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Adding yoga hip stretches to a workout routine can be a game-changer. When your personal training clients experience hip flexor tightness, it can cause pain. If this pain becomes too intense, they may begin to avoid their training sessions.
For those that continue to exercise, a tight hip can also impact the way they work out. For instance, one study on female soccer players found that different neuromuscular strategies were employed when they had tight hips. These strategies helped them better control their lower extremity motion. But they also reduced activation of the gluteus maximus muscle.
Helping clients ease tight hip flexor muscles can prevent pain and the creation of alternative movement strategies. Strategies that can limit their performance and fitness potential. This begins with understanding what muscles make up the hip flexor.
The term "hip flexor" refers to a group of muscles that run from the lower back to the knee. These muscles aid in lower body movements. Walking, running, kicking, and squatting all use hip flexor muscles.
Muscles included in the hip flexor group are:
Iliopsoas muscle. The iliopsoas is actually two different muscles that help stabilize the lower back: the psoas muscle and the iliacus muscle. The psoas muscle runs from the lumbar spine (lower back), through the pelvis, and attaches to the femur (thigh bone). The iliacus muscle attaches the pelvis to the femur and is used to rotate the thigh.
Rectus femoris muscle.The rectus femoris attaches the pelvis to the knee. It is also the quad muscle that is used when performing squats or lunges.
Sartorius muscle. Also running from the pelvis to the knee, the sartorius muscle is used to flex the knee and leg.
Pectineus muscle. More commonly known as the groin muscle, the pectineus is used in hip flexion. It is also used for thigh rotation and adduction.
One category of people at a higher risk of developing tight hip flexor muscles is those who sit for long periods of time. This includes workers who spend their days at a desk. Truck drivers and other long-distance drivers fit into this category as well.
Clients who participate in activities that involve bringing their knee toward their torso may also experience hip flexor tightness. Runners, martial artists, and dancers all engage in this type of movement. Thus, they may notice more issues in their hip and upper thigh.
Participating in lengthy seated sporting events can also lead to tight hips. Cyclists and rowers are two to consider. Working with these types of clients to help them relax their hip muscles can provide benefit.
Sometimes a tight hip flexor is caused by structural imbalances in the body. If the left leg is shorter than the right leg, for instance, it can impact hip flexor structure and function.
Poor posture is another factor that can cause hip flexor muscles to tense up. For example, if you tend to lean more toward your right leg when bending forward, it could cause that hip flexor to tighten.
How can clients identify whether they have tight hip flexor muscles? Symptoms typically include:
hip pain or stiffness, especially after not moving for a period of time
swelling or bruising in the hip or thigh
muscle spasms in the hip or thigh
neck or lower back pain or discomfort
cramping or tenderness in the thigh
trouble standing upright
difficulty engaging in lower body movements (kicking, jumping, etc.)
One sign to watch for as a personal trainer is whether your client is limping. If they are, it's possible that the hip flexor may be to blame.
Regular yoga practice provides many advantages for clients who struggle with hip pain or stiffness from tight muscles. First, some of the poses help open the hips. They create a hip stretch due to the position of the hip joint.
Yoga also helps strengthen the hip flexor muscles. This muscle strength comes from holding certain poses for 30-60 seconds at a time. The stronger these muscles are, the more they are able to assist the body with normal function and movement.
If your goal is greater hip flexor mobility, yoga provides this benefit as well. For example, a 2016 study revealed that yoga helps improve flexibility and balance. This can also lead to better sports performance.
Which yoga poses help open tight hips and improve flexibility? Here are a few hip openers to consider:
This pose is a good hip opener. To perform it, stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Your feet should be pointing slightly to the sides. Bend your knees and lower your body to the ground. Keeping your heels pressed to the ground, place your hands in a praying position. Your elbows will rest on your inner knee.
This is a slightly advanced hip opening yoga pose. From a downward dog position, lower your right knee and shin to the ground, placing the knee behind your right wrist. Now lower your hips, turning your right foot on its side. Continue lowering your entire body until your torso is lying directly on your right leg, which is bent beneath you. Repeat with the left leg.
This yoga pose begins in a downward dog position. Drop your hips and bring your left foot up by your left hand. Your left knee is next to your upper arm. Hold this hip flexor stretch before repeating on the right side.
In this position, you are seated with your right leg crossed over your left leg as much as possible. Your right thigh is rotated outward at the hip joint. Your right foot is lying on its side, the ankle bone touching the ground. Repeat with the left leg on top.
This more intense stretch will target your inner thigh. To do this hip stretch, lie on your stomach with your upper body propped up on your forearms. Bend your left leg, bringing your left foot toward your buttocks. Grab your left foot with your left hand and press your foot toward the ground. Repeat on the other side, bending your right knee and placing pressure on your right foot to elongate the stretch.
This pose involves moving into a lunge position while sliding the left leg slides backward. The left knee and shin are resting on the ground. The right leg is in front with the right knee bent. The hands can either be extended upward or you can place them on your thigh as you lean forward into the stretch.
This pose is also good for relaxing the quad area. Start by kneeling on a yoga mat. Knees are hip-width apart, and the upper body is straight. Place hands at the lower spine and inhale while bending the upper body back. Exhale while pushing the glutes forward and reaching for the heels. Engage the quads during this push and try to pull the shoulder blades together. Hold this position while breathing in and out a few times. Do the steps in reverse order to come out of the pose safely. Return the hands to the lower back and bend forward until the spine is straight.
Need more? Try these Hip Mobility Exercises.
If your client is a beginner, the garland pose, lizard pose, and cow face pose are all fairly easy while aiding in hip flexibility. The crescent lunge, pigeon pose, camel pose, and half frog pose are slightly more advanced yoga stretches. Use a yoga block or strap as needed.
Transitioning from one yoga pose to the next should be a slow, controlled movement. This helps ensure that the hip muscles are stretched without increasing injury risk or pain.
Interested in learning more about yoga and how it can benefit your clients and expand your personal training business? Check out the ISSA's Certified Yoga Instructor course to increase your knowledge and help clients meet their goals!
Mills, M., Frank, B., Goto, S., Blackburn, T., Cates, S., Clark, M., Aguilar, A., Fava, N., & Padua, D. (2015). EFFECT OF RESTRICTED HIP FLEXOR MUSCLE LENGTH ON HIP EXTENSOR MUSCLE ACTIVITY AND LOWER EXTREMITY BIOMECHANICS IN COLLEGE-AGED FEMALE SOCCER PLAYERS. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(7), 946–954.
Polsgrove, M. J., Eggleston, B. M., & Lockyer, R. J. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. International journal of yoga, 9(1), 27–34. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.171710
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