Why do runners have tight hip flexors?

I have been a very active person since school days. I was in track & field and netball mostly. I continued this lifestyle to keep me fit and helps me relieve some form of stress. Being an avid runner and cycler that I am, instantly I assumed I am flexible and that I am super healthy. Well, maybe in some ways I am but not entirely.

From running, I have trouble completing the rotation in the hip extension or feel tightness in the front of my hip and down the front of the thigh, my hip flexors are too tight. This tightness contributes to the pelvis “spilling” forward, throws off the balance and prevents the leg from driving backward I learnt.

If I hadn’t felt a constant pain in my knee, I would probably be actively running and not venturing myself into yoga – which for me is the most beautiful form of exercise anyone can adapt. You learn to pay attention more to every inch of your bones, muscles, cells and everything else that is in your body whilst doing asana. Even if it’s just lying down.

I started to attend class regularly since I first learned about it 4 months ish ago, sometimes up to 3 classes a day, practice at home, and make progress in most poses—except for forward bending. I seem to have hamstrings of steel! No matter how often or how long I practice, there doesn’t seem to be any change. This is why I’ve decided to take up the YTT here. Not only wanting to be a teacher for myself but particularly to learn the correct posture and alignment especially. This skill set is one I want to master I told myself. In this YTT I realized that, like the hamstrings, a group of muscles in the hip area—the external rotators—can interfere with the ability to bend forward.

Called the obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, piriformis, and quadratus femoris, these muscles are short, broad, and very strong.

While each of these muscles is a separate structure, they function as one, working to externally rotate the femur (thigh), stabilize the pelvis during walking, and help stabilize the pelvis and the femur together when you are standing on one leg. When you bend forward, all of the muscles on the back side of your body must lengthen, including the rotators.

An especially important rotator is the piriformis, which attaches to the sacrum and to the femur; the sciatic nerve passes directly under this muscle. A tight piriformis can do more than just limit your forward bends.

When a tight piriformis presses down on the sciatic nerve, it can lead to “piriformis syndrome,” which creates a radiating pain in the buttocks, down the back of the thigh, into the leg and foot.

And if this rotator is especially tight, it can pull on the sacrum, affecting the functioning of the sacroiliac joint (the joint between the sacrum and the pelvis). When the sacroiliac joint is dysfunctional, the lumbar (lower) spine can also be adversely affected.

I thought to know all of this was pretty amazing. And remember, that is one small part of it. There are many other interesting muscles you can and will learn doing any Teacher’s Training program. You will start to appreciate, respect and care for your body more than you think you have.

Farah D. Kusairi

p/s: So if your forward bends are limited, or if you’re experiencing “piriformis syndrome,” it’s a good idea to continue to work on your hamstrings, but also include a few rotator stretches in your regular asana routine.