Do you typically stretch as part of your daily wellness routine?
Do you have a dynamic warmup? Or maybe a static stretching program? After a good run, you maybe throw your leg up on a wall or your car bumper and get those hamstrings stretched out a little?
Well, regardless of what you may or may not be doing in terms of stretching, I wanted to talk about the most important stretch you aren’t doing.
Every muscle affects each bone it attaches to and every joint it crosses, so I want to take a look at one specific muscle group today and talk about how that muscle can affect all sorts of things.
The iliopsoas is actually two muscles – the iliacus and the psoas (major and minor). You can see from the picture that this muscle group has attachments on the femur (big thigh bone), the pelvis, and the spine. The primary function of this muscle is to flex your hip – bring your thigh closer to your stomach. But, because of its attachments on the front of your lumbar vertebrae, it also affects your posture.
How do you get tight iliopsoas muscles (aka “hip flexors)?
Too many of us spend way too much time sitting nowadays. As we sit with our hips in a constantly flexed position, the muscles of the front of your trunk, hips, and thighs become shortened.
So, what problems can you experience if you have tight hip flexors?
Low back pain
If the iliopsoas is tight, it will pull the vertebrae forward, increasing the sway in your low back, changing the distribution of force with standing and sitting activities, and limiting trunk flexion. This position also stretches out the abdominal muscles (part of the “core”) – making them weaker. These factors combined can lead to some pretty bad back pain.
Pain with running
Think about it – when you run, your leg is stretched out behind you until you bring it forward again for your next stride. If your ability to fully extend your hip is limited by muscular tightness, then that motion has to come from somewhere.
Sometimes you get compression in the front of your hip from the ligaments. Sometimes you get overuse pain of the hamstrings from trying to quickly bring your leg back forward. And sometimes you get knee pain from the other hip flexor (the rectus femoris) pulling on the patella (That’s a whole different animal.).
What can you do about tight hip flexors?
I’m so glad you asked. Here’s the most important stretch you aren’t doing.
The Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel with one knee on the ground and your other foot up in front of you on the floor – like you’re posing for one of those sports pictures from your childhood. Make sure you sit up nice and tall, keeping your back straight.
Here’s the most important part!
Whichever knee is on the ground, you MUST focus on tucking that hip under – don’t allow your butt to stick out on that side. If you don’t tuck that hip under, you will NOT be stretching the iliopsoas.
If you have pretty tight hip flexors, just doing that tucking motion is often enough stretch. If you still don’t feel a good stretch (not at all painful), gently lunge forward toward the front leg while maintaining that tucked-under hip position.
As with all static stretching, hold this for 30 seconds.
One note here – recent research shows that static stretch before activity many actually hinder performance, so this is a better stretch for between activities as part of an injury prevention and flexibility maintenance program.
So…if you haven’t been stretching your hip flexors, now may be the time to start.
Let’s Get FIT Together!