STRETCHING AS TRADITION?
Traditionally, when someone wants to know how to improve flexibility for a given area, let’s say the hips, they would Google some stretches for hip mobility.
They might find a Pigeon Pose, a static hamstring stretch, and maybe some hip range of motion drills. These are not inherently bad or wrong to do, but what if I told you there’s a better way?
To make lasting changes within the human body, which is an extremely complex and intricate system that wants to be comfortable, a few things need to be taken into consideration:
- The body gravitates to the path of least resistance. A bad posture simply means that’s the shape the body has taken that is the easiest for it to carry out daily tasks in. It is where the brain feels most stable.
- Stretching does not likely make permanent changes in resting muscle length.
- The body will sense any change in posture as a threat unless told otherwise. It wants to be comfortable.
Now, in order to fix posture or increase flexibility within a given area of the body, we should consider those points and appreciate that making lasting improvements in range of motion is not often as simple as doing a few stretches a few times per day.
Back to the example of hip mobility. Let’s say we lack the ability to externally rotate our right leg. It feels really tight and you choose a Pigeon Pose to help improve flexibility.
That will help in the short term as you force yourself into end-range of motion, but because the body is lazy, it will just fall right back into the same posture, likely within minutes. It’ll essentially tell you “Hey thanks for this stretch, it feels a bit better, but it’s different and I don’t like it so I’m going back to where I was.”
THE ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE FOR HOW TO IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY
Here’s what I do differently with my clients:
First, if someone wants more external rotation for their tight right hip, I will think, “What structures, and subsequently muscle(s), are causing this limitation and are too tight?” and “What positions/muscles need to be facilitated to shut off those overly tight muscles?”
For example, if the right side of the pelvis was in more of a posterior orientation (as it often is), then the femur will be in more of an internally-rotated resting orientation.
As a result, the right femur has more hip internal rotation and less potential hip external rotation due to its resting bias.
This causes the muscles that are responsible for internal rotation and adduction of the femur/hip to become “tight” or concentrically-oriented.
The answer in this particular case would be the adductor muscles are too tight, limiting the hip’s ability to externally rotate. The adductors are internal rotators which, if overactive, will keep that hip locked in internal rotation and unable to get full external range of motion.
So, my goals are the following:
- Position the pelvis in a manner that allows the femur to properly externally rotate within the hip socket
- Facilitate the antagonist (opposing) muscles of the adductors and internal rotators. In this case, the gluteus maximus and hip abductors
- Allow the brain to let go via parasymapthetic input
So, I will facilitate the activation of the glute max, the big butt muscle we have, which is a huge external rotation muscle of our hips. I’ll put them in a position which is advantageous to activate the glute max, which will by default inhibit/lengthen the adductor:
The final piece to the puzzle would be breathing. If we can breathe through a position, we are telling our body that we can survive there and it’s safe. Especially if we can breathe slowly, controlled, and with our diaphragm.
I cue this by ensuring we posterioly rotate our pelvis (tuck the tail between the legs) and getting a full inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth until they feel their abdominal muscles fire, which is what we want in good breathing.