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How to use the lunge position to work hamstrings or the hip flexors (or both!)


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Hi Olivia

I have followed Kit (and yourself) for a number of years, and my stretching routine is based on your methods. A question for you please.  The hamstring and hip flexor stretches I use both come from a similar starting lunge position, with minor positioning alterations.  I find that both stretches stretch both the hamstring and hip flexors but to different degrees.  My main question is, does it matter what order they are done in?  e.g, hip flexor first, then hamstring, or the other way around?  Actually, this question could be expanded to include all stretches, but my question starts with the 2 stretches specifically.

I hope this is clear?

Olivia's reply:

Thanks for your message. My apologies for my slow response – crazy times.

In response to your points/question below, yes, the lunge position is indeed the base position for both the hamstring and hip flexor stretches. The cues for each are designed to help you target hamstrings in one exercise, and hip flexors/quads in the second. For both exercises, tension in the other muscle group is desirable in order to position the pelvis (and hips) such that the stretch effect is felt in the muscles you are trying to stretch.
 
For example, take the hip flexor exercise. Tension in the hamstrings of the front leg posteriorly tilts the pelvis so that lumbar extension is not incorporated (extending the lumbar spine is one way the body avoids stretching the hip flexors on the back leg, after all 😀, and for someone with lower back pain, lumbar extension can be very uncomfortable and might cause a recurrence of their pain, so must be avoided). 
 
With regard to which order to do the exercises in, there is no strict rule here (we don't really have any 'rules' in ST). In our experience, the hip flexor/quadriceps complex is tight in almost everyone, and loosening it is fundamental to good health, so we suggest people start with it. If your positioning does result in the maximum feeling being experienced in the hip flexors of the back leg, it is still the case that the hamstrings are getting some work as well. As an experiment, you could do a session working only on the hip flexor version of the lunge and then feel where the soreness is in the days following – if it is mainly/only hip flexors/quads, then your positioning was perfect. If it is also hamstrings, then this may suggest to back off the hamstring component the next time you do the lunge to target hip flexors, and/or it may suggest that your hamstrings need the work, so next session (after all soreness has resolved) do the hamstring version of the lunge. "Backing off the hamstring component" is done by letting the front leg's knee flex a few degrees; play with this to find how much.
 
A much shorter answer would have been that you will have to experiment and pay close attention to the responses in your body.
 
One more comment. I encourage my students to vary the order from time to time. We as humans are creatures of habit, and like what we already know, so tend to do the same sequence each time. We know that the more novel the movement is, the greater the effect: this is true of order of exercise practice, just as it is of technique used, frequency of stretching, and many, many other variables.

 

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