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How To Stretch Hip Flexors

“Why Are My Hip Flexors so Tight?” How To Stretch Hip Flexors (Release Or Strengthen?)

 

 

Concerning how to stretch hip flexors, I have seen, performed and taught every conceivable method of releasing them from tightness.

As a flexibility specialist, I stretched thousands of patients and athletes using the most popular muscle and fascial release techniques. I got so proficient with these stretch techniques, I taught seminars to other doctors and therapists…

As a neuromuscular therapist, I performed soft tissue techniques to release muscles from strain and tightness. I learned how to perform manual Trigger Point Therapy from a few masters.

As a performance enhancement specialist, I integrated PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching and neuromuscular therapy with dynamic exercise for reestablishing normal movement patterns for the muscles and fascia we worked on.

This journey was all in an effort to discover how to stretch hip flexors and release strain and tightness for two main reasons – to create more…

  1. Stability in the lower back and pelvis, and
  2. Mobility in the hips and the thoracic spine.

We have been in the habit of looking at certain muscles like how to stretch hip flexors, and thinking they are too short and tight. Here's what we'll cover in this post:

  • Logical thing to do with short tight muscles,
  • Primary hip flexors causing problems, &
  • 4 Reasons hips flexors are short and tight.

 

Logical thing to do w/ short tight muscles

In the past 15 years, with the help of some of the most renowned doctors, therapists, strength coaches, trainers and skills coaches, I have developed a much different view on how to treat these short, tight muscles. It has completely changed my understanding of how to stretch hip flexors.

If we have short, tight hip flexors, we should ask ourselves:

  • “WHY are they so short and tight?” And,
  • “WHAT are the restrictions to these muscles performing to their highest capability”?

Primary hip flexors causing problems

How To Stretch The Hip Flexor

How To Stretch The Hip Flexor: psoas major muscle

There are four primary hip flexors but the one we hear about most, the one that causes us the most problems is the psoas major muscle. When we hear or read about the psoas major, 99% of the problems associated are attributed to it being short and tight.

The psoas major is responsible for lifting the thigh once it gets to 90° (parallel the floor), and everything after that, about another 45%. So it would seem that if it is short and tight, it would easily be able to lift the thigh to its limit. That is actually opposite to what happens.

If it is short and tight, it will also be weak and won't be able to perform its normal function to full capacity. There are also neurological reasons it won't be able to perform, but that's a little complicated for this article.

Important to swinging and throwing athletes, the psoas major is also responsible for stabilizing the lower back, that is where it attaches to the lower spine. If the psoas major is short, tight and weak, it does a poor job of stabilizing against dynamic rotation and puts the lower back at high risk of injury.

The lower back will also become tighter as a protective mechanism and will not completely release its tension until the psoas major is strengthened through its entire range of motion, among other things.

 

4 Reasons hips flexors are short and tight

Problem #1

There are restrictors to the movement of the psoas major. These are mainly the deep hip muscles (the deep external hip rotators) and the hamstrings.

Solution to #1

Strengthen these muscles, don't constantly stretch them. A strong muscle is much more flexible than a weakened muscle due to constant stretching.

Problem #2

The psoas major is WEAK because it has been constantly stretched, massaged, released, etc.

Solution to #2

Since the psoas major is almost 100% responsible for lifting the thigh past 90° to about 135%, it needs to be strengthened against some sort of resistance through its entire range of motion.

Problem #3

Almost everyone in our society sits for most of our non-athletic activities – driving, working at a desk, watching TV, reading, texting, etc.

Solution to #3

If we sit as part of our lifestyle, we will probably not change that. What we CAN do is to super strengthen our glutes, hamstrings and the deep external hip rotators. Those are the opposite muscles to the sitting muscles and they will help to release them as soon as we stand up and start moving.

Problem #4

If the hip flexors are unequal in the balance of strength, they will not be able to lift the thigh symmetrically. If the psoas major is weak, a muscle called the TFL (tensor fascia lata) will pull the hip and thigh outward and will create very complicated problems that are difficult to resolve in both the hips and lower back.

Solution to #4

Strengthen the TFL and hip in internal hip rotation against a strong rotational resistance, THEN strengthen the psoas major through its full lifting action, against resistance.

For those who have access to the two RotexMotion floor models, here's the Inward Hip Rotation exercise to accomplish this…

 

The Sooner You Know How To Train Springy Fascia The Better

I frequently get questions on how to train springy fascia. The following 4 tips from Tom Myers, author of the book Anatomy Trains, will help shed light on how to do just that. The following videos are NO MORE THAN 2-mins long each. Enjoy!

 

Tip #1: Varying Vectors

  • Includes tendons, ligaments, and fascial fabric of the body…not the same as training muscles and nerves.
  • Vary the vectors – difference between working on gym machines v. Rope systems, throwing things, etc.
  • Machines are good for rehabbing muscles, but don't prepare you for life's movement challenges.

How does this apply to hitters?

Tom Myers Anatomy Trains: Image of Fascia Stretching

How to train springy fascia. Image is of fascia stretching. Photo courtesy: Tom Myers Anatomy Trains YouTube

Functional training in the weight room is great for this. Squatting, lunging, hip hinging, twisting, rolling, crawling, single leg hopping, single arm pressing, horizontal pushing, vertical pushing, horizontal pulling, vertical pulling.

Training on different planes: Sagittal, Frontal, and Transverse. Some of the best environments for varying training vectors are Gymnastics, Martial Arts, Dance, Rock Climbing, Yoga, Pilates, and playing on the playground bars.

A quick tip for training this when hitting would be to do the reverse strike zone drill, where the hitter has to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, and take anything in the zone.

Also, CLICK HERE for a great how to train springy fascia YouTube resource of exercises from David Weck at the WeckMethod using the Rotational Movement Club (RMT).

 

Tip #2: Lengthening (Stretch)

  • If trying to lengthen fascia, then to be safe, lengthen slowly. Slow sustained stretching like you'd find in Yoga, this avoids damaging the fascia.
  • Fascia isn't well vasculated, meaning blood doesn't move to and through fascia very well, so repair of fascial tears takes a lot of time to heal. Muscles regenerate after 90-days, but ligaments can take over 200-days!!
  • If you want to stretch the fascia, then think Yoga or Tai Chi speeds. NOT athletic speeds.

How does this apply to hitters?

Studies show today's athletes are sitting 80% of their day, so again, Gymnastics, Martial Arts, Dance, and Rock Climbing are great counter-balancers to this reality. Long slow stretching in the mid-split, front split, and stretching associated with handstand work are great for young athletes spending a lot of time with their seat on a seat, and spilling their brain out on mobile devices developing “text neck”.

 

Tip #3: Hydration

  • Most important that fascia gets hydrated…did you know your Achilles tendon is 63% water?
  • Hydrating fascia IS NOT necessarily about how many bottles of water you drink.
  • The question is, does water get to specific bottlenecked areas of fascial fabric in the body, such as the Achilles tendon. Hydration matters – where the water you drink gets to.
  • “Squeezing the sponge” – big muscular effort helps this, Fascial rolling using a Self-Myofascial Release tool (SMR), self or professional massage, Rolfing.

How does this apply to hitters?

A couple things…

  1. Young athletes MUST drink water, how much? According to world renowned strength and conditioning Coach Charles Poliquin, take half their body-weight, add 30%, and drink that in ounces. A 100-lb player for example, 100-lbs/2 = 50 X 30% = 15 + the halved 50 = 65-ounces of water throughout the day (that's about FIVE 12-ounce bottles of water).
  2. Remember, what matters is WHERE the water you drink gets to. The best speedy recovery principle to “squeeze the sponge”? Click for this post, “Speedy Recovery? Ice Bath Benefits Not What They Seem”, and
  3. CLICK HERE for a SMR foam rolling routine video I did a few years back.

 

Tip #4: Elasticity (Bounce)

  • Stretch-shortening cycle – we stretch out the muscle to get it to contract (shorten). Fascia works the same way.
  • We can encourage and cultivate elasticity in fascia. Elasticity is a property of youthful tissue. If baby falls down stairs, they bounce. Grandma falls down stairs, she doesn't bounce.
  • Ballistic stretching. Rhythmic motions such as running, jogging, jumping rope, etc…cultivate “bounce” within a 0.8 to 1.2 second stretch-shortening cycle.  This is the opposite of Yoga and Tai Chi speeds.

How does this apply to hitters?

If you want the fascia to perform, then we have to do rhythmically bouncy movements where the stretch-shortening cycle lasts between 0.8 to 1.2 seconds. Running, jump rope, jogging, skipping, single leg hopping, etc.

I'm beginning to sharpen my thoughts on this as it pertains to the Catapult Loading System. I used to teach the hitter had an option to start in the CLS position, in the stance like Hunter Pence, then hold and maintain until stride landing. But now I'm reconditioning my hitters to do a later CLS move (during the forward momentum phase), and to bounce from that into the turn. Miggy, Trout, Khris Davis are great examples of this. As a matter of fact, most elite hitters you see using the CLS, time the move with a bounce into the turn.

What's funny is, this post has been “bouncing” around in my head the past week (pun intended), and speak of the devil, my good golfing friend Lee Comeaux recently text me a new-to-me resource for training springy fascia. It's called the Rotex Motion (YouTube channel). Some cool stuff there!