Got Tight Hips? Stop Stretching And Foam Rolling And Do This Instead

Do you sit for more than 4 total hours per day?

Do you perform full body exercises (squat, lift, pull, push, run) less than 3 days per week?

Do you have chronic back or knee pain?

Do you have poor squat mobility (chest forward, up in your toes, knees inwards)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you have been told you have “tight hips”, “tight hip flexors” or “tight hamstrings”. It is possible that this may be true, but I am yet to find someone who has actually fixed their above problem by stretching or foam rolling. I have nothing against stretching and foam rolling, in fact I do some of that myself.  But I do have a problem when this strategy is touted as the way to create permanent mobility changes.

The false belief that you will improve a tight joint like the hips by stretching and rolling out comes from the symptom relief that you feel after you have performed said movement.  This phenomenon is called the stretch reflex.  It feels like tension and pain is released when a joint is manipulated, a muscle is stretched, or a specific muscle group is mechanically stimulated with a tool or by hand.  This stretch reflex is VERY USEFUL, however it creates a temporary neurological response to the motor units of the muscle groups associated with the tight or facilitated areas. In other words, it feels better and loosens up.

Here’s the mistake: Once this relief has been achieved, then the person goes back to their same old bad habits and there is no permanent change experienced.

So how do you create permanent change?

First of all, the no-brainer is that you must minimize sitting, maximize consistent movement and posture change throughout the day, perform at least 3 days of full-body functional exercise, and perform routine recovery and mobility maintenance.  Otherwise you’ll always be shoveling sand into the ocean expecting to gain progress.

If tight hips are your issue, then movements like internal hip rotation, external hip rotation, hip flexion, or hip extension will be restricted. You will feel imbalance when you squat deep, try to put one foot on top of the opposite knee when sitting, or sit crossed legged for example.

Here’s how to tackle your problem:

 Step 1:  Perform breathing drills

 Magically, by improving your breathing mechanics this can drastically improve hip mobility instantly by alleviating diaphragm and psoas restriction. Taking big belly breaths while lying on the ground and filling your core will restore integrity to the pelvic floor, diaphragm and hip flexors.

Watch the below video on how to perform this drill.

Step 2: Activate facilitated or tight muscles

This can be achieved on your own by using a tool like a lacrosse ball or acumobility ball to target trigger points and activate muscle groups. * Consider having a movement professional like a chiropractor assess your problem if you have acute pain*. This may mean that your problem needs professional attention. 

Watch the below video for instructions on how to do this.

Step 3: Activate your hips with corrective exercise

This is the critical step that most people miss. Once symptom and mobility changes happen then they can become permanent over time with corrective exercise.  Now that your nervous system is communicating better with the dysfunctional joint tissue it’s time to teach your brain how to properly use the new “rented” mobility. 

Exercises for your hips you can use are air squats or goblet squats, reverse lunges, banded lateral march, banded psoas march, dead bugs, or a combination of all the above.

 Watch the below video for instruction on how to do this.

There you have it. 

Notice I did not include any static stretching in this routine.  The reason being that stretching will simply not create the mobility changes that so many people say it does. Creating pelvic stability and strengthening better movement is the only way to improve mobility that will improve over time.

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