Most problems with the hip flexors, however, don't originate in a lack of strength but in a lack of flexibility. To understand how these muscles lose their flexibility, imagine someone with a broken arm, her bent elbow encased in a plaster cast. When the cast is removed after six or eight weeks, the soft tissues around the elbow (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even skin) will have shortened, and the elbow won't straighten out. It will take patient stretching over several weeks to restore the range of motion. Similarly, if the hip is constantly kept in a flexed position—like sitting—for hours every day, day after day, the hip flexors will shorten and shrink, limiting your ability to fully extend (straighten) the hip.
Unfortunately, there are a number of ways we jeopardize the health of this important muscle group. For starters, our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are leading to what experts call “gluteal amnesia,” in which the butt muscles become overstretched and underused (read: weak). On the flip side, it’s also possible to overuse and overexert these muscles—whether we’re excessively clenching the tush in certain asanas, such as Warrior II or Wheel Pose, or pushing too hard while running or hiking. Not only do under- or overworked glutes affect range of motion in the hips and sacrum, but strength imbalances can also lead to instability or pain when we’re on our mats.
The gluteus maximus (also known collectively with the gluteus medius and minimus, as the gluteal muscles, and sometimes referred to informally as the "glutes") is the main extensor muscle of the hip. It is the largest and most superficial of the three gluteal muscles and makes up a large portion of the shape and appearance of each side of the hips. Its thick fleshy mass, in a quadrilateral shape, forms the prominence of the buttocks.
Lefkowith put together a bodyweight workout, below, that does just that. While weights and resistance bands are great tools for building strength, she says that sometimes it's easier to focus on contracting the right muscles when there's no equipment involved. "You aren't concerned about the numbers you can lift or the reps you can do but what you actually feel working," Lefkowith says.
Lie on your left side and position yourself so that your bottom forearm is directly under your armpit and your legs are straight with feet stacked. Brace your core and lift your hips in the air, forming a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Next, raise your top leg, without bending your knee, a few inches into the air. Hold for 3-5 seconds, lower the leg, and repeat. Complete required reps then switch sides.
Rest your hip. Sore hip flexor muscles can benefit from rest. Avoid the activities that caused your pain. Ice your affected hip for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Keep the leg of your affected hip elevated as much as possible 48 hours from the first onset of pain. You can also take over-the-counter pain medications to help control pain.
SOURCES: Debbie Siebers, certified personal trainer; developer of fitness video/DVD programs. Sue Carver, physical therapist; owner, A World of Difference Therapy Services, Little Rock, Ark. WebMD Live Event transcript: "Staying Fit -- Rich Weil, MEd, CDE," Feb. 25, 2004. WebMD Live Event transcript: "Fall Into Fitness Richard Weil, MEd, CDE," Sept. 2, 2003.
How to do it: Begin with your head, neck, and shoulders comfortably fixed against a stability or Swiss ball and both feet firmly planted on the ground, knees bent at 90°. (This is also known as table top position.) Either stretch your arms straight up above your chest with your hands clasped to maximize the balance and stability challenge, or down on either side in case you begin to slip or tip over. As with the other bridge motions, simply lower your hips toward the floor then drive them toward the ceiling. Lower and repeat.
Working on gluteal muscle strength (buttock muscles) can be beneficial to reduce hip flexor tightness. Working the glute muscles pulls the hip into extension (the opposite of flexion which is what the hip flexor does) and improves muscle balance at the hip. Increasing the strength of your gluteal muscles can help calm the hip flexor down and reduce the feeling of “tightness”.
Some bodybuilders use drugs such as anabolic steroids and precursor substances such as prohormones to increase muscle hypertrophy. Anabolic steroids cause hypertrophy of both types (I and II) of muscle fibers, likely caused by an increased synthesis of muscle proteins. They also provoke undesired side effects including hepatotoxicity, gynecomastia, acne, the early onset of male pattern baldness and a decline in the body's own testosterone production, which can cause testicular atrophy. Other performance-enhancing substances used by competitive bodybuilders include human growth hormone (HGH), which can cause acromegaly.
If you tend to stand with a "swayback," developing awareness of the opening at the front of your hips is especially important. In Tadasana (Mountain Pose), practice lifting the ASISes, moving the tailbone down, and lifting the lumbar spine. Putting a belt around your waist, as you did in Warrior I, may help you increase your awareness of your pelvic alignment in this pose too.
The real problems begin, however, in poses requiring full extension (straightening) of the hip joint. These poses include backbends such as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose), where both hips are extended, and standing poses like Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I) and Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III), in which the legs open forward and backward (front leg hip flexed, back leg hip extended). In all these poses, tight hip flexors can cause painful compression in the lower back, a fairly common problem in backbends.
Anytime you breathe in, just know your diaphragm is contracting. HOLD THIS position as long as possible. You want to hold it, so you strengthen the muscle in this range. Soon, you will feel the need to let the air out. DO NOT QUICK RELEASE the air. Allow the air to come out slowly until you reach the bottom. The bottom mean, when the diaphragm is fully relaxed. At this point, TRY AND HOLD IT AS WELL. You don’t have to, but it’s good to train in the stretched position as well. DO NOT SUCK IN AIR quickly because you feel like you’re going to die, try and control the breathing back to the top and then resume back to normal strokes. Do this over and over. Start with 5min.
Elsa Pataky's trainer, Fernando Sartorius, says that focusing on squeezing your glutes while performing a booty-blasting exercise allows you to activate the muscle group to their maximum potential. Cameron Diaz's trainer, Teddy Bass, founder of the trademarked booty-sculpting program called Rock Bottom Body, says you should get into a bridge position and memorize what it feels like to really engage your buns—and then try to feel that burn every time you work your butt. The point: Thinking about squeezing your glutes (and actually squeezing them) while strength-training helps you work the muscles in your butt harder.
As I mentioned earlier, the exercises that come first in your workout (aka primary compound exercises) should usually be done in the 5-8 rep range. Exercises in the middle (aka your secondary compound exercises) should usually be done in the 8-10 rep range. Exercises done at the end of your workout (which is typically where isolation exercises belong) should usually be done in the 10-15 rep range.
Because I don’t want you to have to waste all the years and money that I did (not to mention the surgeon’s bills), I came up with a method of training and eating specifically for skinny-fat, injury-prone hard-gainers: guys who historically can’t gain muscle doing the workouts they find in magazines or on blogs. It’s also perfect for all guys over age 35 who need to be smarter with their training as they age.
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To make that motion more natural, glute-building exercises are key. Ones that require hip motion or balancing on one leg, like these from John Henwood, running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, are best: They fire the glutes to help you stabilize and stay upright. Do one set of 15 to 20 reps, two or three days per week, and say hello to a stronger stride.
Remember my special answer: here it is… MOUTHTAPERS exist. People out there will tape their mouth closed during sleep so that they can breathe their nose. Even during the day sometimes. Why? Because the nose is directly connected to the diaphragm while the mouth is connected to the chest. Sure, increase chest mobility and your lungs may be able to expand more which will allow more air to be held, BUT HOW CAN YOU HOLD THAT MORE AIR IF YOUR DIAPHRAGM is weak? You won’t. So everything I just talked about must be done through the nose. Notice yourself breathing with your mouth and SWITCH right away. It takes work and energy. How you breathe during the day rolls over to how you breathe during the night.