Happy August everyone, yeah I know what you're thinking and no, nobody stuck you in a time capsule (I hope), it IS August. Everyone always seems to pack their summers with things to do, weddings, vacations, family reunions and so on. I'd say this is probably the reason it feels like time flies in the summer, nicer weather probably helps too. Enough of that, let's get to the good stuff.
Do your hip flexors hurt or constantly burn? Do you stretch them? Do they feel better? Do you know what the definition of insanity is? For those that don’t get my point, stop stretching your damn hip flexors. Odds are, if you've stretched them a bajillion times, with no relief, they’re not tight, your hip flexors might not be the problem. The problem is likely that something else is weak and/or your hips in general are unstable.
The hip flexors are the new(ish) hamstrings, everyone's are tight, and it's the thing that is causing everyone's pain. Just like the hamstrings of yesteryear, it's not that simple. Stretching isn't going to solve 90% of those issues (that's what we call a SWAG), might aide some of them, but won't truly fix the issue.
A client of mine during her assessment brought up that her hip flexors were burning while we did some basic squat drills. Now I didn't completely rule out that they could be tight, until she told me she stretches them a bunch. Even went through the right way to stretch them, yeah no relief came. We did a single leg squat variation and there was zero complaint about pain or burning feeling. Lightbulb! With no relief whatsoever after stretching, plus no issue present with the single leg variation, it was clear, it's a stability or even an alignment issue. While some people may just avoid the squat altogether, I'll explore every option to see if we can find a bilateral squat that works, and if not, no shame in single legging it for awhile (or forever).
In cases like this I will truly hammer the hip area with activation and strengthening, also looking elsewhere to what else could be contributing to the problem. Things like ankle weakness or instability, which can cause all sorts of issues going up the chain were considered (and addressed). We also looked at glute strengthening of all sorts and making sure the core was actively working throughout the squat.
My favorite thing to do to in this case, besides a single leg squat variation, is the hip thrust. I prefer to do the banded variation with new lifters and then go barbell once they've got the hang of that, or if they're a bit more experienced. My reasoning, isn't so complexed;
Another favorite I tend to gravitate towards as an accessory, is some sort of clamshell variation. I particularly like the variation shown above by Mr. Michael Anderson, when it's appropriate. Here's why I like this one;
I actually have paired these exercises as a superset, with the Hip Thrust being the main, big bang for your buck, exercise and the clamshell variation being a tweener/filler/more-productive-than-sitting-around exercise during the rest.
To summarize, if you think your hip flexors are tight or the like, and you've stretched them more than a dungeon master, they're probably not tight. The answer is likely something to do with weakness or instability, start working on a strategy to correct that instead, cool?
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Jarrod Dyke, CSCS