If your New Year’s resolution doesn’t include more mobility on the reg…well, it should. Unfortunately, our modern way of life predisposes us to being more sedentary than human beings were designed to be. Many of us are stuck in the same position due to what is required of us to make a living on a daily basis. Is this a position you find yourself in most of the day?
Reverting back to my previous point about what’s required of most of us to make a living…Many of us are held hostage to the same sedentary routine day in and day out, even if we exercise regularly. This routine looks something like the following:
- Wake up
- Sit Down to eat breakfast
- Sit Down in the car to get to work (if you walk to work, you get bonus points)
- Sit Down to work for several hours (you may or may not get up at some point to move around for a measly couple minutes)
- Stay at work to eat lunch, or go somewhere to eat lunch and Sit Down again to eat
- Get back to work and Sit Down to work for several more hours
- Leave work and Sit Down in your car to get home
- Get home and Sit Down on the couch to chill and watch TV and eat dinner
Sure, you may get a killer workout in to start, end, or break up your day, but what are you doing the other 23 hours of the day? If most of that time involves sitting, you probably have chronically stiff muscles and joints that need to be mobilized.
When we subject our bodies to this seated position for hours on end, especially after breaking down your muscles and flooding them with metabolic waste products from strenuous workouts, a few not so cool things occur:
- Blood flow and metabolic waste products in the lower extremities are not efficiently transferred back to the upper body to be cleared until we get our bodies moving. This means your recovery time will be increased and your body won’t be ready to go for the next workout as quickly as someone who is moving around much more throughout the day
- Your glutes (aka. Butt muscles) get “shut off” and elongated. Now, your glutes don’t actually “shut off”, as that’s not possible. I’m just trying to make a point that, when always in this seated position, your hip flexors in the front of your hip (i.e. psoas, iliacus, and quadriceps) tend to get chronically shortened (i.e. tight) and your glutes, which oppose the motion of the hip flexors (i.e. they extend the leg back), tend to get chronically lengthened (i.e. inhibited). All this means is that those two muscle groups do not balance each other out, so we tend to get problems at the hips, lower back, and knees when this happens. We often need to stretch the hip flexors (i.e. iliopsoas and quads) and strengthen the hip extensors (i.e. glutes) if we want to reset their relationship and avoid problems
- Things get really, really stiff. If we’re always sitting, and compressing the backs of our legs (i.e. hamstrings and glutes) into a chair, our tissues (i.e. skin, connective tissue under the skin and surrounding the muscles, and the muscles themselves) can become really junky, stiff, and adhered together, which can result in more problems with movement and range of motion. These tissues should be able to slide past each other without feeling like they’re stuck together. If you have a dog, go pet it and feel how the superficial layer of skin just easily slides past the deeper layers of connective tissue and muscle. That’s how it should feel in most areas of the body
So, to counter these adverse changes that can happen in the body, the following three mobilizations should be a staple in your mobility practice.
- Glute Smash
This is one of my personal favorites. The goal of this mobilization is to find tight spots in your glute musculature, sit on them, and release them so they restore their normal resting tension and function. This can be quite uncomfortable and I often see people do this by just rolling over the glutes, but not sinking deep into them to actually make lasting change. We do this by using a technique called “contract and relax”. See instructions below:
Grab a lacrosse ball, or a Yoga Tune Up ball (I love this brand. Check it out) and position it like so, underneath a tight spot in your glutes. I recommend sitting like this instead of the classic “Figure 4” so you can actually contract and relax deep into the muscle. Sitting in the “Figure 4” winds up the muscle pretty good and makes it more painful and difficult to actually relax.
Squeeze your butt on the side you’re working really really hard for 10 seconds (this is the “contract” piece). You don’t need full pressure on the ball at this point, because you will sink into it after you release.
Stop squeezing and sink into the tight spot. This will probably be pretty uncomfortable, but the contraction is used to relax the muscle after the contraction is over, so just suck it up and know that this will benefit you in the long run. Stay on the spot until the pain starts to subside or you feel the muscle releasing the tension (usually 90-120 seconds, but sometimes longer)
Repeat on a different spot. You may be a little sore afterwards if these muscles have been really stiff for a while, so don’t go crazy and try to spend 30 minutes releasing your glutes. Spend about 5 minutes per side at a time and come back to it the next day when those muscles have had some time to recover.
2. Couch Stretch
If you ask me what you can do to stretch your tight hips, I will immediately point to an Abmat and a wall and tell you to go do the couch stretch. This is probably the best stretch I have found and have used regularly to stretch tight Quads and Hip Flexors. If you know of one that works better for you, please leave me a comment, as I’m always open to learning about more effective stretches. See instructions below:
Grab an Abmat or something soft for your knee and get into a “tabletop” position on your hands and knees with your feet pressed into the wall. Then bring one leg up onto the wall as shown in the picture. Then bring the opposite leg forward as shown. Support yourself like so, with both hands. This may be enough of a stretch for you. If it is, follow the instructions below for this variation. If you’re more flexible, move into the position below.
Bring your torso up into this position and use a nearby wall or some object to support you if you need it. When I say “keep your rib cage down”, you want to imagine keeping the bottom of your rib cage closer to your hips rather than farther away. This will keep your spine in a neutral position, without overextension, and allow you to stretch the hips more effectively.
Using the same “contract and relax technique from before, squeeze your core and trailing leg quads as hard as you can for 10 seconds
After you’re done squeezing, relax the tension and slowly push your trailing leg hip forward deeper into the stretch. While you do this, squeeze your glute on the same side to push your hip further forward.
You can either repeat the contract and relax technique after about 1 minute of holding the stretch, or you can just hold the stretch for as long as you need to make some lasting change in your range of motion. Shoot for at least 2 minutes per side.
3. Ultimate Hamstring Stretch
I recently discovered a more effective way of doing this stretch, using a technique called “contract and relax with antagonist contraction” (don’t worry, I explain it below). Utilizing this technique will help you improve passive range of motion as well as active range of motion. This means that we are attempting to lengthen the hamstring muscle group, while strengthening the hip flexors near their end range of motion. This is much more effective for quality movement instead of just passively stretching the hamstrings for a couple minutes. Here’s how it’s done:
Lay on your back and prop one leg up onto a wall, door frame, or squat rack with the knee straight while allowing the other leg to relax on the ground. If you’re really stiff you may need to put some weight on your “down leg” to keep it on the ground. Relax your upper body.
Next, push your heel into the wall, increasing your pushing effort every 2 seconds (i.e. 25% to 50% to 75% to 100%) until you reach 100% effort. You will push at 100% effort for the last few seconds of the 10-second contraction. Be sure to keep your other leg down.
After the 10-second contraction, stop pushing for 1 second and relax.
After you relax for 1 second, pull your leg off the wall using your hip flexors as hard as you can for 10 seconds while keeping the other leg down. This is the antagonist contraction piece. We do this to improve our active range of motion. The hip flexors oppose the movement of the hamstrings, so in order to improve active range of motion in movements that require hip flexion in one leg (e.g. right leg in this case) and hip extension in the other leg (e.g. left leg in this case) simultaneously, we need to activate and strengthen the muscles in their end-range positions.
After you finish the previous contraction, hang out and relax in this position for another 90 seconds. After you finish, change legs and repeat, then stand up and use your newly found range of motion.
This is a great mobility sequence that takes approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. You don’t have to do them all at once. Spread them out over the day and do them when you feel you need to, but these are exercises that should absolutely be done daily. Give them a shot and let me know what you think. Happy mobilizing.