What if I told you there is a constant war going on in your body? A constant fight between sides, trying to win at all costs.
I'm not talking about good versus evil, I'm talking about your muscles.
The human body is made of a bunch of opposing muscles, constantly playing tug of war on bones and joints. This long-standing duel is actually good. It helps your body move properly.
These opposing muscles are front and back, side to side, and run diagonally across the body. If these muscles are chronically out of balance, then joints don't operate efficiently and injuries occur.
Below I will review common issues with the hip flexor and glutes, what imbalance leads to and how you can help create balance.
HIP FLEXOR VERSUS THE GLUTE
How often do you say, oh dang, my hip flexors are so tight? If you sit at a desk for work, probably quite often.
What is the hip flexor and what does it do?
The hip flexor is a series of muscle and tendons that start deep in your belly, connect to the front of the hip and go down to the femur. This tendon actually helps lift your leg up toward your body. So if you're standing and raise your leg like you're stepping up on to a step, that is your hip flexor "flexing" your leg.
What is the glute and what does it do?
The glute is a set of three muscles that pull your hip and femur down, back, and actually helps rotate the femur away from the middle of the body (externally rotate). So say you are sprinting, the leg in front will be pulled back behind the body by the glute muscles. This is overly simplistic, but it helps to make the point.
OK, so let's look at the hip flexor and the glute are warring against each other from a front and back view. For this, it is helpful to think of the hip structure as a bowl of water. The goal is to keep that bowl balanced.
Hip Flexor Winning
When your hip flexors win, this effectively points your pelvis more toward the sky and water would pour out the back side of the bowl. The muscles of the front are shortened and the muscles of the back are lengthened.
This puts extra strain on low back and increases risk of injury because they're not able to fully contract to provide stability for the low back. As a result, other smaller muscles take over and often can't handle the pressure.
Another unfortunate side effect is that you get the "no ass" look where your back goes straight to your legs without the site of any ass.... sad, sad indeed.
Glutes winning means the front of the pelvis is likely pointing toward the ground and water is spilling out the front. This problem also creates issues in the lower back because the base of the spine and the muscles around it have a leverage-type pressure from the backside of the pelvis.
This leverage forces the lower back muscles to be shortened, or tightened, and thus the low back default setting is in "extension" rather than neutral. The low back muscles flexing all the time is also not good and can lead to overuse injury or other issues in the low back.
The side effect of this is up for debate about it being good or bad aesthetically. The side effect can be seen as "booty popping" or "Instagram booty" where it looks like you're constantly putting that booty out there for the world to see. While it may be the look some people on Instagram are going for, that's not a good default position to live in.
WHAT TO DO IF THE HIP FLEXOR IS WINNING
Simple answer -- strengthen the glute! I like doing single leg glute bridges to help my clients feel how one side is tougher to squeeze all the way up than the other. You can also do Romanian Deadlifts, Step Ups, Vertical Jumps, Broad Jumps, Deadlifts, or weighted glute bridges.
WHAT TO DO IF THE GLUTE IS WINNING
Simple answer -- strengthen the front of your hip girdle! This can be deadbugs, hanging leg raises, v-ups, straight leg lifts, band resisted leg step ups, banded deadbugs, or banded mountain climbers. Not only do you need to strengthen your hip connection, but also all the muscles that are deep in your belly that make up the hip flexor.
Three key takeaways:
"Tightness" in one area may just be weakness in another area and stretching may not be the only prescription to fix it
Lack of muscle balance can lead to injury elsewhere in the body, not just where the imbalance occurs
Don't over train one area of the body, make sure that, overtime, your workouts lead to balance
The war over your hips is very real and very strong. Being perfectly balanced will likely not happen as the demands of your day to day life change. Maybe your body is just naturally (through genetics) very posterior or anterior dominant and your hips are shifted one way more than another, that's OK, keep that in mind for your training!
Be cognizant of the bowl of water your hips create and keep that body in good position!