Question: I am not very flexible at all – my hip flexors and quads tighten extremely easily. Do you have any stretching or exercise tips to help with this?
When you think of flexibility, you are looking at the range of motion (ROM) around a joint.
The first thing to do is determine whether you suffer from:
1) A lack of length. Length of a muscle has to do with genetics, training/sports history, age, injury history, posture, etc.; however, length can be easily changed with consistent flexibility training.
2) A high amount of tension. Muscular tension (tonus) is the continuous contraction of muscle at rest or the resistance of a muscle to a stretch. The list of possible causes are generally the same as those above. The treatment, however, is usually very different.
3) or a combination of the two.
Now that we have defined the two, how can you assess which one (or both) that you are suffering from?
To determine whether the problem is length, you should test your range of motion. One simple test is to lie on the ground, facing downwards. Reach back and gently pull your foot toward your gluteal muscles (glutes). If your heel without shoes can kick your glutes, your length is fine. Another great test is to have someone perform a hip flexor length test on you. You can do this for free by signing up for the Tufts Personalized Performance Program, where every student receives five free personal training sessions (http://ase.tufts.edu/physed/ppp/main.asp). This test can assess the length in the quad and the hip flexors. It can also give you information about issues with the illiotibial band as well.
To determine if tension is the culprit, you will need a friend or a trainer. He or she would perform the above laying-down test, but while bringing the heel toward the glutes, the helper would determine where the leg fights the stretch or becomes heavier in its resistance to the movement. Another way to check tension is to have a massage therapist or chiropractor palpate the area to determine whether there is a higher than necessary amount of tension.
Okay, so we have the culprit(s) length, tension or both. What’s the treatment?
Massage tends to have a greater effect on lowering tension while stretching is better able to increase length. Stretching is never supposed to hurt, so please remember not to push yourself on a stretch; you can hurt yourself. Below are the two best quad stretches for tension. The first is a more isolated quad stretch while the second involves the hip flexors as well.
- Integrated quad and hip flexor stretch: by bringing the knee behind the hip the stretch on the hip flexors as well as the quad muscle the rectus femoris is intensified.
Massage work is easy to do on the quads. However, the hip flexors (specifically the psoas major and iliacus) are best treated by a competent therapist, as they are difficult to self manipulate.
- Rolling both quads at the same time – this is a moderate version of massage.
- By bringing the right leg off the roller you increase the intensity on the left leg in the below photo. To make it even more intense bend the left leg (like a hamstring curl).
- Lastly, you could use the massage stick on your quads. You can use any cylindrical item to roll the muscles. Rolling pins work but are very intense.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be used in replace of one-on-one consultation with a certified personal trainer. If you have questions or concerns, please contact a professional to speak with about your individual situation.
By: Dan Kopsco
Editor: Kate Sweeney