Hips Don't Lie - Twerking Your Way to Stronger and More Flexible Hip Flexors
An evening spent refreshing my knowledge on hip flexibility led to an exciting new idea. Followed by an instructional session with my roommates and a quick practice round, I discovered that twerking could be the answer to stubbornly tight hip flexors. They often result in lower back problems, knee problems, and poor form performing certain exercises which can lead to other injuries. Many yoga instructors and fitness-lovers will tell you to just stretch more, stretch in different ways, and just keep stretching. However, new research has shown that stretching may not be the answer, especially since the tightness typically returns regardless of how much stretching you do. Since hips don't lie, let's look at some anatomy first. A basic understanding of the deep muscles of the hips is required for this, so let's go.
I won't get into the nitty gritty details (go here if you want that), but let's talk about the three main muscles. The illiopsoas, rectus femoris, and the sartorius. The illiopsoas consists of both the illiacus and the psoas muscles which are shown in the left image. You can see how the illiacus connects from the femur (thigh bone) to the upper portion of the pelvic bone. The psoas connects in the same place at the femur and extends through the lumbar spine (the lower back). The rectus femoris and sartorius are in the image to the right and depict how hip movements can affect the knee and lower leg. Both extend from the pelvic bone down to the knee cap and inside of the knee respectively. So what does all of this mean?
Well first off, the root of tight hip flexors often comes from the amount of time we spend sitting everyday. And not only sitting, but sitting with poor posture and in unsupportive chairs. The American Heart Association actually just released a new study finding that regular physical activity can't overcome the negative effects of sitting for more than 6 hours a day - even if you're a marathon runner. So yeah, standing desks are another idea too. However, sitting too much isn't the exact answer to why some have chronically tight hip flexors, and the answer might be that we just don't shake our booties enough.
What I mean to say is that is derives from the weakness of spinal stabilization in the core. The transverse abdominis is another muscle in the lower back region which helps to stabilize the lumbar spine. A study on lower back injuries found that when this muscle is weak, the psoas muscle will tighten up to assist in stabilizing the lumbar spine. Hence, tighter hip flexors. As trainer Dean Somerset puts it, "if you stretched a short and tight muscle and it regained length, it shouldn’t get tight again, should it? Whereas if the muscle wasn’t technically 'tight' but rather holding excessive tone in order to keep your spine from looking more like a losing game of Jenga, stretching it will just give more opportunity for low back pain, and quickly lead to the muscle tensing up again to defend the spine."
So instead of stretching a muscle that is obviously needed to help balance out a weaker core, let's strengthen those muscles. Insert core training and booty poppin'. There are many possible exercises to help with this, but I've curated a few that will assist with glute activation, core strength, and the mobility of the deep muscles of the hips. This will help with those who sit a lot and have tight hip flexors. It's also just fun and will give you some new dance moves to work with.
5-10 minutes warm-up
- Try dancing to your favorite songs with a few short planks and burpees mixed in to prime the muscles
Workout (~5 minutes per round; repeat 3 times)
- One song of twerking
- 1 minute plank (neutral pelvis)
- 1 minute glute bridge
- Kneeling hip flexor stretch
- Pigeon pose
- Foam rolling if available
Here's my twerkout playlist.
Twerking can be a difficult movement especially for those who do have tight hips, so take the beat at half speed at the beginning and make sure to watch a couple videos like the one below before diving in.
Additionally, it's important to keep the pelvis in a neutral position while planking for this workout. For many people, this will feel like they are tucking their hips slightly underneath. To know for sure, have a friend watch your positioning to make sure your spine is straight all the way through the hips.
Give it a shot, invite some friends, and make it a party! Let me know how it goes in the comment section, and don't forget to download the playlist.