One of the most common problems I see with riders when I am doing Posture Assessment and Awareness Clinics are tight hips. This can manifest itself as an inability for the rider to turn their upper leg at the hip, toes turned out, problems with adjusting their pelvis to implement weight aids or just downright pain or discomfort in their hips or lower back.
Weak and tight hips are not limited to riders either. Modern lifestyle, such as sitting for long periods of time at an office desk, driving a car or just sitting down to watch TV can cause our gluteus muscles to weaken and our hip flexors to shorten and become tight.
As riders, our hips are a part of the body that we really need to keep in shape. However many of us pay them little attention until they start to hurt. Tight hip flexors not only lead to problems with our riding but potentially can cause problems to our posture as a whole, such as an anterior pelvic tilt which can lead to lower back and knee pain. Hip problems also tend to develop as we age, so if we want to continue to ride and get the most out of our horse, we need to start looking after our hip flexors.
Several muscles cross the front of the hip and create hip flexion, but one of the most important of these muscles is the iliopsoas, comprising of the iliacus and the psoas, which lie deep in the back of the abdomen. Other important hip flexor muscles include the periformis, the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), the rectus femoris (one of the four quad muscles) as well as the gluteus maximus (which is on the back of your hip or buttocks) and the gluteus medius, which is the primary muscle on the side of your hip.
While each muscle functions slightly differently, their overall combination allows them to flex the hip joint, anteriorly rotate the pelvis, and extend the lumbar spine. Due to its’ attachment on the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine, the psoas also plays an important role in lumbar spine stabilization.
While the primary function of the hip joint is to provide support for the torso it also needs to be able to facilitate movement of the legs. As riders we need maintain a healthy range of motion at the joint as we need to strike a balance between strength and flexibility that allows for safe and efficient movement.
The most common problem that riders have with their hip flexors is lack of flexibility. Incorporating a few simple exercises in to a daily regime will not only improve your day-to-day mobility, but also help your riding.
Here are two stretches that are simple to do:
Lie on the floor with both legs straight. Bend one leg and place the foot just above the opposite knee.
Use your hand to increase the stretch by pulling the crossed knee toward your opposite shoulder, stretching the piriformis muscle.
Remember to go gently into and out of the stretch, and use a little pressure from your hand to resist against the muscles you want to stretch.
Get on your hands and knees, so that you are four square. Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go and bring your feet in line with your knees, so that your lower leg forms a right angle or 90° bend at your knee. Your shins should be parallel with one another.
Flex your feet so your toes are also at right angles and your heels are pointing towards each other and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. Hold for a count of 30.
During the stretch try slowly moving your hips forward and backward to bring the stretch to different parts of your hips.
It doesn’t take much to get your hips working. Join an online Pilates class to get you motivated, ten minutes a day can make all the difference to your flexibility and really help your riding. It can also make the difference between needing a hip replacement, or not!
For those of you who prefer to watch and listen to “how to do” exercises, there is a class on exercises for painful hips here.