone and there brother now-a-days knows that having shortened/tightened hip flexors can lead to a whole host of movement problems. And while I try not to write too much about corrective exercise, this is one vein that I feel compelled to tap!
So, we have a trillion gym go-ers, personal trainers and coaches stretching the absolute bejesus out of their hip flexors in an effort to restore the length to them. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, necessarily. It means that we are all paying attention and taking a step in the right direction. However, it doesn’t encompass the whole picture.
Let’s do a little story time with Todd. Over the past few months I’ve done quite a few assessments on new clients and in an effort to help out friends and such. A solid 90% of the people I did assessments on had short hip flexors. But guess what, they were also weak!
Just because a muscle is short and tightened doesn’t mean that it is strong. In fact, a lot of times it means quite the opposite.
So, we have an assload of people stretching their hip flexors (again, that’s a good thing) but not teaching them how to work at the new range of motion they’ve established. This, however, is not a good thing. If you stretch the hip flexors and give them some much healthier length without doing anything to train them at this new found length all you’ve done is make a weak muscle longer. Which obviously isn’t awesome. And we’re always looking for awesome!
The exercise that everyone is taught to avoid now is the sit-up (or curl-up). Coaches and trainers tell people to avoid the sit-up because it mainly trains the hip flexors and not the abs. Their logic being that training an already overly tight muscle is contraindicated. For the most part, I agree. Especially if the extensibility of the hip flexors hasn’t been improved.
However, if we restore length to the hip flexors with active mobilizations, PNF or static stretching and then activate the muscles at their new length with a movement that trains both hip flexion and extension we are on the right path. This will help to train balance throughout the hip. By using movements that activate the hip flexors and the contralateral glutes at the same time we can restore good hip flexor function without promoting imbalances.
So, what kind of movements are we talking about? Check out these Bad Larrys:
There are two sample drills that teach hip flexion and extension at the same time, but the possibilities are much greater. If you want to be able to run fast, squat heavy and have healthy hips your hip flexors need to be in good length and fire well. Stretch and activate!