Note: This article was published in the Australian Pole Dancing Magazine.
Pole tricks inevitably involve lifting your leg up in front of you. Whether you’re inverting up into a straddle or any other number of tricks, the “muscle” that you’re using to lift your thigh up and forward is commonly called your “hip flexor”.
When this area gets tight, its restricts your hip extension – the movement you need to get your back leg down when doing a front split.
But what is your “hip flexor”?
In reality it is not one muscle that flexes your hip but a few. The biggest two are the psoas and the rectus femoris.
The psoas is the biggest and strongest of these and is often not where people expect it to be. It largely sits under your abdominal contents in your belly attaching to the FRONT of your lower back.
It then goes down into the top of your thigh bone.
Figure 1 – Psoas muscle
The second main muscle that flexes your hip is the rectus femoris muscle. This is one of your quadriceps group of muscles and is on the front of your thigh. It is the only one of the “quads” that actually crosses your hips joint and works as a hip flexor.
There are some other smaller muscles that flex the hip, but these are two the main ones. So when you get tight or sore in your hip flexor region, you can see that it’s actually a bit more complex than just one muscle. It is a group.
Figure 2 – Rectus femoris muscle
How do you stretch your hip flexors?
Well the good news is that one stretch will cover all your hip flexors, and that is simply stretching your hip into extension. However, with the knowledge that there are two different muscles that make up our hip flexors, we can add in some modifications to make sure we cover the two main ones more completely to get a better release.
The most common way to stretch your hip flexor is to kneel down on one knee in a lunge position.
Once in this position, lunge slowly, down and forward and you should feel a stretch come in somewhere around the front of the hip on the side of your grounded knee. You may also feel a stretch in the front of your thigh, or sometimes up into your abdominals.
As you will notice in Figure 3, the model has his arm on the side of the hip being stretched raised over his head. This is because it raises the attachment of the psoas muscle and can create a better stretch in it if it is really tight. You may also get a nice side stretch as well.
Figure 3 – Hip flexor stretch (lunge position)
If you’re a bit more advanced in your stretching, you can try adding in an additional step that will put more stretch through the other large hip flexor – the rectus femoris muscle.
As demonstrated in Figure 4, with your spare hand, hold your foot and use it to bend the knee that is grounded on the floor. You will feel even more stretch come through the front of the thigh and hip. This is a more difficult stretch and so only do it if it is comfortable.
Things to note:
Keep your front foot well forward so that you have greater than a 90° ankle in your front knee.
If you feel any discomfort in your low back, make sure your front knee at least a 90°angle. If you still have discomfort, stop the stretch.
Figure 4 – hip flexor stretch, with added stretch on rectus femoris
What if your hip flexor stretching is painful?
Stiffness and tightness is often a normal response to exercise, but pain is not. If you have PAIN in your hip flexor region, go see your favourite osteopath or physio and get a management plan to get it better.
A common mistake is trying to stretch through pain in the hip flexors. Stretching a painful inflamed hip flexor can make it worse, and make it take longer to get better. It will also tend to REDUCE your flexibility.
So if you have painful hip flexor (as opposed to regular stiffness and tightness) get it checked out by a professional. You want to get more flexi – not injured and less flexi!