021: Why equestrians have tight hip flexors and how to solve it

As a rider we are quite often in a ‘chair’ position, in the car, at work, on the horse, having a cuppa, watching Netflix, etc. We feel tight in our hips and continue to stretch and add in more stretching.

This might be part of the issue, it may be tight hip flexors in addition to dormant glutes.

When the glutes aren’t doing their job, muscle function and movement mechanics in the hips – as well as strength, power, mobility, stability, posture, and athletic performance – suffer.

Are your glutes asleep? Do you experience any of the following?

  1. Knee pain: I have many riders indicating they have mild to moderate discomfort from knee pain. Chances are that your glutes, as well as your hamstrings, aren’t functioning properly and the quads and hip flexors are over-worked. Maintaining an appropriate balance of strength between the anterior (front) and posterior (back) is important for overall health and joint functions. So we need to make sure that we balance out our off horse strength training to optimise symmetry.
  2. Exercise Technique: Look at your squat, hinge, and lunge mechanics. If there’s significant anterior knee shift (knees coming forward), valgus knee collapse (knees collapsing inward), lack of hip hinge mechanics, and inability of the feet to screw into the floor, chances are the glutes aren’t receiving proper innervation, making them weak and dysfunctional. So we need to fire them up!
  3. Weak ankles and feet: Do you pronate your feet (roll them inward), in or out of the saddle or are your feet and ankles weak in general? This is a warning sign that your glutes are weak and disengaged. Similarly, lack of balance and stability correlate strongly with poor glute and hip function. So, might be time to work on ankle stability and strength too!
  4. Tight hip flexors: If your hip flexors are constantly tight, its extremely likely the antagonist muscles, (the glutes and hamstrings) are weak and inactive. It is important that strength is balanced by glute and hamstring training to ensure overall function and take the load off of your hips.

‘ok i have tight hip flexors and a weak butt, now what?’

We all google tight hip flexors all the time so i’ll add in a video to release those at the bottom, but first, lets talk about glute strength and its importance, because this is the bit you need to do and lets be honest here, probably why we are in this pickle. If you don’t do the necessary strength work in the weak areas, the tight areas will always take over and as a result you will continue to be tight.

STRENGTHENING THE GLUTES

Work on your hinge:

When your glutes and hamstrings are stretched they are working at a full range of motion which is important for glute function. Starting with bodyweight single and double leg hinge movements are a good way to start.

Then, progressing to axial loaded hinge movements such as variations of Romanian deadlifts, deadlifts, and good-mornings will emphasize eccentric lengthening of the glutes and hams. To maximize the effectiveness of these exercises, do them in an eccentric/isometric fashion using a slow negative and a 3-5 second pause in the stretched position. This will do wonders for hip function and glute strength.

It is also important to hit the glutes when they are contracted, variations of glute bridges and hip thrusts, reverse hyperextensions are all great examples.

The Cable (or banded) Pull Through

The cable pull-through (can also do with bands) is one of the most effective exercises for learning and mastering hip hinge mechanics. Yes, it looks and can feel a bit dodgy but your horse and your hip flexors will breathe a sigh of relief  and thank you for mastering this move.

The pull-through relies on horizontal forces through anterioposterior loading, which matches the force vectors of how the glutes actually function. As a result of working directly against forces that want to flex your hips, this pulls the body into ideal hip hinge mechanics. In addition, this is one of the few hip hinge movements that involve significant tension in both the stretched and fully-contracted positions.

Why KB Swings are your best friend!

KB swings are amazing for strengthening the back of your body (latts, glutes, extensors and hamstrings). This is because there is a deceleration component required in a stretch position and the innervation of muscle fibres in the eccentric phase.

Watch your knees!

Weak glutes cause ugly knee movement, valgus knees (inward collapse) is no good and by improving on this you will instantly improve activation and function of the glutes. Think of screwing your feet into the floor and pushing knees out ward so the ankles are stacked.

Another coaching cue is to spread the floor with your toes.

Perform regular glute activation

Ensure you have glute activation exercises within your programme, and possibly include as part of your warm up and pre mounting routine.

Some exercises may include:

  • Fire Hydrants
  • Lying leg raises
  • Clams
  • Glute bridge variations
  • Single leg hip extensions
  • Reverse Hypers
  • Side Plank with Leg lift
  • Cable/banded kick backs

RELEASING TIGHT HIP FLEXORS

This video will take you through some of the ways that you can start to release tight hip flexors. But remember, if we don’t match the release in tight areas with strengthening the weak areas this problem is going to continue! Sooooo, go and work on your glute and hamstring strength!

Take home messages:

  1. Strengthen your glutes and hamstrings
  2. Release the hip flexors
  3. Increase glute activation into warm ups and workouts

Thats it for today, as always if you have any questions at all please send them my way!

 

Jenni xx

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