Tight Hip Flexors and Posture Improvement Through Pilates

Jul 27, 2020

How does sitting for long hours at your desk weaken your glutes and impact on your running?

Weakness in the hips and glutes is common amongst those of us with a sedentary lifestyle. If our glutes aren’t working to their full capacity, then other muscles will have to overwork to pick up the slack.

Because of this, many runners I’ve met are told by their Physical Therapist that they have a ‘lazy butt’. So, why is this such a problem if, by evolution, we are actually designed to run?

 Let's take a minute to refresh our knowledge of the glutes. 

The gluteal muscle group consists of the gluteus maximus, minimus and medius. All three of these muscles have different yet very integrated roles in the lower body in relation to stability and mobility.

In summary, the gluteal muscles as a whole are responsible for:

  • Hip extension – think take off phase in running
  • Hip abduction – external rotation and internal rotation of the hip
  • They are important for Femoral, patellar and tibial alignment – think correct leg tracking
  • Stabilizing the lower back and sacroiliac joint via its attachment into the thoracolumbar fascia – think pelvic stability when running

The truth is, we sit too much, we take too many elevators and we skip too many stairs.

If we think a bit more about the sitting position, we can see that it is placing us in a hip flexed position. If the pelvis is tilted forward, then the hip flexors will become even tighter during the day while you are sitting at the computer or watching TV.

It has been shown that spending eight hours or more a day seated can have a negative impact on your glutes. If a muscle isn’t contracted, the muscle nerve neurons become dormant through underuse.

When this happens, these muscles cannot activate correctly, and your lower back and hip flexors become dominant and the glutes are neglected. This results in bad posture and bad form when you run and can lead to injury and decreased performance. 

Here are some of the injuries that can occur due to this muscle imbalance in the leg:

  • Knee and hip pain – can occur if the hip flexors and quads work too hard as they can recruit the ITB fibres to help do the work
  • Hamstring injury – can occur if the glutes aren't working and the hamstrings have to do too much
  • Sore back – can occur when the hip flexors are too tight, which causes the pelvis to posteriorly tilt so that the range of motion required at the hip can be achieved
  • Weak glutes can also affect leg alignment which can result in ankle, knee and hip injuries.

There is a catch-22 at play here…

The tighter a runner’s hip flexors are, the harder it is for the runner to engage their glutes. This means when running that the glutes and hamstrings are not able to contribute fully to the movement, which results in the runner being unable to produce their optimal amount of power.

Your best running power is achieved when all of the muscles involved in a movement contribute optimally than for only a couple of muscles to dominate and over contribute.


Try this yourself

Kneel down so that your hips are slightly behind your knees. This is the same posture of someone with very tight hip flexors. Now try to engage your butt – it's very hard! Now position yourself correctly, so that the middle of the hip is over the knee. Automatically the hip flexors are lengthened and the glutes engage.


This is where we at Pilates For Sports come in.

Pilates is fabulous as it brings muscle balance back to the hip joint and enables runners to strengthen their glutes, hamstrings and inside thighs through lengthening their hip flexors.

The exercises we teach are constantly training the body to be in balance. The program teaches you to engage your core while you are sitting at your desk and also teaches you about correct running technique.

You learn to engage the correct muscles in the workouts so that you can then apply this when you are running. The ultimate outcome is that the hip muscles work in a balanced manner so that the athlete can run efficiently and produce optimum power with a reduced likelihood of injury.

The result? More efficient, pain free running on top of posture improvement!

Find out more about our programs at Pilates For Sports.

Noeleen O'Shea is the co-founder of Pilates for Sports, an online training program designed to improve your core strength, muscle balance and technique so that you can perform better at your sport with less pain, more power.



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