If you jump into the car first thing in the morning, sit at a desk most of the day and watch TV in the evening, chances are you have some aches and pains in the hips, suffer from lower back pain, poor circulation, digestion, sleep badly and may not be getting enough blood flowing to areas that allow intimacy. Chances are you have shortened your hip flexor muscles and they are weak and tight.
Many people, who are in good physical shape, work out regularly, have strong abs but still have a protruding stomach. High school athletes often have tight muscles; whereas elite athletes know that static stretching alone is not enough to change that, which is why many professional sportspeople will add Pilates to their fitness routine. Pilates stretches and strengthens muscles they don’t address in their training and uses dynamic movement. It also addresses the deeper core and smaller muscles they need to strengthen and stretch for stability and better performance.
I started taking dancing lessons this year. It is completely out of my comfort zone but I enjoy it. My instructors are young and all look to be in great physical shape. A few weeks ago one of my instructors told me he had taken a Pilates class and started pointing to the places he had felt discomfort. He had discomfort in his hip flexors and hamstrings. Dancers are often very flexible and do a lot of repetitive movements which can leave them with muscle imbalances, just like the rest of us. When we discussed his Pilates session he had the same experience many people have in a group class. The instructor was possibly there for her workout. If you attend a class where the instructor isn’t correcting your body or offering modifications, you’re in the wrong class. Many people are self-conscious and dislike being corrected but if you are working in an incorrect position you will not correct muscle imbalances.
There is a muscle made up of two separate muscles located in the front of the hip called the iliopsoas, frequently called the hip flexors. These muscles lift the leg and flex the torso. If this muscle is torn or constantly in a short position, it becomes tight or inflamed, causing issues in our hips. The hip flexors or psoas, are in the center of our body and are very important muscles because they connect the upper and lower body. We have the muscles in the back to stretch the spine. The hip flexors are the muscles that flex the spine. Sitting down for long periods of time is the worst thing for our hip flexors, as it makes them weak, short, and tight. We are at risk of not developing muscles we don’t use due to sitting. This constant sitting and not elongating this muscle causes the leg to be pulled towards the spine which creates tension in the hips. Have you noticed how many people have an arched back?
If you suffer from back pain, tight hips, knee pain, or ankle weakness, consider how much time you spend with your legs flexed. If you work out do you use a bench to support your core, do you isolate each muscle group? Everyday movement such as walking or turning uses many muscles and planes as we flex, bend, turn, and reach. If you watch, golf, tennis, basketball, soccer, baseball, dance, and gymnastics, no movement ever use just one muscle group. The core and extremities work together to create speed and power. If a body can’t stabilize through a strong center the back will get hurt.
If you have ever taken an exercise class after years of no exercise and been asked to put your legs in a tabletop position, you probably felt that pain in your groin area where the hip flexors took over because they are tight and your abs are weak. It is not pleasant, even for my lean, fit dance instructor with his perfect posture Today the average person would be better at working their core in a more elongated position to help stretch the body. In Pilates, we are evolving with society. Planks and side-lying work is more comfortable, strengthening the abdominal muscles while allowing the hip flexors and hamstrings to lengthen.
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Try standing, engage your abs using support if needed to lift and bend one knee. This stretches the pelvic floor and shortens the hip flexor. When you straighten the leg, the pelvic floor tightens and the hip flexor gets longer. Start with a couple on each leg daily, and work up to 10 on each leg. If you do this exercise regularly you will find it easier to pick up a newspaper and perform day-to-day tasks without hurting yourself.