By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
These days, we’re sitting more and moving less—which means more of us are suffering from tight hips. In other words, sitting for a long time keeps your hip flexors in a shortened position, which can mess up your spinal alignment and cause problems throughout your entire body. By incorporating stretches for hip flexors into your day, you can combat the negative effects of sitting, and keep tight hips at bay.
Chances are, you probably know what it feels like to have tight hips. Many people suffer from tight hips, from people who spend hours a day sitting at the office to gym fanatics and professional athletes. It’s not only uncomfortable; it can also cause a ton of aches and pains, especially in the lower back.
When you think of something that could threaten your life, you might not think of your chair at work. Many researchers, in fact, believe sitting is the new smoking. Experts suspect it could be one of the biggest threats to health. This is especially alarming, given the number of people who sit for extended periods of time every day; according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), roughly 25% of research participants said they sit for longer than eight hours a day. About 44% said they did no moderate to vigorous exercise per week.
Humans are designed to stand upright. That’s when your cardiovascular system and heart work most effectively. The body is designed to move, and that’s what we did—until the middle of the 20th century. Things like cars, televisions, and computers started chipping away at physical activity, and people became much more sedentary.
When you sit for long periods, it can shut off your glutes and make them harder to activate. The big leg muscles and glutes start to weaken and waste away. If these major muscles become weak, you’re at a higher risk of injury and strains. Like your legs and glutes, your hips and back won’t offer the support you need after sitting for prolonged periods. Sitting can cause your hip flexors to shorten, resulting in problems with your hip joints and back.
Since your hips are involved in so many different types of movement, inside and outside of the gym, regularly stretching your hip flexors can benefit multiple areas of your life. Stretching is a great way to feel good, reduce tension, and reduce tightness. It keeps muscles strong, flexible, and healthy. You need that flexibility to maintain proper range of motion. Without it, muscles become short and tight. Poor flexibility puts you at risk for muscle damage, joint pain, and strains.
Aside from your sitting habits, your hips do a lot of work everyday. Don’t forget: your entire upper body sits on the hips—so whether you jump, run, walk, or kick, your hips will absorb a part of that movement. The good news is that there are plenty of stretches you can do to relieve discomfort, boost mobility in the hips, and reduce tension in other parts of the body. Regular stretching helps to loosen up hip flexors and prevent injury.
Try this flow the next time you need to loosen up your hips.
The frog stretch opens up your hips and targets your inner thighs. Ease into this one slowly. Start on your hands and knees, and then bring your knees apart until you feel a comfortable stretch in your inner thighs. Keep your inner calf and foot in contact with the ground. Move the elbows and forearms toward the floor while keeping your palms face down. Exhale and push the hips back until you feel a stretch in the inner thighs and hips.
For a gentle way to stretch your hips, lie on your back with your legs extended. Start by drawing your left knee toward your chest. Hold onto your left thigh with your hands. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. To deepen this stretch, position your body so that your legs are hanging off the edge of the bed. Your glutes and torso should still be supported. Draw in your left knee to your chest and hold for 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in the hip flexors of the opposite leg.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the floor with your heels about a foot from your butt. Push your hips while keeping your head, torso, and arms on the ground. The higher your hips can go, the greater the stretch for your hip flexors. Higher reps tend to work better for this stretch, so aim for 20.
The chair stretch is a great move to try when sitting at your desk or on a plane. Start by sitting on a chair with a straight back. Place your left ankle on your right knee. Slowly fold your torso forward until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold the position for up to 60 seconds, and repeat on the other leg.
This stretch not only targets tight hips, but is also ideal for opening the chest and abs. Begin lying face down on your mat with your head slightly lifted. Your hands should sit directly under your shoulders. Remember to point your toes. As you exhale, press your hands into the floor and lift your torso and front hips off the mat. Keep your legs and feet on the floor and abs contracted. Breathe slowly, hold for up to 30 seconds, and on the exhale, release to the floor.
Sitting for several hours at a time can be a killer for your hips and your health. Your hips connect your upper and lower body and take a considerable amount of impact everyday. By adding hip flexor exercises into your routine, you can reduce tightness, prevent injuries, and loosen up your lower back.