Stretching - The Hip Flexors

Stability Stretching Series™: For Runners

The Stability Strategy to Improve Running Efficiency

The Hip Flexors

Purpose:
Lengthen the hip flexors while maintaining neutral alignment of the pelvis and low back

Common mistake:
Allowing the back to over-arch. Notice how I over-arch my back as I try and get a deeper stretch in my hip flexors (image 1). 

Why is this important?
Generally, the psoas and abdominal muscles (muscles that run from your rib cage and spine to your pelvis) tend to be more flexible than your hip flexors (muscles running from your pelvis to your thigh). Therefore when most runners attempt to stretch their hip flexors, which tend to be tighter or more taut than their psoas and abdominal muscles, they are usually over-stretching their psoas and/or abdominals. Over time this creates weakness in these muscles, which inhibits or weakens their ability to contribute to core stability.

To compensate for this weakness, the nervous system will try to protect itself from injury by reflexively tightening  the hip flexors. In essence, stretching in this manner contributes to and perpetuates the very problem it is trying to correct. 

Stability Stretching Strategy™

  1. Put one leg forward so that your hip, knee, and ankle-foot are in a straight line. Place your back knee on a rolled up yoga mat and/or stack of towels (this is important in order to maintain a level pelvis through the stretch). Align your trunk and pelvis so that your pelvis is tilted slightly anterior (forward) and there is a small, gentle arch in your low back (image 2).
  2. Place your hands against a door or wall and slowly lean forward without losing alignment of your trunk, spine, and/or pelvis. You should think of a wire attached gently to the back of your head and pulling you gently towards the ceiling.
  3. Once you move as far forward as you are able while maintaining your alignment, gently push your rear ankle and foot into the floor and breathe in. Let your breath out and slowly lean forward – you should experience a gently stretch in front of your rear leg. Repeat for 3-5 reps per side while remaining in optimal alignment. 

Remember: *Don’t confuse sensation with effectiveness!*
Don’t try to force this stretch in order to ‘feel’ a stronger stretch in your hip flexors. Just because you ‘feel’ a deeper stretch by forcing it doesn't mean it is better for you.Your nervous system will lengthen your hip flexors as much as it needs to when you respect the proper alignment and control of your core. Remember that optimal stability will improve your posture and running more significantly than will having great flexibility without the requisite stability.