Last week I brought you the first in my four-part series of body parts forgotten at the gym. Last week was the shoulder complex and this week we’re working on the hip flexors!
The Forgotten Hip Flexors
These muscles that attach your pelvis to the front of your leg, are the ones that kick into gear when you lift your knee. The problem for so many of us, however, is that they’re too tight (you can thank your desk job for that).
Tight hip flexors mean the muscles are shorter than they should be—and that means your pelvis is more likely to tip forward, putting stress on your lower back. “This is a big reason why so many of us have back pain,” says Mark A, Fitness Manager from the 24 Hour Fitness Carlsbad Sport club. The good news: When you train the hip flexors full range of motion, you’ll be more flexible and actually stretch out those short hip flexors, relieving the stress on your lower back.
Work It: Squats
Squats rule when it comes to strengthening and lengthening the hip flexors, in part because squats also strengthen the gluteus maximus. “Glutes attach on the opposite side of the pelvis as the hip flexors, so if you’ve got tight hip flexors that pull the pelvis downward, you may experience back pain. Strong glutes will help pull in the opposite direction, helping your spine stay in a straight line,” according to Mark.
To squat, start with your feet hip-width apart and your back straight. Bend your knees and lower your butt towards the floor, as if you are going to sit in a chair. Make sure your knees don’t go forward past your toes. Go as low as you can while maintaining this form (you may not be able to go as far as you’d expect), pause and then return to the starting position. Repeat until your glutes and quads (the front of your upper legs) are fatigued.
Depending on your fitness level, you can do squats with or without weights. If using weights, try holding dumbbells in each hand (pictured) or with a barbell resting on your traps (upper back, behind the neck). Be careful not to lean forward because the added weight may throw you off balance.