Lower Cross Syndrome

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute Weakness?

Lower crossed syndrome, as originally described by Vladimir Janda several decades ago, is commonly sited to describe the muscle imbalances observed with anterior pelvic tilt posture.

Janda Assessment and Treatment of Muscle ImbalanceJanda described lower crossed syndrome to explain how certain muscle groups in the lumbopelvic area get tight, while the antagonists get weak or inhibited.  Or, as Phil Page describes in his book overviewing the Janda Approach, “Weakness from from muscle imbalances results from reciprocal inhibition of the tight antagonist.”  Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances: The Janda Approach is an excellent book that I recommend if you’re new to the concepts.

When you look at a drawing of this concept, you can see how it starts to make sense.  Tightness in the hip flexors and low back are associated with weakness of abdominals and glutes.

Lower Cross Syndrome

 

I realize this is a very two dimensional approach and probably not completely accurate in it’s presentation, however it not only seems to make biomechanical sense, it also correlates to what I see at Champion nearly daily.

Yet despite the common acceptance of these imbalance patterns, there really isn’t much research out there looking at these correlations.

 

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute Weakness?

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute WeaknessA recent study was publish in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy looking at the EMG activity between the two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swing.  While I enjoyed the article and comparision of the two KB swing variations, the authors had one other finding that peaked my interest even more.  And if you just read the title of the paper, you would have never seen it!

In the paper, the authors not only measured glute EMG activity during the kettlebell swing, but they also measure hip flexor mobility using a modified Thomas Test.  The authors found moderate correlations between hip flexor tightness and glute EMG activity.

The tighter your hip flexors, the less EMG was observed in the glutes during the kettlebell swing. [Click to Tweet]

While this has been theorized since Janda first described in the 1980’s, to my knowledge this is the first study that has shown this correlation during an exercise.

 

Implications

It’s often the little findings of study that help add to our body of knowledge.  This simple study showed us that there does appear to be a correlated between your hip flexor mobility and EMG activity of the glutes.  There are a few implications that you can take from this study:

  • Both two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swings are great exercises to strengthen the glutes
  • However, perhaps we need to assure people have adequate hip flexor mobility prior to starting.  I know at Champion we feel this way and spend time assuring people have the right mobility and ability to hip hinge before starting to train the kettlebell swing
  • If trying to strengthen the glutes, it appears that you may also want focus on hip flexor mobility, as is often recommended.  While a common recommendation, I bet many people skip this step.
  • This all makes your strategy to work with people with anterior pelvic tilt even more important.  Here is how I work with anterior pelvic tilt.

So yes, it does appear that hip flexor mobility correlates to glute activity and should be considering when designing programs.

 

11 replies
  1. Geoff Dakin
    Geoff Dakin says:

    Using the classic drawing (which you are using), the antagonists (glutes, hamstrings and abs) are pulled taut and are often “weak”. However, if the hips are hyperextended, which seems to a be an ever-more common variation on this theme, things get more complicated in a hurry (at least in terms of presenting a one-size-fits-all overview of the tension relationships).

    These antagonists are often very “tight” as well, because this postural pattern often involves very active/dynamic self-regulation/perpetuation in the form of a frickin’ muscular tug-o-war. Just ask anyone whose hamstrings are perpetually overwhelmed, pulled
    taut by their quads what happens when they feed their hamstrings a little slack! Instant hamstring spasm. Those hamstrings are typically weak, but a ‘long’ or ‘taut’ label tells me why they’re weak. Anyway, any muscle that is perpetually held away from being at its normal resting length is not particularly healthy, flexible or strong. The traditional labelling works, but there is clearly room for improvement.

  2. Geoff Dakin
    Geoff Dakin says:

    These structures are undoubtedly related, but let’s agree to change the verbage. I’m inclined to believe that the variations of this postural pattern are much easier to understand (and therefore more reliably influence positively) if we change the labels. When the pelvis rotates forward excessively there are SHORT lumbar, adductor and quad/hip flexors. These muscles are mechanically placed in passively shortened positions and adapt to those positions. ‘Tight’ can mean pulled taut or contracted/shortened and tight. If you aren’t present to differentiate, so are reading the description in a report, the distinction needs to be made, since the implications are 180 degrees different from one another. In the classic version your chart is portraying, yes the quadriceps, lumbar erectors and addictors will all be short and probably “tight” as well.

  3. Daniel John
    Daniel John says:

    I “think” I knew this, but it really helps that there is some research backing this up. I’m a huge fan of the Swing mixed with Goblet Squats and/or hip flexor stretches, but this is getting me to think that it is not JUST stretching but actually building a better glute. I really appreciate this…great stuff.

    • mikereinold
      mikereinold says:

      Exactly Dan, I agree, this is something we all sort of noticed over the years but nice to see some info behind it. I couldn’t have said it better, the sequence seems to work better together. Glute development without mobility, and vice versa, doesn’t seem as effective. Appreciate you taking the time to comment!

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