It’s been a long time since my last post, but I’ve been pretty caught up in work and exercise has taken a bit of a back seat. Yet I’ve decided to write this article precisely because the dangers of tight hip flexors manifest themselves when you’re inactive.
Put simply, the hip flexors are muscles that enable flexing of the hip joint. I’ll discuss why you DON’T want tightness in them and then talk about how you can loosen things up. They’re pretty complex and I don’t want to bog you down in Kinesiology, so I’ll try and keep things pretty simple throughout.
Before you continue reading, let me just give a quick rundown of who should be interested in all of this. If you’re super-active and are aware of your good posture, you’re most likely fine. However, if you’re like me and you spend a lot of time sitting and think your posture is off, you most definitely should be interested.
Symptoms of Tight Hip Flexors
Here are some issues you might suffer from as a result of hip flexors which are too tight. Who would have thought?
- Poor posture
- Protruding belly, even if you’re skinny
- Injury prone (especially in the lower back and knees)
- Lack of explosiveness, sluggishness and fatigue
- Elevated levels of anxiety
- Reduced circulation
Check Your Posture (and belly!)
Now it’s kind of hard to diagnose yourself with tight hips just because you suffer from anxiety or feel sluggish. Loads of other things could cause that, right? But, if your posture doesn’t look right, there’s a very good chance your flexors are stiff.
When someone spends most of the day sitting comfortably, the flexors are always contracted and over time become short and tightened. And, as you know, these days that is hardly a rarity. How does this affect your posture? Well, as shown in the image below, your hips are essentially rolled forward, causing an excessive arch in your lower back and a bulging belly. Your chest also appears sunken, which kills your upper body aesthetics. Long story short, your pelvic inclination angle is the single most important factor in determining posture.
Personally, I always wondered why my posture sucked so bad. I’m a skinny guy, yet I had a pot belly! I trained my core a lot by doing crunches and planks, but if I relaxed my core my stomach would just balloon. Going to the beach meant I’d be spending the whole day consciously tensing my abs. What I didn’t realize was that acquiring rock solid abs did nothing to sort out the underlying structural issue that causes the belly to protrude.
If you go to the gym and do any of the standard big compound lifts, preventing injury should be your top concern. But if you’ve got tight flexors and bad posture, you’re putting your body at risk even with good form. It should be clear that if your back has an unnatural arch, you’re asking for pain in the back and knees following big movements like squats and deadlifts.
While the average person is keen to exercise their arms, legs or chest, they never really consider the hips. But the hips are crucial for your physical wellbeing. They are where the upper body connects with the lower body, and play an important role in almost every movement (twisting, reaching, bending, walking, leaning). If your hip flexors are restricted, you will simply not be able to efficiently utilize your strength and produce as much power. The hips are the center of your body and your main source of power and balance.
Athletes are especially aware that the hips are the number one power generator. Their flexors aren’t tight, but they continue to train them to further their power and mobility. You can check out James Harden’s hip circuit that builds explosive hips in order to jump higher.
Sounds Bad… What Else?
Elevated levels of anxiety – When you sense danger, your Iliopsoas muscle tightens up. This is a natural ‘fight or flight’ response as humans have evolved to adopt the fetal position when they feel threatened. If you have tight Iliopsoas (consisting of the psoas major and iliacus) your body is essentially tricked into believing you are in a dangerous situation, even when there isn’t anything to fear. Until you loosen these inner hip muscles, you’ll constantly feel more anxious and paranoid than you should.
Higher bodyfat percentage – Cortisol, the so called ‘stress hormone’ will always be out of balance as a result of the high levels of stress. It is known to make you store more fat (especially as belly pooch) while also reducing muscle mass. You’ll either have too much of it, or too little of it as a result of adrenal fatigue. Both cases result in more fat as a result of the reactions from other hormones.
Reduced Circulation and Sexual Performance – Tight psoas tilts your pelvis forward, compressing your hip socket. In turn, your muscles and tendons pull on your lower back, arching it into an unnatural position. Blood flow around the hips is restricted and your nerve responses below the hips are also delayed.
Your hip flexors become tight as a result of years of a sedentary lifestyle, but fortunately it’s only a matter of weeks when it comes to loosening them up. As you might expect, stretching is key when it comes relieving the tension and making them longer.
The most important stretch is the kneeling lunge. A demonstration is shown as the first exercise in the video below.
However, that alone isn’t going to solve the problem. I personally realized my hip flexors were tight years ago, but never fixed them despite doing exercises like these. It was simply hard to stay focused and motivated doing hip flexor movements without having a proper, effective exercise plan that I could stick to.
As a result for the last month or so I’ve been following the Unlock Your Hip Flexors program by kinesiologist and PT Rick Kaselj. He does a great job detailing why various problems result from tight Psoas and other muscles in the downloadable book. But the real gem is the exercise plan that consists of 10 exercises (as well as some variations) that is demonstrated step-by-step on video.
Rick doesn’t just advise on doing static stretches, but introduces mobility, dynamic and PNF stretches which accelerate the process of ‘unlocking’ your hip flexors. They’ll also challenge your quads and glutes which are related muscle groups. The exercises aren’t too difficult but you’ll really feel the stretches and you’ll also feel damn good afterwards (seriously, this is the first time I’ve come to appreciate stretching). No equipment is necessary, so you can do them in front of the TV or in your backyard.
If you’re still unsure of whether you even have tight hips, check out the video below by Rick Kaselj himself where you can do a little self check up:
For the first time, my posture improved and I don’t have to tense my abs to have a flat stomach. I also feel markedly less anxious than before, although I did also cut caffeine out of my diet. The best part, though, was that my erectile dysfunction is gone. If you’re a guy and you’ve never experienced it, you might not care. I certainly didn’t, until it happened, and let me tell you it sucks more than you ever imagined. I had the problem for around 4 months and even had my blood tested. Results came back good, so I was told the problem was psychological (how frustrating!). The fact my ED disappered a week after following Rick’s exercises can’t be a coincidence. Who knows?
If you’re living a sedentary lifestyle or you have an obvious anterior pelvic tilt, I’d definitely recommend Rick’s program as the go-to program to getting it sorted out. The body simply wasn’t designed to sit around all day, so unwind those flexors which have tightened up over the years!