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Hip Flexor Stretching the RIGHT way: Loosen Tight Low Backs and improve Posture

Today I want to talk to you about the best way to perform a hip flexor stretch for people that love to pick things up and put them down.  My method is called the “True Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Core Activation and Deep Breathing.”

“But Matt… Stretching? Seriously?”

I understand most of you don’t like to stretch.

Remember, strength is a skill. This stretch will help you acquire key strength skills so that you will stay on the Gain train to Swoleville…  Or just look and feel good. Yep.  It will do that, too.

With the “True Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Core Activation and Deep Breathing” you will accomplish the following.

  1.  You will stretch your hip flexors with precision.
  2. You will find and reinforce neutral posture.
  3.  You will practice deep breathing and core bracing.
  4.  You will feel your glutes and abs turn on.

 

The combination of these four things will improve gym performance and durability by teaching you how to move better and reduce low back stress.

Here are the common reasons why you lifters might need this stretch:

  1.  You are living in extension with ribs flared and pelvis dropped forward. We call this position excessive “Anterior Pelvic Tilt” or APT for short.

Over Extended HQ

 

  1.  When you lift in this extended posture, you cannot brace your core optimally.  You will overuse your hip flexors, quads and low back. These muscles get tight. They might ache.  Repeated movements with hyperextended posture can lead to more serious low back issues over time.Overextended HQ with Arrows, labels
  2. Your two most important muscle groups for lifting longevity, abs and glutes, are not able to perform their share of the work when you lift in ext.
  3. You have trouble getting your hips fully extended.  And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your stomach looks bigger as a result.
    Close Up on Hip Extension
  4.  Your breathing style can be described as chest breathing. Your breaths are shallow, and your chest rises with each breath.

Does this sound like you?

The most ergonomic way to lift weights and reduce reliance on your low back is with neutral posture.

Neutral HQ

With neutral posture, you can better utilize deep breathing and better bracing techniques that will allow you to use your glutes and abs more. This neutral posture can be learned and reinforced through stretching the hip flexor the RIGHT way.

What to Do:

Set up in a 90/90, ½ Kneeling position on a pad on the floor with one knee directly under your hip.

Place a full-length Foam Roller vertically in front of you at arm’s length and drive it into the floor with locked arms. Bingo. Abs are turned on.   Holding onto a PVC pipe or any other stationary object will do for this part of the drill.

Now for the subtle part.  Posteriorly tilt your pelvis by flexing your trailing leg’s glute as hard as you can. Glute Activation, baby!  Your belly button should come closer to your chest. Your ribs will be locked down, stacked over the pelvis.  Your “belt buckle” should rise, pointing directly forward.  You should feel a distinct stretch in the front of your hip. You have become Neutral Posture.

Lastly, take 5-8 deep diaphragmatic breaths, activating your entire core musculature, front, sides, and back.  Let this posture cement itself into muscle memory.  This is the posture you want to live, die, and breathe in.  This bracing strategy is your most important strength skill if you ever want to lift heavy weights.  Switch sides and repeat.

To progress this stretch, you can incline your entire body forward 1-2 inches and pull the grounded knee forward, utilizing friction to increase the stretch.  The knee should not actually move, but you can pull as hard as you can to put extra tension on the system.  Make sure to keep that postural alignment you fought so hard to achieve.

What Not to Do:

Usually people with tight hip flexors perform an old school stretch that looks like this:

FullSizeRender (14)

 

Don’t do this!  The problem is this version does not actually stretch tight hip flexors well. Instead, it stretches out your ligaments that comprise the hip capsule and encourages sub-optimal posture.


When To perform the “True Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Core Activation and Deep Breathing”:

 

1.  Anytime you will actually do it. Some is always better than none.

2.  During warm-up. 5-8 breaths per side.  This is my preferred method.

3.  In between sets.  Bench or squats, it doesn’t matter.  I especially like to superset this with an exercise that relies on full hip extension for correct performance.  Ex. Hip thrusts or Glute-Ham raises.

4.  As a cool down.


How to tell if you need it:

Your body will give you clues.  If your low back or hip flexors always feel tight and ache, you need this stretch.  Better bracing may be one piece of the puzzle.

You can perform a self-assessment. Based on the problems described and the pictures I provided in this post, look in the mirror.  Stand sideways. Are you living in extension?

If you are unsure, ask any chiropractor, physical therapist or qualified personal trainer, including yours truly.  They’ll be able to help you out.

And if you know you have trouble breathing and bracing correctly during your big movements, like anything else, it takes practice.  Perform this stretch.  Breathe and brace, baby.  Do not be afraid to regress to deep breathing while lying on your back. As this strength skill becomes second nature, you will be able to progressively breathe and brace during more advanced movements.  The end goal for the lifting enthusiast is to brace properly with squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and more.


Don’t dwell on the results of your assessment.  Do take action.

Based on a meta-analysis of APT research by Chris Beardsley, 6-13 degrees of APT is normal and is hard to change.

While you may always have APT, what I’m talking about in this article is reducing APT while lifting weights, which CAN be done.  You CAN build awareness of posture.  You CAN brace with a strategy that maintains neutral posture. This effort WILL improve movement and make lifting more ergonomical so you can get stronger and hit personal records for years to come.  My clients accomplish this every day.  I’ve taken 5 clients out of low back pain in the past 6 months just by improving their lifting posture and bracing strategy.

Share this video with a fellow lifter if it helped you out.  Pregnant women will love this stretch, too.

And reach out if you have any questions at bodysmithperformance@gmail.com.