Hip Flexors – Why Sitting is Bad (part one)
Whilst watching a documentary about a tribe living in a rainforest I was fascinated by the supple movements of the hunters. They were running, side-stepping, dodging, leaping, ducking, squatting, climbing, throwing – moving in every plane at every level – this is what we were made to do! Hardly surprising that our sedentary lives cause us more physical (and mental) grief than the physical life we evolved to lead.
Sitting for long periods of time is responsible for a host of problems that begin at the hips and have knock on effects around the body (honestly, I’m not exaggerating!).
When we are sitting, a group of muscles called the hip flexors, are shortened. The hip flexors unsurprisingly are responsible for flexing the hip – that’s pulling your knee upwards towards the torso in a standing position or sitting up from a lying position where the torso moves towards your thighs (a sit-up).
If we sit for too long, the shortened position becomes the hip flexors’ default position. Tight hip flexors are also overactive and overactive muscles cause their antagonist muscle (the muscle that causes the opposite action) to stop functioning and become inhibited. This is called reciprocal inhibition. Think about when you’re flexing your biceps how your triceps are relaxed. Antagonist muscles cannot both be contracting simultaneously. So, if the hip flexors are permanently shortened and active, the antagonist hip extensors (primarily the gluteus maximus) are inactive and become weak. Inactive, weak glutes are extremely common and can contribute to lower back pain, overactive hamstrings, an overactive piriformis as well as a host of other problems.
Since the glute max’s primary role is to extend the hip, you’d be forgiven for thinking that doing some hip extension exercises to strengthen it would solve the problem. But bear in mind that if the glutes are under-performing, their synergist muscles (that assist the primary muscle in its action) will be doing more than their fair share of work, causing fatigue, overuse and muscle imbalance. So, the first thing to do is to give the glutes a fighting chance by stretching the hip flexors.
Here’s an effective hip flexor stretch: –
In a kneeling lunge position, move your body forwards to create a stretch to the front of your thigh and groin. Now, engage your pelvic floor muscles and glutes and tuck your tailbone underneath you to tilt the pelvis backwards and flatten your back. As you lean forward, you should try to maintain that flattened back. You should feel the stretch deep in the front of your hip. To increase the stretch, raise your arm above your head on the side being stretched. I recommend holding for at least 30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times a day, although realistically just the once would be better than nothing.
Now have a look at some effective ways of activating and strengthening the glutes.