Anyone remember the time you could barely get in your playboat because your hamstrings were so tight, or the time you were able to cram yourself in, but your hips and low back were sore for days on end afterward? Chances are you’ve got an unhappy pelvis from sitting for hours on end in a retroverted position.
The pelvis consists of two hip bones connected at the pubic symphysis and posteriorly to the sacrum at the sacroiliac joints (2). The pelvis is stabilized by the low back, as well as muscles of the groin, buttock and hips. Specific muscles include the quadratus lumborum, piriformis, gluteus muscles, psoas muscles, Iliotibial band, and hamstrings.
Tight hamstrings limit the mobility of the pelvis during bending/lifting activities. This means that the lumbar spine has to take up the slack, which over time causes hypermobility and possible pain in the lumbar spine. In addition, tight hip flexors torque your pelvis, causing pelvic tilt, which can lead to pain as well as all sorts of alignment, postural, and functional problems. If your hip flexors are tight, the hamstrings become the primary mover in hip extension rather than the gluteus (butt) muscles, increasing the chance of injury to the hamstring as they are forced to endure more load than they are supposed to- one of the causes of sciatica and pulled hamstrings- not very common in paddling, but a good example of how easy it is for the pelvis to become torqued or tilted in one direction or another. Don't worry though, these hidden pelvis issues can be fixed by some simple hip-openers!
What are hip-openers you ask? Hip openers are a set of exercises developed to loosen up your hips and pelvis. These stretches can be done before or after paddling as a way to re-align the pelvis, and lengthen muscles. When reading these exercises, think of the human body as one large chain. If the chain has a kink midway through, the rest of the chain will be off. In other words, if your hamstrings are tight, this can cause pain in your pelvis. If your low back is weak, this can affect your pelvis and in turn your hips, knees and even ankles. To address one weakness, you must address the others.
1. Hamstring Stretch:
The hamstring is actually a collective of three different muscles: semitendinosis, semimembranosis, biceps femoris. Collectively, they are responsible for flexion of the knee, medial rotation (semitendinosis and semimambranosis) and lateral rotation (biceps femoris) of the leg.
There are tons of stretches out there for the hamstring. My personal favorite is done laying down. Put a belt or strap around the ball of one foot. Lift your legs straight into the air over your body, and pull downward on the strap, bringing your toes toward the ground, straightening your leg. Hold for 30 seconds, 2-3 times each leg and repeat.
2. Hip Flexors: Thomas Stretch:
The hip flexors are a collective of muscles that aid in flexion of the hip, as well as other movements: iliopsoas, pectineus, gracilis, etc:
To stretch the hip flexors, sitting at the edge of a bed, bring one knee toward your chest, and lay backward, leaving the other leg to dangle off the edge of the bed. You should feel a good stretch in the front of your hip/groin area of the leg dangling off the edge of the bed. To increase the stretch, move your hips farther toward the edge. If you’re dangling foot touches the ground, try a surface higher off the ground. If there is still no stretch, you’re just too darn flexible, and can try a hip flexor "lunge" stretch.
3. Piriformis Stretch:
The piriformis originates on the sacrum, and inserts on the greater trochanter of the femur. It functions as a lateral rotator of the hip, and is commonly tight in paddlers.
To stretch the piriformis, lay on your back, bend your knees so your feet rest flat on the floor. Bring your right ankle to your left knee/upper thigh (1). Press your right knee away from you. You should feel a good stretch at your right hip/pelvis. If this is too easy, bring your left foot off the ground, and your left leg toward you (2).
4. IT Band Stretch: The IT Band runs along the lateral aspect of your leg, originates at the anterior iliac crest of the pelvis, and inserts at the lateral epicondyle of the femur.
The IT Band can be easily stretched while cooking dinner or brushing your teeth. While standing, cross your left leg in front of the right. Bend to the left at the waist. Repeat sequence with opposite leg for a good stretch.
5. Massage Balls: I LOVE massage balls! It is the super simple, easy solution to most paddler’s physical pains. Lay on the ground with the ball between your body and the floor. Put it right on the painful area, and roll your body side to side over the ball. Try using it above, below and to the sides of the painful area. You can even put the ball between yourself and a wall for a good time.
6. My personal favorite: The rolling pin. That’s right folks, raid your mom/significant other/best friend’s kitchen drawer for that rolling pin! Run the rolling pin over your legs: front, back, sides. You’ll know it when you’re tight, because it will hurt intitially. After a little bit of rolling, you’ll slowly be able to take more pressure on the area, and pretty soon all those micro-knots and painful trigger points will be gone! It’s a great thing to do on your legs, back, arms, and entire body for that matter! Try it immediately after activity for best results. A foam roller does the trick as well.
Lastly, while stretching is important, strengthening is just as important. Check out my earlier post on Core Strengthening
to further address pelvic stability.
All of these exercises can be performed in the comfort of your home, and take little time to complete. With a regular core regimen, you will find yourself performing better on the water before you know it!
Kim Becker (Russell)
**Kim Becker (Russell) has a B.S. in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. She is currently working as an Exercise Specialist working to provide stretches, strengthening exercises and mobilization techniques to paddlers. These techniques are ones that she has found to work for herself in re-aligning her pelvis, and may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these stretches.**