Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Do Your Hips Extend? Looking at hip extension and flexion~

In a previous blog,, I talked about the Psoas, a mysteriously named muscle with many functions including flexing one's hips.  Exactly what does that mean?

Hip flexion without bending the knee.

Hip flexion without bending the knee.

The word flexion actually means to decrease the angle between two bones at joint.  Flexing your biceps involves flexing your elbow joint, bringing the hand closer to the shoulder.  Thus hip flexion would be bringing the leg closer towards you in the sagittal plane (think plane dividing body into front half back half).

Now the catch with hip flexion is that most of us sit in chairs and end up in a position of passive hip flexion and knee flexion (bent knees) and retain that position for many hours a day.  We know now that our bodies process the movement or lack thereof and adapt to the shape that we most frequently inhabit, for better or worse.  If you primarily flex the hips and knees and never fully extend them, you may have chronically short or weak hamstrings, limited range of active hip flexion and limited range of active hip extension, for starters!

Pure hip extension!

Pure hip extension!

Extension (as a definition) increases the angle between the bones in a joint.  When you extend your knee, you are straightening your knee from the bent position, increasing the angle between the femur and the shin bones.  When you are extending your hip, your leg is essentially moving backwards in space, say 10-20 degrees.  When you walk, run, or lunge, you have one hip passing through extension.  Now why the fuss about these two words?

Standing apanasana can be great to focus on hip flexion (the bent knee) or hip extension (standing leg).  Try resting the bent knee on a table and stepping the standing leg back for more extension.

Standing apanasana can be great to focus on hip flexion (the bent knee) or hip extension (standing leg).  Try resting the bent knee on a table and stepping the standing leg back for more extension.

Well, most of us work the hip flexors (including the psoas and iliacus) most of the time- sitting, practicing while seated, cycling, driving...but only in a limited range, i.e. knees and hips bent to 90 degrees.  We need to balance out the movements of the hips a bit more- add more extension and more varieties of flexion.  For example, sitting cross legged, sitting on the floor, squatting, kneeling, etc. all require more varieties of hip movement.  To get more hip extension in your life, you can add some restorative exercises like standing apanasana, lunges (lots of lunges!) and go walk (not on a treadmill).  That way, you don't lose your capacity to move those joints to their full capacity, and you will have loaded the tissues in more diverse ways.

 

 

 

Even in great alignment, this double flexion of knees and hips starts to affect our soft tissues and our psoas, since that becomes our most frequent position!

Even in great alignment, this double flexion of knees and hips starts to affect our soft tissues and our psoas, since that becomes our most frequent position!

Should I do yoga or pilates, Feldenkrais or Alexander Technique, Crossfit or weight training?

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People will sometimes ask me, "what should I do," and then list two different disciplines and ask me to pick which one will be more beneficial for them.  This may be comparing yoga and pilates, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais, Physical therapy or massage, and so forth.  It's an interesting position to be in, especially when I don't live in the same city as the person inquiring.  Although I teach yoga and pilates, they are different though not dissimilar disciplines, and they both address similar shapes and postures in the body, and it's hard for me to say which one will "be the best."  Here's the thing: all methods have value in exploring movement in the body.  Methods are just different lenses of exploring the body, from the perspective of one person. (in the case of yoga, a few people).  Your body doesn't know feldenkrais from Hanna somatics from a supine twist in yoga, your body knows movement.  That's not to say that there isn't value in knowing a yoga sun salutation, classical pilates mat work, or other organized sequences, but your body wants the movement not the method.

Your body doesn’t care whether you are practicing yoga or pilates or Feldenkrais, your body just wants to move.

 I really just care that you give your body more chances for movement in your daily life.  As a yoga and pilates teacher, I'd love for people to try those things, but if it's not for them, that's fine.  Each method of exploring movement has value, but also has drawbacks and limitations, and at the heart of it all is finding a good teacher.  There are amazing yoga teachers, and there are less amazing yoga teachers.  There are deeply insightful physical therapists, and those who will give you a handout and send you to the PT assistant.  As with any discipline, the teacher quality does not necessarily dictate the quality of the discipline, and so my suggestion is to find a  good teacher of whatever modality you want.  It may be a teacher who has practice in many disciplines or just one, but it's someone who sees and understands the body, who aspires to move better in their own body, and who is a perpetual student.  Regardless of the modality, a great teacher will help you the most to understand and inhabit your body more fully.