Hip Flexor Strength

Hip Flexor Strength

Access Deeper Forward Folds

uttanasana

HIP FLEXOR STRENGTH OVER HAMSTRING FLEXIBILITY?

Hip flexor strength for deeper forward folds over hamstring flexibility? It’s not a matter of one or the other; it’s about how one can inform the other. It’s also about how, through the process of connecting with developing strength in your hip flexors, you not only learn and discover more about your body, but you also build a deeper, more intimate connection with your body’s potential. In today’s video, you’ll get a glimpse into one of the formulas Matt utilizes to gain access to a deeper forward fold. The method is very specific and intentional. You’ll learn to execute how you have the potential to strengthen and articulate specific movements of the pelvis and spine. Within specific techniques that Matt breaks down, you’ll witness the evolution of your new approach to accessing deeper forward folds.

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REVERSE YOUR BACKBEND

Coming into a forward fold position, whether seated or standing, can be an almost “effortless” action if that’s your intention. This may be all that is necessary in a specific scenario, but there is so much more available to you. It’s funny how you would never take this “effortless” approach going backwards into a backbend. It’s easy to conceive and appreciate how calculated and thoughtful you must be to safely execute a backbend like Wheel, for example. Folding forward, however, presents opportunities to be just as deliberate. Matt compares the approach to a forward fold as almost the “reversal of a backbend.” If you’ve practiced with Matt before, then you’ll be familiar with the concept of bowing the spine (lifting the belly in and up while flaring the ribcage forward) in order to reduce spinal compression by creating increased length between each vertebra.

A similar approach is taken in a forward fold. In this case, it’s important to be aware of finding more of an anterior tilt of your pelvis—this may require sitting up on blankets—and then drawing the mid-section back to find more flexion of the spine. There is much more involved in the approach, but reversing a backbend is probably one of the most accessible visuals.

WATCH THE VIDEO

HIP FLEXOR STRENGTH:  ACCESS DEEPER FORWARD FOLDS

SPINAL FLEXION & DISC INJURIES

It’s extremely important to note that spinal flexion is not advisable if you’re experiencing any disc injuries—a herniated disc, for example. Aggravating this condition with spinal flexion may cause further compression of the nerves or spinal cord, causing more pain and/or dysfunction. When you practice with Matt, however, you’ll learn very quickly that there are always ways and opportunities to transform the experience in your body. Focusing on hip flexor strength for deeper forward folds might be the only aspect you work on, if that is all that’s possible in your body at a given time.

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THE ROLE OF THE HIP FLEXORS

Focusing on hip flexor strength for deeper forward folds is integral to your practice because it both informs the articulation of the pelvis and helps increase flexibility in the hamstrings. This happens via a technique called reciprocal inhibition: activating the muscles that oppose the muscles that are stretching. Yes, hamstring flexibility is necessary, but it can be challenging, and if that is an area of tension for you, it can be extremely vulnerable to injury.  

In today’s video, Matt demonstrates (from an Ardha Uttanasana, or Halfway Lift, position) that when you push your heels out (causing internal rotation of the upper thighs) and lift up through your sit bones, you will activate the tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle. In addition, Matt explains that if you lift your kneecaps up, it will also activate the rectus femoris, a quadricep muscle that is also a hip flexor. A bonus effort is to pull your big toes towards one another to activate the pectineus, a deep adductor muscle; as mentioned, it will support bringing the pelvis into anterior tilt. Activating these muscle groups while the hamstrings are lengthening is in fact reciprocal inhibition. These steps offer an essential foundation to help you intelligently move into a forward fold, safely and deeply.

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THE FINAL STEPS

Once you’ve implemented the above steps, and if spinal flexion is a safe shape for you to explore, following these next steps will offer deeper access:

  1. Bow forward
  2. Lean more into your fingers and toes
  3. Pull your front ribs back to round the spine and create more spinal flexion (with a focus on the thoracic region)
  4. Think about the back of your skull reaching towards the ground
  5. Lean more into your toes and fingers once again to support your balance
  6. Pull your front ribs in and look towards your belly button

Finally, stay there to breathe and enjoy the new sensations and patterns you’re creating for your body and your nervous system.

Working on hip flexor strength for deeper forward folds will actually offer a gateway to a vast number of other yoga postures. You can continue to explore the possibilities in Matt’s current Twist & Folds immersion.

See you on the mat!

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Mobility Immersion

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SHORTEN TO LENGTHEN YOUR STANDING SPLITS

SHORTEN TO LENGTHEN YOUR STANDING SPLITS 

INCREASE FLEXIBILITY WITH THIS TECHNIQUE

HANUMANASANA

SHORTEN TO LENGTHEN

What does shorten to lengthen your standing splits even mean? Does that even make sense? At first thought it may seem counterintuitive that if you want to increase your flexibility, you need to shorten. What we’re talking about is shortening muscles in order to find greater length in your hamstrings for this posture. There is a specific technique that supports your ability to increase your flexibility, all while building strength and integrity in standing splits.

PASSIVE VS. ACTIVE STRETCHING

Any variation of splits requires a great deal of flexibility, and because lengthening muscles is non-negotiable to execute this posture, a common go-to strategy in your yoga practice may be to select postures and techniques that passively assist you in this endeavor. This passive assistance might involve using a yoga strap, a wall, and/or the floor to sink into the forces of gravity. These can be effective stretching methods at various times, but if you’re interested not only in lengthening but in the overall health of the muscles that are lengthening, then please introduce yourself to the concept of a Facilitated Stretch (more on this in a bit). This technique asks you to shorten in order to lengthen. A facilitated stretch requires you to be a more active participant in creating stronger and healthier flexibility in your body.

 

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FLEXIBILITY? STRENGTH? or BOTH?

In order to achieve standing splits, there must be a level of flexibility in your hamstrings, adductor magnus, and the hip flexors. There must also be an awareness around the movement of your pelvis. However, an element that often gets overlooked is the fact that a great deal of strength is required for the posture. 

When preparing for standing splits, Matt explains that the goal is to keep the hamstrings engaged through the entire range of motion. How is this possible? This is where the awareness of the articulation of your pelvis is key. In the video, Matt demonstrates the importance of slowing the tipping of the pelvis on the way down and also tucking the sit bone of the standing leg downwards (this will create more of a posterior tilt of the pelvis).

The rest of the body should stay in one piece to ensure that the movement is occurring from the hamstrings of the standing leg—everywhere else is stable and immobile. This may take some time, due to the patterns you may have created in your body.

WATCH THE VIDEO: SHORTEN TO LENGTHEN YOUR STANDING SPLITS

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YOUR BODY’S TENDENCIES

Our bodies just love the familiar, so it will take an incredible amount of focus and awareness in order to go into the places in your body that require more length and strength. This is in fact how you will unlock the posture. You will not only achieve the aesthetic of the posture but also move in the direction of better balance in your body. This also means a reduced risk of injury. Matt always encourages a more intelligent and methodical approach to your practice as a whole, but this method must also be applied as you approach each posture. 

No matter your approach, Splits, Standing Splits, Hanumanasana are very demanding and deep postures that may put you at a higher risk, so the activation of muscles is key. This brings us back to the concept of a Facilitated Stretch. What is it, and how is it implemented?

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FACILITATED STRETCH

If you’re just starting your journey of practicing with Matt, please believe me when I say that you will become the best of pals with this concept. Is it challenging at times? YES, YES, and YES I said that multiple times, but is it effective? YES, YES, and YES again!

A facilitated stretch is when a muscle is engaged while it is in a lengthened position. We have something called Golgi tendon organs which communicate muscle tension back to the brain. When a muscle is both engaged and lengthened, the brain will receive that information and will in turn send a signal back to the muscle that it is safe, therefore allowing it to lengthen more. This is in fact the key to the development of increased flexibility. This is also in fact extremely effective for those of you who may be hypermobile. It creates a sense of control and awareness around your end ranges in a particular posture. We have the ability to facilitate this tension by the articulations we might create with, for example, an action of the pelvis and/or the directional pull of a particular joint against a surface, prop, or other part of our body. Staying closer to a safer amount of activation usually means placing roughly about 20% of effort (or less) into the activation. At the root of it all is your breath, so keep this in mind as we look at the steps Matt provides in order to set up Standing Splits at the wall.  

STANDING SPLITS AT THE WALL

  1. Use hands as a base of support
  2. Look towards the wall
  3. Lift right heel (shortens the back line)
  4. Turn pelvis closed and turn inner heel of the lifted leg to the sky
  5. Straighten through inner heel of the lifted leg to the sky
  6. Lower heel of the standing leg back down
  7. Lean more into fingers and toes as top leg is straightened

*Here’s the opportunity to tap into the facilitated stretch of the standing leg:

8.  Standing leg (in this case the right leg) is not passive—microtuck the sit bone down towards your heel so that the hamstrings are engaged

If it feels like you’re strengthening rather than stretching, then you’re on the right track. This is in fact the sensation of a facilitated stretch and what actually increases your flexibility. Rather than causing alarm to your body, it will feel safe to release and lengthen.

A DIRECT LINK TO HANDSTAND

Safety breeds confidence, and the beautiful thing about incorporating techniques like a facilitated stretch into your yoga practice is that you feel both prepared and confident to explore a variety of postures. This exploration allows space for you to work towards postures that may feel “intimidating” or even “inaccessible.”  

The specific techniques that Matt has demonstrated for Standing Splits create a direct link to Handstand. The direct link comes from what is required in regard to the setup. Getting into Handstand from the ground up requires a great deal of flexibility and strength. You can find out more about the crossover between these two postures in Matt’s current immersion, Handstand & Meditation.

See you on the mat!

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Mobility Immersion

CHOOSE YOUR PATH

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