Easy Hip Exercises for Staying Pain-free This Cross-Country Ski Season
Hip Flexor Stretching & Strengthening
It’s hard to believe that cross country ski season is just about to kick off here in Edmonton! The Birkebeiner ski festival is on the horizon, which means it’s time to think about getting your hips in shape for this annual event. Even if you aren’t planning to tackle the Birkie this year, happy hip flexors can make many other sports like skating and running so much more enjoyable.
What are my Hip Flexor Muscles Anyway?
Your hip flexors are a group of muscles that run through your pelvis to the front of your thigh bone (femur). Their primary function is to bring your thighs towards your torso; if you are standing it is your hip flexor muscles that lift your leg to take a step forward. Just imagine how many times you make this movement when cross country skiing!
When Hip Flexors Get Tight…
Most problems with hip flexor muscles are due to a lack of flexibility. Spending the majority of your day in a seated position will make these muscles tight. Add in activities like hockey, skating or skiing and it’s no wonder that our hips feel so sore at the start of the winter season.
Besides causing muscle tension or achiness, chronic tightness in your hip flexors can lead to lower back pain. If these powerful muscles become very tight they can pull the pelvis forward, which may cause a feeling of compression in the lower back.
For a sedentary person, daily stretching of the hip flexor muscles is essential in counteracting the effects of sitting all day. For those of us who enjoy sports like running or cross country skiing, stretching is key to maintaining performance and improving technique as well as minimizing discomfort at the start of the season.
Hip Flexor Stretch
– To stretch the right hip flexors, kneel with the right knee on the floor with the left hip and knee flexed to 90 degrees. Hold onto a chair with the left hand for support.
– Picture tucking your tailbone underneath you – this is the really important part of the stretch! If you aren’t completely certain as to how to do this then be sure to ask your physio at your next appointment.
– You should feel a stretch in the front of the right hip and thigh.
– If you want to increase the stretch further, gently lift the right arm up overhead, reach up to the ceiling, and side bend slowly to the left.
This is just one example of a way to stretch your hip flexors – if you feel that this isn’t working for you or you would like to explore alternatives, then follow up with your PT.
Create Muscle Balance for Happy Hips
Not only is it important to maintain the length of your hip flexor muscles by stretching, we also need to pay attention to the strength of the muscles that counteract their strong pull. To maintain muscle balance around the hips we can strengthen our hip extensor muscles, which are our glutes and hamstrings. A simple bridge exercise is an easy way to do this.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your feet will be hip distance apart and fairly close to your hips.
- Push through the soles of your heels to lift your hips off the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause at the top then slowly lower your body back to the floor.
Check out this video for how to perform the bridge exercise:
Beyond these simple stretching and strengthening exercises there are other exercises and techniques to minimize hip flexor soreness at the start of ski season.
Be sure to book an appointment with your Innovation physical therapist to learn how manual therapies or needling can help you to recover quickly as your body adjusts to being back on your skis. Your physio can also evaluate your technique and give you a personalized routine to complement your nordic ski training.
See you on the trails!