Are you sitting down right now? If you are, you probably need to do this stretch. And, if you have anterior pelvic tilt (APT), you definitely need to do this stretch.
I’m not talking about this stretch though:
The typical hip flexor stretch has the pelvis go into anterior pelvic tilt (essentially dumping the front of the pelvis downward or the middle torso extended back.)
Going into anterior pelvic tilt (APT) to get out of APT will not get you out of anterior pelvic tilt. You must maintain a neutral pelvis.
To do this, we need to make sure our pelvis is neutral. Enter the stick.
Using a stick on your back to make sure your low back can touch your thumb is a great way to stay neutral:
You need to make sure that you don’t stretch beyond the point where you cannot touch your low back to your thumb.
Some of you will not even feel a stretch without losing low back to thumb contact. But don’t get discouraged that you don’t feel a stretch.
As long as you keep practicing, your flexibility will improve.
How far should you stretch? There’s no magic answer, but as long as your leg can go behind you, that's great.
(You can confirm tight hip flexors by doing a Thomas Test or a SEA test. However, if you have APT, it makes sense to do hip flexor stretching regardless because it will tend to help get you out of APT faster.)
Some of you will not be able to even get into position without your low back losing contact with your thumb. If this is you, we need a different method.
For those of you who can’t touch their low back to the thumb, you will need to hug the knee.
Lie down on a bench. Begin with hugging both of your knees. Let one extend, but make sure your pelvic line stays vertical like this:
Squeeze your obliques and keep the front of your pelvis tucked up to keep your pelvic line vertical.
With anterior pelvic tilt, the obliques get overly lengthened. We know from research that a muscle which is overly stretched does not produce as much force as a muscle which is at an “ideal” length. (1)
We need to shorten our obliques if you have APT. Everybody talks about stretching, but shortening your muscles is just as important.
Remember, in anterior pelvic tilt, the muscles which are too short and which should be stretched are the hip flexors, lumbar erectors, and possibly the quadriceps.
The muscles which are too long and which should be shortened include the obliques, glutes, and hamstrings.
A way to prevent going into an anterior pelvic tilt when you are lying on your back is to use your obliques to try to posteriorly tilt your pelvis. This means you will use your obliques to keep a vertical pelvic line.
I’d actually rather err on the side of getting too much of a posterior pelvic tilt rather than going into APT. If you get in a posterior pelvic tilt, you can still effectively stretch the leg that’s down.
What’s great about a posterior pelvic tilt is that your obliques are shortened which we need.
If you go into APT just a little, your obliques are being stretched out too much. So, anytime we go into APT, they are overly lengthened.
Okay, now that you are hugging your knee, got your obliques activated, and have a vertical pelvic line, what do you do with the down leg?
You need to push it downward into the bench by using your hamstrings. If you some of you have long or heavy legs, you will feel a strong stretch by doing this. If however, you have short or light legs or simply can’t bring it down to feel a stretch, keep practicing.
This is where a partner or any kind of weight on the thigh can help. You can have a partner simply push down into your thigh slowly and gradually. Do not lose the vertical pelvic position!
Or, you can use a strap or weight belt to weigh the leg down. Make sure you don’t go too heavy or you’ll risk losing your vertical pelvic position.
The sweet spot for this stretch is keeping the vertical pelvic line, and feeling the stretch.
Here’s another tip: A stretch doesn’t need to be a 100% but it should be at least 80-90% of your maximum stretch before pain. (2)
Unless your hip flexors are very lengthened (like below 10 degrees below parallel on a Thomas Test), you can do well by stretching your hip flexors.
Stretching the muscles which cause APT effectively gives you easier access to get a neutral pelvic position. What is really happening is the APT-causing muscles provide less tension to cause APT. This is why if you include strength training combined with stretching, you will see faster results.
Hip flexor stretching is important for getting out of APT. If you make sure you have a vertical pelvic position, you will increase your flexibility, and get out of APT.