Sit at a desk all day? Your body will thank you for this, promise. (Photo: Michael Moore/Corbis)
How many hours a day do you spend sitting? The answer is probably, “too many.”
The hip flexors — the muscles that run along the front of the hip and are primarily responsible for lifting the leg up into your chest — are a notoriously tight muscle group. And that tightness can affect the alignment of your entire body.
Because we sit a vast majority of our days, these muscles are always in a shortened, flexed state. “This is a problem because when you stand up, the muscle maintains its shortened position,” explains celebrity personal trainer Holly Perkins, CSCS, author of Lift to Get Lean and founder of Women’s Strength Nation. “This causes a tugging of sorts on the front of the pelvis, pulling it downward — which in turn causes a pronounced curve in the lumbar spine (low back).”
Over time, this “forward rotation in the pelvis places stress on the low back muscles and can eventually lead to low back pain, or injury,” Perkins tells Yahoo Health.
If left unaddressed, that shortened state of your hip flexors will become more and more permanent, causing tightness that ranges from uncomfortable to painful and limits the mobility of the hip joint. Tightness in the hips will begin to pull the shoulders and head forward, leading to poor posture, back and neck pain, and even headaches.
Related: One Stretch to Wake Up Your Body
Our seated, sedentary lifestyles are one culprit for tight hips, but adding certain types of exercise into the mix — while great for the rest of our health — can further tighten the hip flexors. Activities like walking, running, biking, or anything that repeatedly pulls the knee up into the chest will exacerbate the problem. Without counteracting this with stretching, we become — you guessed it — even tighter.
Increasing your hip flexibility will have positive benefits not only in the hips but over your entire body. The more flexible you are, the better you can prevent muscle strain and tears, preserve and improve joint health, prevent or eliminate chronic pain, and boost your fitness performance.
For tight hips, Perkins recommends the following stretch, which can be done nearly anywhere. She admits to doing this stretch anytime she can, up to 10 times a day. Realistically, she recommends performing this stretch at least three times per day: in the morning as you begin your workday, during lunch time, and at the end of your day.
This stretch specifically addresses the iliopsoas (hip flexors) and a little bit of the upper quadriceps (thigh) where it crosses the hip joint. “This stretch is very important for men as they tend to be more prone to low back issues,” Perkins says. “Most women have an anteriorly rotated [front-tilted] pelvis by nature. When the additional rotation is added from tight hip flexors, the risk of injury is higher in women, making this stretch particularly important for them, too.”
Fitness expert Holly Perkins demonstrates a great stretch to counteract sitting all day. (GIF: Amy Rushlow for Yahoo Health)
How to do it: Stand facing a sturdy chair (or any sturdy object). Lift your right leg and place the foot flat on the seat of the chair. Hold the back of the chair with both of your hands, and press your hips forward, leaning into the hip of the bent leg. Keep your chest lifted and your hips square. Press forward with your hips to feel an awesome stretch in the pelvis, hip, and top of the quads of the back leg. Optional: Raise your left hand toward the sky to feel a stretch in the side of the body. Hold, relax, and breathe for 15 seconds on each side.
For a more intense stretch, perform the move on your knees. Start kneeling with your hands on your hips. Step forward with your right foot so that your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Lean forward into the front leg to feel the stretch through the hip flexors of the left leg. To incorporate more of the quad muscle, reach back with the right hand, grab the left toe, and pull your foot off the ground toward your butt.
Read This Next: 10 Workouts for a Stronger Back and Abs