In my last article, I outlined a few generalities that I see a lot due to our busy and, sadly, more sedentary lives. One imbalance I discussed was that of tight hip flexors and weak glutes (butt muscles.) I mentioned my client Judy, who had come to me after years of back and hip pain that improved after correcting the imbalance in her hips and getting her deep core back online. Judy was a successful attorney, which means that even though she exercised most week days, she was sitting during the vast majority of her waking hours. One of the things I recommended for her was to complete the following routine twice daily, and maybe more if needed. It went like this:
1. Stretch. Test and then stretch the hip flexors (if they are tight.) We need to avoid stretching muscles that are not tight—this can cause the muscle to become inhibited (shut down) and create more dysfunction. To test the hip flexors, I instructed Judy to get into ½ kneeling position (front knee over the heel, back knee under the foot. She was then asked to pull the toes under (if able) and keep a tall, vertical torso. If she felt a stretch in the hip flexor (front of the hip) of the down leg, she should stay there and breathe for 30 seconds. Then go through the same steps on the other leg, again, staying in position only if she was feeling a stretch. It’s important not to press forward into the stretch—we’ll all feel it at the end, no matter how flexible we are! Be sure to keep right angles at the hip and knee to avoid overstretching.
2. Activate. Once the hip flexors are “cleared,” it’s time to activate the glutes. My favorite exercise for this is glute bridging. Not to be confused with a yoga bridge, glute bridging requires that you maintain a neutral spine and avoid extending or flexing the lower back. For glute bridging, lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. I recommend placing a block between your knees so that your feet are about hip width and aligned with your knees and hips. (A roll of toilet paper seems to work well if you don’t have a block.) Take a deep breath in, then exhale and “shrink-wrap” your deep abs as you push through your heels to lift your hips just off the floor. If you feel the hamstrings or low back tighten, lower the hips and try again, not lifting as high. (I have clients that don’t really leave the floor the first week—they just press through the heels enough to engage the glutes without actually lifting.) The goal is to get the glutes to work—not strengthen just yet. Even if you’re not feeling the hamstrings and low back, lift only as high as you can maintain a neutral spine. (Again, we’ll all feel the hamstrings and back engage if we push far enough!)
3. Twist. Sitting still can make more than just your hips stiff; your entire spine will stiffen after sitting all day. After working on the exercises above, stand up and twist. First stand tall with your arms at your sides, feet about hip width. Take a deep breath in. Starting with your head, turn to the right, twisting through the neck, upper back, lower back and hips as far as you can without pain or strain as you exhale. Return to your start position with control, and repeat the twist to the left. You can do this 2-3 times per side, as tolerated.
Too much sitting can make even the healthiest back feel stiff and sore. These three tips are not meant to be a cure-all for all back pain, but a strategy to keep the back as comfortable as possible when we can’t move as much as we would like. It’s also a good idea to give yourself a “walk-around” break every hour. (I’ve had clients protest that they can’t just stand up and walk around when they’re in the middle of an important project, but I urge you to try it. Your brain may need the break as much as your back does, and you may find that you’re refreshed and more productive afterward. Have more questions? Leave a comment or email me at [email protected]. If you find this article helpful, please forward it to a friend.