When trainers hear that I don’t use corrective exercise – I’m defining corrective exercise simply as specific protocols intended to address muscle imbalances and functional deficits in mobility and stability – they often ask me how I address the issues trainers commonly look to corrective exercise for.
In this article series, I’m providing my practical answers by showing you what I call my anti-corrective exercise solutions.
Here I’m showing my top anti-corrective exercise solutions for tight hip flexors.
This is how I go about improving hip extension range of motion and building strength throughout in order to help people move better and feel better without using common corrective exercise protocols.
What Is Anti-Corrective Exercise? Are You Trashing Corrective Exercise?
Before we get into the practical stuff, I need to make sure you understand my motives behind this article, and what I do and don’t mean when I say “anti-corrective exercise” because I’m not undermining anything or anyone here.
Corrective exercise (aka. reeducation, restoration drills) is an expression of well-intentioned trainers who want to learn more than the average trainer, and are dedicated to doing everything they can to help their clients and athletes to feel better and move better, not just make them sweaty and tired. I love and share this disposition and dedication to delivering a higher level service.
Many people seek out help from us trainers because they’re often victims of the medical model and they want to take a more proactive approach to their own healthcare. So, it’s common that people come to us trainers with limitations in movement quality along with aches and pains that don’t make them a physical therapy patient. And, I won’t argue that these issues are important to address (within our scope of practice), nor will I argue that corrective exercise concepts can offer a therapeutic and functional benefit. Hence why many intelligent trainers see it working in daily practice with their clients and athletes feeling better and moving better.
That said, my goal as a trainer isn’t just to help my clients and athletes to move better and feel better. It’s to help them move better and feel better 1) while creating a training effect that is challenging enough to achieve their physique and fitness goals. And, 2) to do so in the fastest, most efficient way possible in order to give them the most value by maximizing their time.
With this in mind, it’s common for multiple corrective exercises to be performed to address a certain functional deficit. For example, there might be three to five (or more) drills done to improve the function of one particular area, with a drill to address mobility and/or flexibility, another drill to address stability (i.e., control of unwanted movement), and another to address strength throughout the movement. Another school of thought might call it something else, but the point is, doing multiple corrective exercises takes time away from doing other exercises that build muscle and improve fitness.
All I mean when I say anti-corrective exercise is 1) not going through all those steps to effectively address functional deficits, while also 2) not sacrificing time away from doing exercises that are challenging enough to get our clients and athletes the physique and performance benefits they want. Therefore, my anti-corrective exercises are exercises specifically designed to 1) improve mobility, stability and strength simultaneously, while 2) building muscle and performance.
In other words, the “anti” in my term “anti-corrective exercise” solutions isn’t saying I’m against corrective exercise or anyone who uses and teaches it. It just means I’m anti overcomplication of programming and I’m anti making the training sessions more about the assessment than getting an actual challenging workout that’s enjoyable and geared toward the person’s physique and performance goals.
To be extra clear: I’m NOT saying that corrective exercise doesn’t work, nor am I saying that anything anyone teaches is wrong. So, there’s no need to start defending your favorite corrective exercise instructor, or your own practices with your resume and how you’ve helped your clients and high-level athletes. I never doubted you for a second! And, I have great respect for everyone who puts their work out and is doing their best to help the industry improve in the best way they know how.
All I’m saying here is I’ve found ways to achieve all of the benefits of corrective exercise faster, while also achieving the muscle building and performance benefits our clients and athletes want.
My Top Anti-Corrective Exercises for Tight Hip Flexors
These exercises can be used to specifically address tight hip flexors if you feel that you’ve got a reliable way to test for that. Or, they can be used in the more general sense, like I do, to improve and maintain hip flexor extensibility, which not only addresses tight hip flexors if that is the case, but also helps to prevent future development of tight hip flexors.
That said, whether tight hip flexors are a reliable predictor or contributor of pain and injury is beyond the scope of this article. However, it’s important to note that I use these drills to improve hip extension range of motion and build strength throughout with the goal of improving the ability of my clients and athletes to have a more capable and adaptable body. So, I’m not doing these exercises and claiming they will relieve or prevent pain. Although, in many cases, getting people to move more, and in ranges of motion they usually don’t use in their daily life often ends up with people having less pain as a nice byproduct of good general exercise.
All of the following exercises basically incorporate a hip flexor stretch into a strength training movement. Therefore, my first step is to familiarize the person with the position I’m looking for by teaching how to do a proper hip flexor stretch.
Since this is a pretty simple position to perform with some basic coaching cues, we can usually go right into the strength exercises below within a few minutes worth of practice.
Hip Flexor Stretch Myth Debunked
Also, I wanted to make sure I addressed a common concern some trainers have with hip flexor stretches like this, which is “does the front leg position being in shortened hip flexion offset the benefit of the stretch”?
Here’s my direct answer to this common concern.
Once they’ve demonstrated that they can get into the proper position of the hip flexor stretch, I integrate that into the following exercises as a regular part of their training. Especially in the beginning.
Angled Barbell One-Arm Side Leaning Press with Hip Flexor Stretch
In order to get the best hip flexor stretch; what’s key in this exercise is to hold the bar in the hand that’s on the opposite side of your down leg. Whereas, usually this exercise is performed while holding the barbell in the same-side hand as your down leg.
The other great thing about this exercise is that it’s a very shoulder-friendly pressing variation that allows many people to build upper-body pushing strength while working around shoulder pain with overhead pressing.
Cable One-Arm Row with Hip Flexor Stretch
If you’re looking for a simple to learn exercise that fights the sitting position, look no further!
This move gets you pulling strength, anti-rotation core strength along with a great hip flexor stretch, all in one!
NT Loop Upright Hip Thrust with Hip Flexor Stretch
Instead of having your up leg out to the side, I’ve modified this exercise to have your up leg in-front of your body, which allows you to also make this a great hip flexor stretch while you’re working your glutes.
It’s important to note that, if you’re trying to get your glutes working more with every rep, it’s far better to place the band around the top of your downside thigh than it is to have the band around your waist. This is because having the band around the top of your working (down) leg places the line of force (resistance) more directly in-line with the action of your hip.
How to Add an Additional Quad Stretch to Your Anti-Corrective Exercises
If a client needs to or wants to get even more extensibility work on their hip flexors, here’s how you can also create a stretch on the quads while doing the above exercises.
Captain Morgan Biceps Curls
This one creates an awesome stretch on not just the hip flexors of the down leg, but on the posterior aspect of the hip on the elevated leg, as well as some ankle dorsiflexion mobility on the down leg.
Additional Glute Strength Exercises
In addition to making the above exercises staples in programming, especially for new people, I also default to using some basic glute exercises that strengthen the glutes in their shortened to mid-range strength zone.
Once they can perform a double-leg hip bridge from the floor, we add an NT Loop. We then progress to an NT Loop Hip thrust.
Once they can do an NT Loop Hip Thrust with good control, we go back down to the floor and do one leg hip bridges, which are then progressed to one leg hip thrusts.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the glute exercises I use as staple exercises with clients, but they’re ones I often start with for beginners and desk jockeys to improve their glute strength in the shortened to mid-range strength zone of hip extension.
Of course, I also work on hip hinge exercises to also improve their strength in the lengthened to mid-range strength zone of hip extension so they can build true full range of motion strength.