Does your low back hurt? Do you spend time foam rolling your spine and trying to upward dog the ache out of it? The other day, my low back was all kinds of fired up (return to real WOD’ing after 9 months of sitting will do that). The very first thing I did before my workout was a whole bunch of hip mobility and stretching (hip flexors and hamstrings). Low and behold – pain/discomfort gone! Loose hips, happy back.
To put it most simply, when we sit for extended periods our hip flexor muscles shorten/tighten – they’re essentially in a stagnant state of flexion, without adequate extension to full ROM (standing). If we don’t stretch them back out properly, they can pull on other connected parts of our body (think groin, low back, hamstrings) and cause strains and injury.
A little more complex: the most major of the hip flexor muscles – the psoas – runs from your femur (top of your thigh bone), through your pelvis, and attaches around the back to vertebrae in your lumbar spine (L1-L5) and T12 in your low back. The iliopsoas is the combo of the psoas and the iliacus, a smaller muscle attached to the pelvis and groin. These two together are primarily responsible for your hip flexion. Along with a bunch of other muscles (think adductors), they are how we hinge at the hip, lift our legs walking, running and jumping, etc.
To recap: Sitting for a long time AND lots of exercising with minimal stretching (AHEM, we are looking at many many of you), can lead to locked up/tight psoas and pain in surrounding areas. Quick stretching or more sitting (GASP!) may give you temporary respite, but for long-term progress, pain relief and injury prevention, you gotta work.
What to do: Aside from sitting as little as possible (we know, not realistic)…
- Pre-Warm-up: Foam rolling, though NOT your low back. Instead, roll the parts of the body that release tightness in the low back, like your hip flexors and glutes.
- If you still feel tightness/low back pain after your warm up, let a coach know and run through some of the below stretches/yoga poses pre-WOD.
- Post-WOD: We always recommend at LEAST 5 minutes of static stretching post-WOD. If you are out of time in the hour you’re at the gym, there’s always the living room floor in front of the TV…
Couch Stretch (Daily!) (Kelly Starrett; not just potential help for hip/low back, but also quads and runner’s knee AKA patella tendinitis). Try to get your back leg perpendicular to the wall. Front leg at 90 degrees to start; once in position, move around in the stretch. Squeeze your glutes and abs. Hold for 1 minute each side and repeat.
Basic Hip Flexor Stretch (Breaking Muscle): Start with your legs at 90 degree angles with ruler or barbell lined up at your front shin. Lean into the front leg, sinking your hips down, pushing the front knee just beyond 90 degrees. Hold 1 minute, at least, each side.
Frog Pose (Daily Burn): Great for hips, groin, inside of thighs. Start in tabletop. Walk knees out to the side as wide as is comfortable; ankles should be in line with knees, feet turned out. Bring forearms and palms flat to the floor. Press hips back until you feel a deep stretch in your hips and inner thighs. Once your pelvis starts to reach toward the floor and you are able to sink deeper into the pose, feel free to bring your arms out in front of you. Until then, stay on your forearms for support. Also can be helpful to put an ab mat or two under your pelvis as a target. People often say this position is uncomfortable on the inside of their knees – mats can help there, too. Hold for 30 seconds, at least twice.
Seated Pigeon Pose (Daily Burn): Sit with knees bent, feet flat on floor in front of you. Place one ankle on top of the opposite thigh and flex your foot. Hands placed behind you, with fingertips facing away from your body. Press your hips toward your heels. You should feel a stretch through the outer hip of the lifted leg. Make sure your back is up straight, shoulders relaxed, chest open. Hold for 30 seconds x2, each side.
Pigeon Pose (CrossFit Stuttgart): From tabletop, slide your right knee forward and left leg back. Hips should be squared. Back leg straight behind you (foot lined up with hip), quad on the mat, toes pointed with top of the foot on the floor. Front shin does not have to be parallel with the front of the mat, but the more parallel it is, the more intense the hip opener. Front knee should be in line with the front hip. Sink your hips down toward the mat. If you notice a big gap between your hips and the mat, it is helpful to place a towel, yoga block, or ab mat under your hips/pelvis. Until you are able to sink your hip forward hip into the mat feeling support from the floor, keep your torso upright with your shoulders pulled back and down. Once your flexibility improves, feel free to lay forward and extend out your arms into a comfortable position. Hold for 30 seconds x2, each side.
More resources, both for hip openers and low back tension: