Stay Out of Your Hip Flexors
If you practice Pilates or are part of a Pilates based fitness class you may have heard your instructor say “stay out of your hip flexors.” What do they mean by that and how does one accomplish this?
<span style=”color: #c31f45;”>First, let’s discuss the hip flexors.</span>
They are a group of muscles, the illiacus, psoas major, pectineus, rectus femoris, and sartorius muscles that bring the thigh and trunk of the body closer together. You use your hip flexors in many daily activities like walking, stepping up, and bending over. Here is the problem: We use our hip flexors regularly throughout the day so it is very easy for someone to obtain over-active hip flexors and they will usually want to take over and do the work for your abs. When we exercise to target the abs, as we do in Pilates, we do exercises that decrease the distance between our thigh and trunk – think roll ups, leg lifts, single leg stretch, double leg stretch. So often we end up working our hip flexors more than our abdominal muscles! This is one of the ways that you can do 500 situps and not have a single one of them truly target your abs. You know the kind of sit-ups where you can cheat by putting your feet under something that holds them down and do a whole bunch of repetitions with an almost flat back? Guess what? Mostly all hip flexors. Pilates people run the same risk with the many flexion (forward bending) exercises we do.
<span style=”color: #c31f45;”>So how do I get out of my hip flexors?</span>
The answer isn’t simple. For one thing, you can’t really leave the hip flexors entirely out of most ab exercises. They are still an important part of the picture. The idea is to get the abs involved as much as you can and to keep the hip flexors from taking over. Our first line of defense is always awareness. When you do Pilates or other ab focused work, put your attention on your abdominal muscles. Start to figure out for yourself what feels like abs and what feels like hip flexors. Use your exhalation as a way to pull your abdominals in toward your spine contracting them. Technically, we can use our breathe to work our abdominals without involving trunk flexion. Work also with being aware of how over tucking the pelvis can bring the hip flexors in to play (this is why we work in a neutral spine position). If you are working in your proper neutral spine you should be able to truly pull from your abdominals. Low back pain and soreness in the groin area may be signs that you are weak in the abs and over-using your hip flexors. Another clue is not being able to keep your feet and legs down when you do a sit up or roll up. Do you see the logic in that one? What’s happening there is that the abs aren’t strong enough to do their up-and-over contraction, but we’ve told the body to get the trunk and thigh closer together, so the hip flexors take over and the feet fly up. (Tight hamstrings play a role too)