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The True Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexor stretch has become a very popular stretch in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so considering how many people live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt.  However, this seems to be one of those stretches that I see a lot of people either performing incorrectly or too aggressively.  I talked about this in a recent Inner Circle webinar on 5 common stretches we probably shouldn’t be using, but I wanted to expand on the hip flexor stretch as I feel this is pretty important.

I’ve started teaching what I call the “true hip flexor stretch.”

I call it the true hip flexor stretch as I want you to truly work on stretching the hip flexor and not just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.  It’s very easy for the body to take the path of least resistance when stretching.  People with tight hip flexors and poor hip extension often just end up compensating and either hyperextend their low back or stress the anterior capsule of the hip joint.

I explain this in more detail in this video:

The good thing is, there is a simple and very effective.  Once you adjust and perform the true hip flexor stretch, most people say they never felt a stretch like that before, hence the name “true hip flexor stretch.”

True Hip Flexor Stretch

To perform the true hip flexor stretch, you want to de-emphasize hip extension and focus more on posterior pelvic tilt.  Watch this video for a more detailed explanation:

Key Points

  • There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch.  When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching your hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris.
  • Keep it a one joint stretch.  Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee.  This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch.  They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
  • Stay tall.  Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip.  Most people are too tight for this, trust me.  You’ll end up stretch out the anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
  • Make sure you incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt.  Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt.  This will give your the “true” stretch we are looking for when choosing this stretch.  Many people wont even need to lean in a little, they’ll feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
  • If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder.  Many people have a hard time turing on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it is key.
  • If you still don’t feel it, lean in just a touch.  If you are sure your glutes and abs are squeezed and you are in posterior pelvic tilt and still don’t feel it much, lean in just a few inches.  Our first progression of this is simple to lean forward in 1-3 inches, but keep your pelvis in posterior tilt.
  • Guide your hips with your hands.  I usually start this stretch with your hands on your hips so I can teach you to feel posterior pelvic tilt.  Place your fingers in the front and thumbs in the back and cue them to posterior tilt and make their thumbs move down.
  • Progress to add core engagement.  Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement.  You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground.  Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.

I use this for people that really present in an anterior pelvic tilt, or with people that appear to have too loose of an anterior hip capsule.  In fact, this has completely replaced the common variations of hip flexor stretches in all of our programs at Champion.  This works great for people with low back pain, hip pain, and postural and biomechanical issues related to too much of an anterior pelvic tilt.

Give the true hip flexor stretch a try and let me know what you think.

Can Tight Hip Flexors Cause Tight Hamstrings?

I like the title of this article – Can Tight Hip Flexors Cause Tight Hamstrings?  It is sort of like a riddle, isn’t it?

I was working with a client recently that is knowledgable and understands anatomy fairly well.  He came to see me for several reasons, but high on the list was “my hamstrings are tight” followed by a poor attempt at touching their toes.  His hands were about 3 inches from the floor with his knees bent!  He added, “I don’t know why I can’t touch my toes, I have been stretching and working on my hamstrings for months!”

After spending time assessing him from head-to-toe, I shared with him that I thought his hamstrings were “tight” because his hip flexors were tight.  He thought about it for a second and then tried to call BS, stating “If my hamstrings are tight, shouldn’t my hip flexors be loose?”

My answer was “I don’t think your hamstrings are tight.”  At this point, he was about ready to leave the session, thinking I was the craziest person in the world, stating “but I can’t touch my toes?!?”

 

How Tight Hip Flexors Can Cause Tight Hamstrings

I bet you’ve had clients like this in the past.  They know just enough to be dangerous.  The answer to my riddle is more semantics than anything else.  Yes, hamstring tightness can limit your ability to touch your toes, but that isn’t the only cause.

We have actually done a great job understanding this concept over the last several years.  People like Gray Cook, Lee Burton, Brett Jones, and others have done wonders teaching many people that sometimes there are other reasons why you can have a limited toe-touch, specifically because of poor motor control and core stabilization.

However, hip flexor tightness can be a contributor as well, as backwards as that seems.  Again, it comes down to semantics.  I am actually talking about anterior pelvic tilt limiting your ability to touch your toes.

Here is an interesting an example.  Which hamstring is shorter in the below image?

hip flexor hamstring tightness

If you answered the left leg, you are guessing!  Without a comprehensive exam, you are just guessing.  What if his left pelvis was anterior tilted?  This would cause the proximal attachment of the hamstring to move superiorly and look just like a tight hamstring, such as in this example:

tight hamstring anterior pelvic tilt

Whenever someone appears to have tight hamstrings or can not touch their toes, I look first at pelvic alignment to see if they are in excessive anterior tilt.  Everything revolves around assessing your starting point.

As you can see in the example below, if you are starting in a large anterior pelvic tilt, then you are theoretically starting with the hamstrings long.  I used the simple math numbers of 45 degrees and 90 degrees, which is pretty excessive, but you see what I mean.  In a large anterior pelvic tilt, your normal starting position in this example would already be close to 45 degrees!

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

So, can having tight hip flexors cause tight hamstrings?  I’m not sure about that.  But I know that being in anterior pelvic tilt can limit your ability to touch your toes.  Again, it always comes down to:

Functional-Stability-Training-Lower-Body

Assess, Don’t Assume

This is one of my major concepts from the Functional Stability Training for the Lower Body program.  Assess alignment before you just start treating.  Resist the urge to just foam rolling, massaging, and stretching your hamstrings without truly assessing if this is the reason why you can’t touch your toes.  Sometime having tight hip flexors and an anterior pelvic tilt can limit your ability to touch your toes just as much.