I remember doing hip stretches in grade school as a part of the Presidential Fitness Test. I always felt embarrassed when I couldn’t reach much past my toes.
I used to watch gorgeous ballerinas, gymnasts and cheerleaders do the most amazing movements, all of which needed incredible flexibility.
The most “liked” yoga poses on Instagram involve backbends that seem almost impossible they are so intense.
We seem to praise flexibility and think it’s the end all be all of physical health.
I’ve had more clients than I can count over the years who have come to me asking for looser hamstrings or hip flexors. They thought the perfect hip stretches would make their ailments go away.
There is actually much more to it than that.
First, I want everyone to know that being flexible isn’t always the bee’s knees. In fact, I have actually seen more physical therapy patients with problems stemming from flexibility than I have seen clients with problems stemming from INflexibility.
Being too flexible can actually be a bigger detriment than being not flexible enough.
I always bring it back to the idea of “balance”.
Let’s take a yogi for example.
There are many poses in yoga that require an extreme amount of flexibility to achieve. If a person is really flexible, a yoga teacher may see this and encourage that person to do more in order to achieve more. So that student starts to love yoga and becomes very good at it. They practice and really work into the difficult postures.
They focus on the same movements over and over to become very skilled at them, and don’t focus so much on balancing that with strength in other areas.
This is the same for gymnasts, dancers, divers and cheerleaders.
They are amazing at what they do, but they become unstable in certain joints because of the amount of movement required of those joints in their chosen sports.
There is a whole slew of physical issues that can occur with this kind of imbalance and instability, such as tendinitis, spondylolisthesis and bursitis.
If you are super tight and are now thinking, “Sweet! No more stretching!”, sorry charlie. I get to talk to you, now.
Remember I talked about the need for balance? While folks who have a lot of flexibility can find instability in their joints and be out of balance, folks who have really tight muscles can find some imbalance of their own.
Let’s talk about cycling.
Cyclists are some of the most hard core athletes I’ve worked with. They are intense about their sport and spend hours on equipment, form and riding.
They also end up in a hunched over position most of the time, with the legs doing the same motion over and over again.
This position can cause chronic tightness in the chest (from the forward position) and the hip flexors, ITBs and hamstrings.
The quads are amazingly strong, but inner and outer thighs are forgotten about unless there is some cross training involved.
So let’s get back to stretching and whether someone needs it.
Almost everyone can benefit from stretching in one way or another. It’s just time we think about it in a different way.
I don’t think it helps for everyone to crank on their hip flexors all the time.
I don’t think loose hamstrings always equal a healthy body.
I don’t think we all need to be able to do the splits.
First, I want you to address your own body and really see where you feel tight and why you might have issues there. Where do you get the most sore? What position are you in most of the day? Where do you tend to want stretched or elongated?
Don’t think of the Pilates student next to you twisting her spine like a snake. Think of YOU. What does YOUR body need?
Next, commit to a strengthening routine to compliment your stretching. If you are rounded forward over a desk all day, your pecs are most likely tight. Which means you also need to strengthen your upper back. If your hamstrings are always tight from running, you need to find a strengthening routine for your core and hips and use the dreaded foam roller on those legs.
Finally, we can address the hip stretches themselves. What I want you to do is think of stretching as an “opening”. You aren’t taking two ends of your muscle and pulling for dear life until it lengthens. You are kneading your muscles like dough, gently moving and breathing and moving again until eventually your muscles and joints loosen.
When done with this focus and goal, stretching can help you:
Improve lymph fluid movement and flow
Strengthen your core
Decrease aches and pains
Now that we’ve got ourselves thinking of stretching in a different way, let’s actually move!
This is a hip opening routine that gives you all the benefits listed above in a ten minute flow you can do at home. It’s gentle enough to do every day, yet very effective at loosening and opening those tricky hip joints.
This is great for competitive runners and cyclists, yet just as effective for women feeling tight from recently giving birth or someone brand new to exercise.
TMI alert: I even use this routine quite a bit during certain times of the month (get my drift?) and it works wonders to help me avoid the medicine cabinet and feel better!
I hope you love this routine focused on hip stretches! Comment below or join the conversation over on FB to let me know how you do!
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