Like a boss.
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase before—the head honcho, the ringleader, the pacesetter. Well, when it comes to the human body, the hip flexor muscle is most certainly The Boss. When this bad boy, also called the Iliopsoas, is in proper condition, the body hums along. But when the critical muscle, which originates in the lumbar spine, wraps around the pelvis, crosses over the top of the femurs and attaches to each inner thigh, shortens and grows weak from underuse, it impacts the positioning of the pelvis, kicking off a kinetic chain reaction that can result in pain everywhere in the body, from the neck to the feet.
“Your Iliopsoas stands out as the only muscle that connects to the upper-, middle-, and lower-body,” explains pain and anatomy expert Pete Egoscue. More often than not, Egoscue says, the question is not, How are your hip flexors functioning?, it’s Why aren’t your hip flexors functioning?
“That’s a result of what I call, ‘the tyranny of the chair,'” he says. “When we spend the majority of our day chained to a chair—some of us sit more than 10 hours a day, not including the time we spend watching TV at night – our hips are kept in a flexed position, causing the flexors to shorten and shrink. And because the Iliopsoas is the boss of the body, when trouble arises within it, chaos ensues throughout the body. It’s like that old saying: If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
To witness the repercussions, look no further than your nearest office or café; “Everyone is hunched over their computers, heads jutting out, upper back rounded.” These are direct effects of shortened hip flexors. When they stand up, they’re also likely to collapse the hips, the tops of their pelvises tilting forward, a deep sway in the back.
To counterbalance the hip flexor-sabotaging impact of our modern sedentary society, you’ll need to do more than just strengthen and lengthen your hip flexors, but it’s certainly start. Here are a few hip flexor exercises from postural alignment specialist Brian Bradley, vice president of Egoscue. Please note: these exercises aren’t meant to be done alone, but within the specific sequence of a workout. But try a few and see if you can pinpoint the hip flexor, activate it, feel the work. The first three moves directly target the hip flexors; the latter two indirectly strengthen it.
Begin lying down. Interlace your hands behind your head, elbows out to the sides. Lift your legs in the air, crossing them at the ankles. Keeping legs either directly raised or extended slightly out, lift your head and upper body straight off the floor, using your midsection to do the work. Be careful not to pull on your head with your hands and keep the elbows extended out.
Begin lying down, legs bent and feet flat on floor, hands interlaced behind the head and elbows pulled back. Use your abdominal muscles to lift your upper body up towards the ceiling; at the same time, use your hip flexors to lift your legs slightly off the floor. (The motion is similar to what you would use if you were sitting in a chair and needed to lift your feet off the ground.)
This move is essentially horizontally running. Starting out on your hands and knees, lift up onto your toes, similar to a racer about to start a sprint. Keeping your arms stable and shoulder blades pinned together, begin “running” by alternating your legs front and back, keeping your pelvis low and your back flat.
Squat to Plank
Begin by standing in a squat position, butt reaching back, knees over ankles, arms extended straight in front, shoulder blades drawn together. Keeping your shoulder blades pinned together, bend down to touch the ground and walk your arms out to a plank position. Hold the plank for a few second, shoulder blades squeezed, then walk your hands back and resume the squat position.
Begin by sitting again a wall with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Pressing your entire back flat into the wall, slowly walk your feet out until they are at a 120 degree angle to your knees. Push your heels into the floor to ensure your lower back is flattened back into the wall and hold the position until you feel fatigued. Return to standing.