One thing I used to say and hear all the time is, “I need to stretch my hip flexors. They’re really tight!” I would feel tension and tightness all throughout the front (anterior portion) of my hips. I would squat and my torso fell as soon as I felt tension in my hip flexors. I would lunge and the front of my hip on my trail leg would feel a stretch. There are multiple other reasons that could result in those circumstances, however, I was sure that my hip flexors were tight. And to be completely honest, they were! It’s not uncommon to feel like that or feel like you have tight hip flexors. However, the solution to that problem is NOT solely stretching.
Why do I say that? Here’s why. You have multiple muscles that make up your “hip flexor.” Many people refer to this as your “Iliopsoas.” HOWEVER, there is no such thing as your Iliopsoas. You have your Psoas (major and minor – major does the main movement) and Iliacus (refer to picture above). Your psoas major is your major hip flexor. It originates on your lower thoracic and every lumbar vertebrae (your spine). Due to it originating on your spine, it also secondarily works at stabilizing your spine through compression. Just because it is able to stabilize your spine, doesn’t mean that it is supposed to be the only one doing the work. This is where the predicament of “tight hip flexors” comes into play. When your deep core (pictured below) is not doing what it’s supposed to by stabilizing your spine, your psoas major has to work overtime in creating hip flexion AND spine stabilization. Your body is trying to protect itself. Therefore, since it is doing more work that it should be required to do it creates that tension in your anterior hip and you feel it getting tight.
What’s the main solution to it? Not just stretching. The solution is something that addresses and fixes the issue, not just put a Band-Aid on it. If you only stretch it you are robbing your body of the stability from your middle to lower spine. There’s a reason that it’s tight. There’s a reason that your body is trying to protect itself. Instead, the solution is to work also on strengthening and activating your deep core so your body is able to stabilize the spine with that instead of mainly using your psoas as compensation. Once you get your deep core working, your brain is able to feel stable in that position and in turn not send signals to your psoas muscle to work overtime.
Breathing drills and being able to control your pelvis with the surrounding muscles are key. Turn on your deep core and turn off the tight hip flexors. It sounds easy, but it’s harder than it sounds and takes work. Be on the lookout for upcoming articles on ways to activate your deep core. Address and fix the problem. Don’t mask the underlying issue. As always – work hard, but also work smart!