The hips are the fulcrum of the body. Movements such as walking, running, squatting, sitting, and stair negotiation, are all used throughout the day and involve the ability to bend, extend or rotate at the hips properly. Biomechanically, it is important to develop the ability to perform a “hip hinge.” The hip hinge is performed exactly as it sounds; hinging at the hips! Though it’s important to understand how to move properly, it is nearly impossible to achieve this proper movement pattern if we do not have the adequate range of motion in the muscles and joints to achieve the movement first. Think of this concept like a baby learning to crawl. They must first be able to stick their toes in their mouth before they can bend the knees toward the chest with crawling. A lack of mobility at the hips leads to compensation in movement, causing excessive low back movement or increased load into the knees. Overtime, these excessive pressures can lead to low back or knee pain.
The hip hinge is created at the iliofemoral joint, where the femur connects into the pelvis. Movement here can be limited due to any soft tissue restrictions that connect into the pelvis. Common muscles that can become restricted due to sedentary jobs or lifestyles include the rectus femoris of the quadriceps, the pectineus and gracilis of the adductors, the common hip flexor called the iliopsoas, the semitendinosus and biceps femoris of the hamstrings, and the piriformis and gluteus medius.
Muscular restrictions develop overtime as the brain and neural system adapt to these shortened positions. Just as it takes time to develop these restrictions, it takes time to release these restrictions. It would take an excessive amount of load to deform, or change, fascial and scar restrictions along muscle tissue. Therefore, it is not necessary a matter of foam rolling out restrictions or jamming into those muscles until you cry. Instead, it may be better to merely move through stretches where the body can begin to relax through movement and diaphragmatic breathing. It is important to be able to fully breathe through the diaphragm when performing mobility exercises. If the muscles are connected through the neural system, we need to be able to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system to place the body in a place of “rest and relax.” Deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing has been proven to shut off the sympathetic nervous system, the “flight or fight” response, and increase the parasympathetic system.
Follow these five stretches, called the hip flow, to instantly increase your hip mobility, decrease low back pain, and unlock any added pressure on the knees. This hip flow is recommended to be done daily in order to make lasting changes in decreasing low back pain, increasing range of motion for exercising the lower body, and unlocking the hips from tightened positions such as sitting and driving that we all perform daily. The exercises are recommended to all be performed in sequence, only holding each stretch 10-30 seconds at a time, and moving from one stretch to the other. By actively moving and relaxing the body into various positions and stretches, we are able to use a technique called PNF, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, that works to affect the reflexes within the muscle (called the golgi tendon organ) to facilitate a response called muscular inhibition. This active contraction to slow relaxation tricks the muscle into a deeper stretch. As you move through the hip flow, you should find it becoming easier to stretch a little deeper. I suggest moving through each side at least three times with each of the five exercises.
1.) Iliopoas Stretch: Begin in a low lunge position, with the back knee stacked under the hip and the front foot directly under the knee. Start to reach the opposite arm of the leg that is in front toward the ceiling while simultaneously squeezing the supporting glutes forward. Next, continue to reach up as you side bend toward the front leg to further deepen the stretch into the iliopsoas. Hold 10-30 seconds and don’t forget to breathe.
2.) Quadriceps Stretch: As you lower the top arm, reach for the leg in the ankle in the back. Continue to squeeze the glutes and think of tucking the tailbone under to create a greater stretch into the rectus femoris that attaches into the pelvis. Again, hold 10-30 seconds and breathe.
3.) Hamstring Stretch: Lower the back leg and begin straightening out the front leg. Think of the hip in the front leg pulling toward the back heel to increase the tension into the hamstring and only fold the body forward to what the hamstring can tolerate. Make sure you are in a position comfortable enough to breathe, relax and hold 10-30 seconds.
4.) Gluteus Medius Stretch: Bend the front leg, straighten out the back leg, and begin to turn toward the front leg. The deeper you are able to turn and hug the knee toward the chest, the deeper the stretch. Hold 10-30 seconds and breathe.
5.) Adductor Stretch: Keep the back leg extended and turn away from bent leg in the front. Do your best to stay low to the ground and bring the entire body inside the legs as you press the bent leg out toward the foot with the elbow. Keep both heels planted on the ground. Hold 10-30 seconds before bending over to the opposite adductor stretch to begin the other side.
For more of a visual cue, you can refer to my Instagram video where I walk you through how to perform this hip flow.