Pilates Myth: “Get out of your hip flexors”

March 19, 2010 at 3:02 am 68 comments

Shari Berkowitz - Big Twist

(This post was updated on August 16, 2013 over 2 years after originally published…please read and learn more information than when originally posted)

I don’t mind saying that there are a lot of commonly used phrases in Pilates that have little to no meaning. We must make sure that we are present with what we’re saying that not only do our cues make sense and have value to our clients, but that we know what our cues actually mean!  Along with that, should we happen to use a phrase that is a Pilates myth, then we’d better be using it for a really good reason!

A “Pilates myth”?  Yes, there are a lot of Pilates myths out there.  Wonderful phrases that teachers use to cue their clients that actually don’t make any sense at all.  Some have value.  Some do not.  They are virtual lies.  We have to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, why we’re saying this and that they are indeed untruths.  Here are a few: “Your Powerhouse moves the carriage.”  “Your back does nothing; your abdominals do all of the work.”  “Push with your Powerhouse, not with your legs.”  “Get out of your hip flexors.  You don’t use your hip flexors in Pilates.”  OK, my fellow teachers… all of those phrases, and more, are 100% not true  Personally, I try to stay away from them and reword them thusly:  “Scoop your abominals in and up then move the carriage.”   “Work  your abdominals as much as you work your back.”   “Deepen your abdominals to push with your legs.”   “Lift your abdominals and lower back bones, so you’re not just hanging in your hip flexors.”   Why not talk in truths?

You are well-meaning…you don’t mean to be speaking something false.  That is true.  Let’s learn!

Let’s focus on that last one “Get out of your hip flexors”.   A fellow teacher, Alex, who reads this blog wrote to me asking that I go into further detail.  I’m pleased to do so.  Let’s dispel this particular  myth and understand why this phrase ever came about in the first place.

Our clients come to take Pilates for many reasons.  Whatever their reasons, we find out in their early sessions that they are imbalanced.  We recognize their imbalances and use the method of Pilates to restore balance to this body and mind.  It is a constant process; un-ending.  There is no balance, there is only working-towards-balance.  That is The Truth.

Now, that we know we’re looking for imbalances and working towards restoring balance we see some common patterns:  weak abdominals, tight and weak lower backs, tight and weak hamstrings, tight and weak hip flexors.

Tight and weak hip flexors?  Yes.  Those hip flexors are weak.  Many people think that our clients tight hip flexors are strong and taking over the responsibilities of other muscles, but the truth is that they are probably short, tight and weak and half of them are completely underutilized.

As our clients are beginning their training in Pilates we see that their hip flexors seem to want to do the work that the abdominals ought to be doing.  Some exercises that we see this in are The Roll Up (Beginner Exercise), Neck Pull (Intermediate Exercise), Teaser (Intermediate Exercise).  What do we see in The Roll Up?  When the client curls her head and chest up and then attempts to reach her torso forward over her legs, her legs actually pop up off of the mat while the torso stays still rather than her legs staying still as her torso comes forward.  The same thing happens in Neck Pull.  In Teaser, our client strains and aches in her hip flexors.  She often times can’t move her torso forward towards her legs without throwing her legs forward or using her hands to pull her torso toward her legs.  You’ve seen this over and over again.  And you say something like, “Get out of your hip flexors”.  If your client could get out of her hip flexors, she would, but she can’t so, you must first figure out what is really going on and then figure out what you can really teach your client so she can indeed
get out of her hip flexors” or, rather, into her abdominals, back and hip flexors.


When we refer to “hip flexors” we are generally referring to 4 muscles:  rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, psoas and iliacus.  Rectus femoris is part of the quadriceps.  It is the only quadricep that crosses over both the the hip and knee joint.  When the leg is straight and the hip is flexed, rectus femoris is in a shortened position, thusly in a weakened state for hip flexion.  (Remember this point…it will become vital in a moment.)  Tensor fascia latae is primarly a thigh abductor as well as a medial rotator of the femur.  Via the iliotibial band, it aides in stabilizing the condoyles of the femur/knee stabilization.

So…rectus femoris and tensor fasciae latae aide in hip flexion, but only aide…it must be psoas and iliacus that do the majority of the effort.  Or…maybe there is more!

Psaos major is a  hip flexor.  However, its primary action is most likely lumbar stabilization.  So, it only assists in hip flexion.  It’s origin is at the coastal processes of all 5 lumbar vertebrae.  It’s insertion, joined with iliacus, is the lesser trochanter.  In general, we determine the function of a muscles by the direction of the muscle fibers and then see what happens when we stabilize the origin and bring the the insertion towards it.  With Psoas major, we see that the femur moves in the direction of the lumbar.  The hip flexes.  The same goes for iliacus who originates on the anterior face of the ilium and inserts along with psoas major (and minor if it is present and, apparently, only is present in 50% of the population) in the lesser trochanter. Together, the psoas major and iliacus are called the iliopsoas group.

OK…enough of the anatomy lesson.  Let’s do something with it.

Your client is doing the Roll Up.  Her legs are popping up during the difficult action of bringing her torso up and forward over her legs.  What’s happening?  Well, we want her abdmoninals to bring her torso to her legs.  Her Primary Powerhouse.  Which abdmoninal muscle does much of the effort in this action?  Rectus abdominis (with the grand assistance of the obliques).  It flexes the torso bringing the spine towards the femur.  However, when it is weak and asked to perform this action, instead, the femur comes to the spine…with the hip flexors/iliopsoas!  The exact same thing happens with Neck Pull.

But what about  Teaser?  Well, it’s actually the exact same action as the Roll Up; however, there is the greater challenge of balance because the legs are uplifted in a 45 degree angle.  With that, the entire set of hip flexors (rectus femoris, tensor faciae latae, psoas and iliacus) are fully engaged.  The abdominals and back muscles have to do their share of work to bring the torso to the legs.  However…most people are weak in their abdominals and backs so they “hang” in their back and hip flexors (lower back slumps and legs start to drop straining both back and hip flexors).  We tell them “use more abdominals, less leg!  Get out of your hip flexors!”…and they can’t!  Of course they can’t!  They’re not strong enough.  They’re hip flexors are stressed to the max already trying just to hold their straight legs up against gravity.  They can’t actually bring the torso to the legs, too.  In fact, they can never do that!  That’s the abdominals’ job.  So…the cramping begins.  Frustration abounds with client and teacher!

To begin, you have to work to strengthen your clients’ abdominals more than you have been before you even attempt any exercise where you’re challenging the strength of them like Teaser or even the Roll Up.  How?  By doing Half Roll Down until they are really strong in the abdominals, lifted and supple in the lumbar.  That might be a long time.  And that’s just fine.  In fact, that’s great!  This is a foundational exercise.  That means that it is the essence of countless other exercises in Pilates.  Working on and honoring the action of it is vital.  Take your time with it.  Don’t dismiss this exercise.

Next, you have to concentrate more on that lift of the abdominals and lumbar.  “Scoop your abdominals in and up to lift your lower back bones” is the phrase I use all of the time.  You’ve got to understand what does what and not teach a lie/myth.  The transverse abdominus (deepest abdominal muscle) aides in supporting and stabilizing the lumbar.  First engage the transverse abdominus, then keep it engaged and lift the lumbar with your back muscles.  This can and must happen in every exercise.  This is the action that must begin every exercise, must be maintained during every exercise and must continue through the conclusion of every exercise.

Then, when your client does get to the Roll Up, you work to make sure your client is bringing her torso to her legs, rather than legs to torso; strengthening her abdominals rather than wrenching her hip flexors.   Why not reach the legs back into the mat so they don’t come up…that will strengthen the buttocks and hamstrings in their effort to stabilize the legs…so that the abdominals can be efficient.   Concentrate on this and your client will strengthen marvelously.

When Teaser becomes an option, essentially, your client ought to already, quite naturally, be “out of her hip flexors” and into her abdominals with a lifted spine.  However, if that grip in hip flexors happens, here’s what you do:

1 – One-Legged Teaser – Again, concentrate on the action of the abdominals and spine.  Abdominals in and up, tailbone and sacrum curling towards the supportive foot, lumbar spine lifting.  All of those actions must be strong and take on full concentration.

2 – Teaser – If your client is still struggling with Teaser feeling strain in her hip flexors, with both legs extended, soften/bend the knees a bit.  Remember that if rectus femoris is weak, it doesn’t have enough strengthen to both flex the hip and extend the knee.  With slightly bent knees, the rectus femoris is only doing hip flexion (not knee extension as well) and there is likely enough strength.  Then  your client can keep legs up and deepen her abdominals and lift her lumbar spine more!  So…”get out of your hip flexors” not really the truth.  I believe that we actually  need your client to get “into” her hip flexors a bit more (meaning use all of them fully) so that she can get into her abdmoninals and back muscles a lot a lot a lot more!


But…of course…that’s not all.  You see…rectus femoris, psoas, illiacus and tensor fascia latae are not the only hip flexors and this is where the problem really is.  What about all of the adductors not to mention gracillis, sartorius.  You see…they are hip flexors, too.  All muscles have primary actions and secondary or tertiary or more actions.  In fact, all muscles work all of the time for one thing or another.  Simply hugging heals together engages these other muscles…and that slight bend of knees with a little bit of external rotation is sartorius.  Once you get into all of the hip flexors…strenghthen them all…then it couldn’t be easier to do any of those exercises.

Well, that was a long-winded way of saying that when you’re client is feeling her hip flexors in an exercise, that means she needs to be cued into her abdominals to lift her spine more so that there is more balance between abdominals, back muscles and hip flexors and to hug her heels together or hug the mat if the legs are apart or hug the air if there is no mat.  Get into all hip flexors, abdominals and back!

Be patient as a teacher.  Make sure your goal is to understand your clients’ imbalances and then restore balance.  The goal is not to do the ideal version of an exercise or to get advanced or to do Teaser.  The goal is help your client become more balanced of body and mind using movement.  We happen to be working with Pilates/Contrology.  And if we’re going to teach using these phrases, then we’d better understand what they really mean and use them well…use them better, even!  “Get out of your hip flexors” is simply not enough.  There must be more to it!  Clearly, there is!

I thank Alex for asking about this cue!

Enjoy your teaching!  Please reach out and comment on this post and/or ask me to discuss some other subject!  I wish to write on subjects that you want to understand in Pilates.  Please let me know what you’d like to learn!  Thank you for giving me the forum for it!  info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

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Improvisation in Pilates Pilates Apparatus – So many different manufacturers. Can we teach on anything?

68 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  March 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I wish I had been brave enough to speak up and say I believe there is a need to “get into the hip flexors” in my original question, thankyou!
    There is more though, I will email.

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

      Alex, I’m so glad you’ve opened up the discussion. Thank you!

  • 3. Cassandra Palo  |  March 20, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I remember taking a workshop with Shari in 2007 and something very important stuck with me. She said, “use prepositions…roll back TO roll up.”

    I’m guilty of saying, “lift up away from your hip flexors.” Once again, Shari has dazzled me with a new perspective. I’m sharing this with my fellow teachers. Thank you.

  • 4. Kimra Zadik  |  March 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Great information! Thank you Shari for taking the time to share your wisdom with us!

    • 5. theverticalworkshop  |  March 22, 2010 at 12:03 am

      Thank you, all for your comments! I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be writing a lot more! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I’m grateful!

  • 6. Sherri Betz, PT  |  March 25, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Exactly! Well put Shari! Nice, thorough explanation.

    • 7. theverticalworkshop  |  March 25, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      Thank you, Sherri! I appreciate your feedback. Your blog is beautifully informative.
      For anyone who’s reading this comment, please check out Sherri’s blog: http://therapilates.wordpress.com/

  • 8. Tiffany Gray  |  March 25, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Thank you for the great insight! Your explanation is very clear and helpful. I feel like a much more educated instructor just from having read this blog entry.

    • 9. theverticalworkshop  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:14 pm

      Thank you, Tiffany, for taking the time to read and comment! I’m so glad this entry was helpful! I look forward to hearing from you in the future!

  • 10. angela barsotti  |  March 27, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    some thoughts 🙂

    shari i took a workshop with you in seattle (advanced reformer on the mat) that my abs remembered for several weeks and informed my teaching since then in a lovely and different way from before. and your enthusiasm! wonderful! [i’m still sad that more people didn’t take that workshop, it was transformative)

    i believe the psoas group also attaches to a couple of the sacral vertebrae as well as T12?

    i hadn’t thought of tfl as a hip flexor before, thanks for that – nor did i know that 50% of people lack psoas minor, fascinating.

    love the cue about scoop your abs to life your lower back… lovely stuff. i knew it but hadn’t put it quite like that yet…

    in one legged teaser do you prefer the other leg bent or straight? also regarding teaser dianne miller tells you to reach your legs to do it (but from the top not the bottom) which really helped me to find the leg float – we won’t mention that pesky wanting to bend knee at the top due to not working right vmo…. we’ll just leave that alone *g*)

    if you ever get a chance to have a conversation with karen carlson (from philly) about the psoas i highly recommend it, you guys would dig each other.

    lately i’ve been playing with arms as wings images and been really happy with the results 🙂

  • 11. Lynda Lippin  |  March 31, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Another good prop for the roll up is a small towel under the lower back to maintain the position of the spine and pelvis and facilitate proper abdominal and back muscle use.

  • 12. Lesley Logan  |  April 3, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Very cool, I think I might have gotten myself into saying these lies..I’m so going back and rewording myself!

    But, what if you have a beginner client whose pelvis I believe is twisted from carrying her kids only on one hip so anythig that requires her to have bent legs sitting or bringing her leg to her chest hurts the hip flexor? I’m haveing some pilates block on how to make modifications or what I should focus on to help balance her imbalance? Suggestions?

    • 13. theverticalworkshop  |  April 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      Lesley, it’s good to hear from you!
      Remember that your client just needs to be balanced. Her hips are cockeyed because she favors one with her child. Just work her evenly watching from the front when she does exercises like Half Roll Down, The Roll Up, Rolling Like a Ball, Spine Stretch Forward, Elephant (unless she’s a beginner and you must still have your foot on the footbar), etc.

      In all exercises, just make sure both sides of her body are working evening and that you encourage length on both sides of her spine and sides.

      Spot/Watch from in front and behind. Step back far enough that you can see how her entire body is moving and cue, “Scoop your abdominals in and up to lift your lower back bones and sides!”

      If her hip flexors are particularly tight, remember you have Part C exercises like Small Barrel (if she is ready for such a distal set of exercises) and Ballet Stretches Back (Thigh Stretch) on the High Barrel.

      Now, since it hurts her to bring her knee towards her chest, you’ve got to address it by simply cueing her to only pull in as far as she doesn’t feel pain. In addition, if she’s making an abdominal connection and has for at least 5 sessions, start focusing on a stable and neutral pelvis when she bends at the hip/hip flexion. Let that be the theme.

      Work her spine and sides evenly, a range of motion where she has no pain, stable pelvis when flexing the hip. That will be everything for her…and everyone else.

      Clearly…you just teach her like you would teach everyone else noting the range of motion.

      Does that help? Ask me more if that’s not enough.

      • 14. lesley logan  |  April 5, 2010 at 12:59 am

        That does help! Thank you, I think Im having a hard time with it because its not so much that they are tight, its just that knee pulling in in certain positions. I have her doing alot of things with the leg in external rotation ex) double straight leg stretch I tried doing rolling back with bent knees…didn’t work because she could feel that left hip flexor pull. So we did it with straight legs and no pain, I just focused on slowly articulating through so as not to miss the low back, she did pretty good. She doesn’t feel it in half roll down, so I’m thinking it was the hinging back part. We can’t do stomach massage because she’ll feel it. I guess I just hate that I feel like we are playing “let’s see what happens” and I’m doing her a disservice. But, I’m also a new teacher and I guess that sometimes this is how it goes…? Thanks so much for the feedback…I’ve become lucky to have people filling requesting me, I just want to make sure I give them what they need:) Thanks so much!!! I’m glad you wrote that blog..the other parts about the myths I worked on today in my classes and I felt like I was teaching more clearly:)

      • 15. theverticalworkshop  |  April 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

        Lesley, I realize that I left out of my reply to you is that if she is in such pain, along with Pilates quality body-work (chiropractic using muscle testing techniques is preferred, like what Dr. Sichel and Dr. Delson practice) may really help her.

  • 16. laura robbins  |  April 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Body Rolling will help Lesley’s client immensely! http://www.yamunabodyrolling.com

  • 17. lesley logan  |  April 20, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    thanks for the rolling advice…I’ll definitely check that out Laura!

  • 18. tani  |  May 26, 2010 at 9:09 am

    just want to know of any tricks getting people to feel side leg lifts in glute med instead of tfl. I teach an x-ballet dancer who only feels it in glute med if she laterally rotates leg when lifting.

    • 19. theverticalworkshop  |  May 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

      Hi, Tani,

      Thank you for reading the blog and asking a question!

      I want to make sure I understand your question and that we’re in the same set up during the exercise. When teaching side leg kicks, I teach all variations with a parallel leg (no internal or external rotation…though in Front/Back, as a tool, allow a little external rotation in the “front”/hip flexion portion). If her supporting leg is on the mat at a 45 degree angle from the back edge of the mat and her spine is along the back edge of the mat and the moving leg is parallel in all variations, then we are in the same position to begin talking about which muscles work and which don’t. If she works in external rotation like a ballet dancer, then we are using completely different muscles.

      So, I will talk from the standpoint of a parallel moving leg (no internal or external rotation).

      With that, in this set up your ballet dancer who is used to working in external rotation will feel tremendously internally rotated, though she is now in a rather neutral position. Gluteus medius is going to feel incredibly challenged in all variations, now, because the great external rotator, gluteus maximus will not be engaged unless there is hip extension (which there is in some of the variations “Front/Back”, “Small Circles”, etc.). So, we’re trying not to externally rotate very much in side kick series which truly works the gluteus medius…and FANTASTIC! That poor little muscle is often overpowered by gluteus maximus. We need medius for balance. All people do: people who walk need gluteus medius. People who don’t walk need it, too, because should they fall from wherever they are perched, they need it as a cushion. I’m not joking, though it sounds like I am! (OK, a little levity.)

      Mr. Pilates only did Front/Back. There was nothing else. The other variations were created by other people mostly by my teacher, Romana Kyrzanowska…a beautiful ballet dancer. Ah! So, these creations were ballet-style. In fact, a lot of “Romana-isms” are ballet-style. This was her specialty. However, they are not necessarily the way Mr. Pilates would have done it if he had done them at all. Mr. Pilates said something to the extent of “Dancers ruined my method!” (Please…this is not a direct quote.) He was upset that dancers put everything into extreme external rotation instead of parallel, made all arms flowery instead of utilitarian and turned the entire workout into more of a light dance rather than a strong workout.

      That is a long-winded answer to your observation and question: If your client is working in parallel, she will, indeed, feel a tremendous amount of work in her gluteus medius and ought to. Here tensor facia lata will work, but she may not feel it…and that’s just great.

      Now, does she feel her abdominals working in side leg kicks? Is she working her spine up long and keeping her pelvis 100% stable? Check on these things, too. This is actually what side kicks are all about: The challenge to keep the pelvis and spine still against the challenge of the moving (parallel) leg.

      Thank you for asking! Please let me know your thoughts. If you agree, disagree, think I didn’t understand your question, etc. I want to make sure that I have actually answered the question that you were asking! If I haven’t…keep asking and I’ll figure it out or we’ll set up a phone call and I’ll make sure we get it!

      – Shari

    • 20. Lenore Denbin  |  November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      I have clients put a hand directly on the spot above the top of the femur and towards the rear so they can feel something moving. Find it very effective in short box on the reformer or neck pull with their feet under the straps and cue to press OUT from their glutes into the straps. They put their hands on until they find them. And, as Shari said, they definitley may feel somewhat internally rotated.

  • 21. Amanda  |  June 16, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Hey Shari,
    Im working with a client who is a professional ballet dancer and her hip seems to be in quite a bit of pain. When she lays on her back, neutral pelvis, knees bent, with feet flat on the ground her hip flexors are really gripping. You can see them popping out! Its easier for her to work in imprint, so im thinking of having her work mostly in am imprinted position. But do you think she needs to strengthen her abs or could it be something else? Because she is a ballet dancer and very good one she is super strong, so im not really sure how to help her.

    • 22. theverticalworkshop  |  June 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

      Hi, Amanda, thank you for reading the blog…and I doubly thank you for asking questions. With that, I hope I can help!

      First, I must say that without working with your client myself, I can’t be certain of what her needs are exactly…but I can give it a shot!

      Dancers, for all of their strength, grace and stamina, are forcing their bodies into unnatural positions. With that, there are a lot of compensatory imbalances and ensuing problems that develop. If you consider that your client, a professional ballet dancer, is working in a forced external rotation of the femur 100% of her life and that this becomes her normal position of the femoral head in the acetabulum (ball in socket), she develops “hard groins” with is that ball forced forward in the socket. The ball grinds against the socket, creating a lot of pain and degeneration (the reason so many ballet dancers require hip replacements in advanced years). Where is she along this road?

      Well, her hip flexors are gripping. The forced position contributes, but also some other things:
      1 – How much does she lift her lumbar off of her sacrum and pelvis in life in general, while she dances and especially during hip flexion? If she does lift…then she is ahead of the game.
      2 – How much does she pull her tailbone under her when she develops into hip flexion…In grand battement or developpe? If she “tucks”, then she adds to the compression.

      When she is lying down with her knees up and you see her hip flexors, I’m not surprised. You are seeing rectus femoris. You can’t see her psoasis or illiacus. It’s her rectus femoris that is keeping her knees up. And she is surely very lean and they are very developed, so of course they are not hidden and seem strained and overly visible. This is not surprising. So, don’t be afraid of that.

      It’s just that they are gripping because they are her main source of strength. They are tired and overused. You must continue to teach her to lift her abdominals in and up to lift her lower back bones as the precursor to ever move she makes and especially while she is holding a dance position, let alone a Pilates position. You must encourage length in the abdominals and lower back in the upward direction…meaning no tucking. Allow the natural curve of her back to exist, but lengthen it upwards.

      I would highly recommend not working in a tuck. That is half of her problem already. I understand the temptation, but you will be asking her to do the opposite of what she needs. She needs length and support, not compression. She needs to develop into a more functional and correct anatomical position in her life, not a contrived and compromised one.

      So, please, continue to work in neutral pelvis in exercises that specifically ask for it. Only do a hip flexor range of motion that brings no pain and focus on lengthening up through her abdominals and lumbar.

      With that, avoid any exercises that bring pain at all and add in those that work to gently stretch her hip flexors. Doing the leg series on the small or medium barrel will be nice for her. With that, go small range of motion so that she can keep her pelvis still with strongly engaged abdominals. Do this series every session for a couple of weeks. Don’t go on the spine corrector. It will be too intense for her.

      Also, do the thigh stretch of ballet stretches on the high barrel. You don’t have to stay there for long…just a little while to open the hip in an upright position. Again…no tucking…only lifting the spine away from the pelvis and the pelvis away from the femoral heads!

      Does that make sense? She needs to be more like a marionette…where the joints are all separated and free…uplifted through the spine, centered in the pelvis, dangly in the legs.

      In addition, slowly over time, take her external rotation and bring it more and more parallel. Not right away because her body will shock and she will spasm, but over time, she ought to work more and more parallel all exercises except ones where she bends her knees out to the side like the first footwork/toes on the reformer or frog.

      Please let me know if this makes sense and if you have further questions. If you wish, you can reach me directly at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com This will be a long process, taking care of your client, but it’s possible to teach her movement habits that help. Let’s see how it goes. I do beg of you to keep me informed and ask more and more questions. Together we can see what works and what doesn’t and go step by step! I’ll speak with you soon!
      – Shari

  • […] Pilates Myth: “Get out of your hip flexors”2010/03/19 […]

  • […] Pilates Myth: “Get out of your hip flexors”2010/03/19 […]

  • 25. Lisa Stevens  |  February 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I am so glad that I finally had the time to check out your blog. This is a great explanation of a concept that I spend a lot of time explaining to my students.

    • 26. theverticalworkshop  |  February 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm


      Thank you for taking the time to read and let me know so!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 27. Amy Fitzgerald  |  October 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Thanks for this!

    • 28. theverticalworkshop  |  October 26, 2012 at 10:34 am

      And thank you for reading! I have an update on rec fem to post…I must do so soon! Keep your eyes open for it!

  • 29. Marcia Shapira  |  November 24, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Loved this post Shari. Great stuff. I can still remember me lifting the juice out of the tuna cans during our session. Boy I felt my abs for quite a while too. Thanks a lot!

    • 30. theverticalworkshop  |  November 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Hi, Marcia,
      It’s lovely hearing from you here!
      I’m thrilled that you still remember the tuna can lift!!! That pleases me to no end!
      Thank you for reading this! I’m about to add some new info to it, too. I’ll send out word when I do. If you haven’t already subscribed, do…and you’ll get the update!
      I hope you’re well and enjoy!
      – Shari

  • 31. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Pilates Myth: “Get out of your hip flexors”2010/03/19 […]

  • 32. Kelly Shea  |  June 2, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    Hi Shari!
    Just wanted to stop in and tell you how much I appreciate your blogs!!!VERY helpful!!!

    • 33. theverticalworkshop  |  June 6, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Kelly! It’s great hearing from you!
      Thank you so much! You know I love to know that these article help!
      And…regarding this particular one: Pilates Myth: Get Out of Your Hip Flexors”…I’m about to edit it and re-post because I’ve learned so much more since I wrote it. So…update coming soon. Please keep you eyes open for it! I’ll send out word!
      All the very best to you!
      – Shari

  • 34. Eloise  |  June 3, 2013 at 5:19 am

    One of your best posts Shari! I love your blog, but this post is really (REALLY) great!

    • 35. theverticalworkshop  |  June 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      Oh, Eloise, thank you so very much!
      I actually must make an edit to it now that I’ve learned even more. Keep you eyes out for it!
      All the best to you!
      – Shari

  • 36. Tracy  |  July 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Hi Shari,

    “she needs to be cued into her abdominals to lift her spine more so that there is more balance between abdominals, back muscles and hip flexors.”

    Thank you for this! Helpful! Please let me know about NY intensive when it opens up, thank you!


    • 37. theverticalworkshop  |  October 29, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Tracy, I fear I didn’t message you back on this…it just came up on my blog notifications. My apologies. With that…the NY Intensives are open and waiting for you if you’d like. Check out http://www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com and look under Teacher Intensives. The first 3-day weekend in NYC is January 31, February 1-2, 2014 (yes…2014 is coming up!). Boston begins in 2 weeks (November 15-17, 2013)!!

      I hope you’re well and hope to see you soon!
      – Shari

  • 38. Vladi  |  October 29, 2013 at 3:08 am

    Thank you very much for this update!!! Having problems with mainly right hip flexor group for about 2 years now and rather progressing
    So thank you very much for identifying and clarifying this issue.

    Also what would you recommend for “shoulder-neck” tightness? I am referring to the area of trapezius( and the underlying deeper muscle groups ) particularly the part running from the back of the head and neck and inserting onto the shoulder girdle.

    Thank you very much for sharing this


    • 39. theverticalworkshop  |  October 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Hello, Vladi,

      Thank you for reading this article and commenting! I am so glad that it is helpful to you, indeed! It is an issue that is rather “simple” when understood. I hope it is quite clear, now. Of course, it takes concentration and commitment to it to apply…but that’s the joy of it all!

      As for Shoulder-Neck Tightness: On a general level, the upper and middle trapezius get extremely sore on people because they are supremely weak because the ring shoulder girdle (clavicles and spine of the scapulae) rolls forward and down along the front of the rib cage and the scapulae roll to the top and upper side of the rib cage and wing outwards at the bottom… when the ring of shoulder girdle actually ought to live up on top of the rib cage and then the shoulder blade will casually lay/lie on the back of the upper rib cage. Most people do the mis-cueing of “pull your shoulders down” or “anchor your shoulders” or “pull your wings down” or some such misunderstanding. However, the shoulder blades will find their way if we adjust the entire ring of shoulder girdle atop the rib cage. Now…what does that? The upper and middle trapezius and rhomboids.

      If upper and middle trapezius and rhomboids get strong, then they will no longer strain against the shoulder girdle and then the arms that hang unreasonably forward. Which means they grip to maintain a balance. Instead the muscular tensegrity will maintain and healthy balance. That’s efficient and how our bodies are designed to work.

      What fails it all? Forward head posture and sitting at desks. Slumping shoulders. Societal dictates that arms ought to be close to the body and particularly women who hold arms close to body and across their front side of the body…as we are taught to do…demurely.

      With that, heavy bags, too. That does no one very much good.

      And the last part…misunderstanding of the shoulder girdle by well-meaning fitness people: There is no time that the shoulder blades need to be pulled down. Extremely inefficient and a true strain primarily to the neck and upper back muscles which then translates to strain across the entire body as we seek balance and a maintenance of biotensegrity.

      That’s a mouthful worthy of a full blog/article and a lot more in the future. I will be glad to share!

      Glad you asked!

      – Shari

      • 40. Vladi Burdick  |  October 30, 2013 at 2:43 am

        Hello Shari,

        Wow. Thank you so much! now i just need to work on it!

        I am really grateful for your multiple advice. As you mentioned in other words in your Blog: Pilates is a process towards the body balance.

        Thank you again


        Sent from my iPad

      • 41. theverticalworkshop  |  November 1, 2013 at 10:20 am

        Your most welcome!
        I’m glad that you reached out and always thrilled when someone cares enough to learn and understand!
        All the best,
        – Shari

  • 42. Sara  |  November 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Can you please help me? My daughter is 12 very soon to be 13. She studies Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and Pilates. She dances 6 days a week with at least 2 or 3 classes a day plus rehearsals. Only recently did the front of one of her hips hurt only if she brings her knee up towards her chest. It does not seem to bother her in ballet when she has a turn out however it bothers her in other classes and especially Pilates when she does not use a turn out. She stretches her hip and its muscles which help a little but back at the Pilates class and jazz etc where her knee or leg comes close to her chest or staying bending forward while standing or tabletop or sitting for too long and it bothers her again. What can she do to get rid of the pain?
    Thank you,

    • 43. theverticalworkshop  |  November 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Hello, Sara,

      Thank you for reaching out. It will be my pleasure to assist in any way that I can.

      Of course doctors cannot help, because they are looking at one part and not the whole. It is quite clear to me that your daughter experiences an imbalance of muscularity that causes or is caused by a rotation in her pelvis which resonates up her spine and down into her legs. The pain she feels in the front is likely because of weakness on that side. What she must do is take on a protocol that is big part of my biomechanics/biodynamics theory on human health. I will gladly take your daughter through the protocol and how to apply it to Pilates and all dance and more.

      Will you please email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com and perhaps we can set up a session or a skype session so that we can work together? I will be glad to help.

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 44. Jasmine  |  June 9, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    This was very helpful to me and I shall share your knowledge with everyone in need. My next pilaties class was very great just because of this tip.

  • 45. Elise  |  August 6, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    That was great, thank you very much. I am new to your blog, and not sure if already covered but could you please cover the TFL and how it can be over recruited (inhibiting glute med /min etc).

    • 46. theverticalworkshop  |  August 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Hello, Elise,
      Thank you for having read this!
      I may have touched on TFL in some blogs, but I have not written a complete piece on it and I will put it on my list. It is a long list…let’s see when I get to it. Before then…

      It is wise to know that TFL is less likely to “inhibit” glute med/min as it is to work when glute med/min are not doing their job. TFL is a remarkable muscle group in that it will do whatever it can when others are not pulling their weight! Tight ITBands and sore TFL are always the result of weak Glute Med/Min. It’s been such a misunderstanding by so many for so long. It’s a shame. We must create an environment where Glute Med/Min can work properly (Glute Max is usually weak on that side or both, too) and develop strength. That is holistic and some “spot training”.

      Elise…I will write on this, as I had mentioned, but let me know if you’d like to do a Skype session discussion or workout and we can go directly. my email: info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

      Thank you so much for writing and requesting a blog subject. I can come up with a lot, but it’s always better when a fellow teacher requests what is needed!
      – Shari

  • 47. Stephen  |  December 27, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Hi Shari,

    I am relatively new to Pilates.

    I find your blog interesting and informative as you explain the meaning of the cues in physical terms (thank you).

    My wife started Pilates 18 months ago and has overcome many of her body complaints such as hip and neck problems.

    I have started to train as a Pilates matwork instructor as a result of her improvement.

    I have a question regarding tight hamstrings hindering weak abdominals in beginner and intermediate exercises such as Roll up and Teaser, this seems to be an issue more for males?

    The weight distribution above and below the fulcrum of these exercises – the sacrum? – for men and women differ – increasing the degree of effort required (resulting in loss of correct form) for some of these exercises where the abdominals are engaged to move the torso toward the legs.

    There is an underlying reason for asking these 2 questions (though I have more), that is males seem to come to these classes largely through having back and more specifically disc issues – cervical / thorasic / lumbar. Usually the Pilates classes are recommended by a physio therapist, but only a few of the Pilates exercises are labelled “contra-indicated”. From my own experience though – laminectomy operation 27 years ago, I can feel that quite a few of the exercises when done with the imprinted technique (and/or torsion) can provoke some unwanted disc pressure.

    Is there a good summary written somewhere as guide for Pilates instructors who are faced with issues where back pain is a problem?

    Thanks in advance


    • 48. theverticalworkshop  |  January 14, 2015 at 2:14 pm

      Hello, Stephen,
      Thank you for writing and thank you for patience as I have not been able to write back due to family health issues that have required my concentration.

      I hear what you are saying and must say that there are no books that I would recommend for what you are asking. Please reach out to me privately at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com and I will endeavor to assist you.

      All the best,
      – Shari

      • 49. Stephen  |  January 15, 2015 at 5:12 am

        Thanks Shari,

        I will contact you via the email address.

        I really appreciate you taking the time to respond when you have more pressing issues to attend.

        Thanks to all the contributors – these are really informative blogs to read 🙂

        Best regards


  • 50. Paula  |  August 20, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Hallo Shari,
    Thank you for this illuminating post: I am halfway through my apprenticeship and often frustrated that we don’t actually get taught how to bring the client from “no can do” to “can do.” I have a client who is an ex dancer/yoga teacher who is extremely tight in her hip flexors, and has a very slight bulge at L4-L5, and a tendency to collapse in the lumbar area. So far I have avoided all deep spinal flection (no roll ups yet, still working on roll downs, and trying to teach her just the hinge portion of the neck pull, which is already super challenging for her). She is also very weak in the obliques, so we are still working on finding them…

    How do I strengthen her lower back muscles so that she can use those to assist her powerhouse so that she doesn’t strain in her hip flexors, and learns to create length in the affected area? Also – how do you teach any exercise that involves flection from a supine position to a client that needs to rebalance her legs with her powerhouse/back?

    Thank you for your blog: it is a wonderful resource to all of us who seek further instruction in the method!

  • 51. Vicky  |  December 7, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Really nice article! I will look for more of your posts!

  • 52. Jeannine Burgett  |  April 1, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for clarifying!

  • 53. Carol  |  May 12, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I am late to this party, but this was a super helpful article! I am taking a flexibility training class (for my CEU for Personal Training), and I was curious about what exercises in Pilates strengthen (and stretch) the hip flexors. This helped me toward an answer.

  • […] state of tightness and weakness. As a result we are not able to “relax” the hip flexors (great article about it from Shari Berkowitz here) and feel our legs popping off the floor every time that we attempt the Roll-Up. First of all, you […]

  • 55. sharon Newman  |  August 6, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Completely agree. Thank you for this article. I was thinking about this very subject this morning. I come from a very ‘evidence-based’ background and I have been absolutely fed up for many years with some of the dreadful unsubstantiated rubbish that some teachers keep repeating. It honestly makes me wince. It is good to question some of the many Pilates myths out there. Well done!

  • 56. Robin Neveu Brown  |  August 6, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    When I took with Shari in New York a few years ago, I was deeply impacted by “use your abdominals to lift and separate your lower backbones.” It is one of the directions I use most. I was happy to read in this article about the importance of the half roll back! I use it so much!
    Instead of saying “get out of your hip flexors” in teaser I direct the positoning of the pelvis to find the maximum scoop in the abdominals (to lift the lower backbones!). I almost ALWAYS teach it with bent knees and encourage clients to find ease in the hip joint, an easy crease, or space in the front of the hips.

  • 57. verayoung  |  February 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you so much for such amazing explanation, trully grateful

    • 58. theverticalworkshop  |  February 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      You’re welcome!
      And thank you for taking an interest beyond technique and into what is really going on with our clients and how we can help them achieve their physical goals!
      – Shari

  • 59. Steven Washington  |  February 9, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    I 💜💜💜 this article! Thank you for writing this.

  • 61. Andrea  |  April 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    This is wildly helpful! Thank you for writing this. How would you recommend targeting and strengthening hip flexors? I have some ideas, but would love more input. I myself cannot get into teaser without bent knees, and I know that it is an issue with weak hip flexors (perhaps even weak knee extensors as well). Any tips are very welcome, and there are a few things in here that I will draw from regarding cues for clients! 🙂

    • 62. theverticalworkshop  |  July 4, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Andrea, I am very sorry that it’s take me months to reply to you. I had been in the throes of multiple research projects when you wrote and have just settled into a calmer space this week!

      Yes, until all of your hip flexors (including your adductors and pectineus) are stronger, you will not be able to extend your knees. Work on deepening your deeper lower abdominal connection, attempting to grow taller in your lower spine and your posterior tilt action while in the balance of the teaser. If you keep going: abdominals, rotate pelvis, low spine and then hug that midline in that exercise, you will get better and better command over it. However, it’s not just that one singular exercise that will make it happen. It’s in ALL exercises. It’s just that The Teaser is revealing a set of imbalances/weakness. So…not only practice these actions in your teaser, but in all exercises:
      1 – Make and regenerate your lower abdominal connection
      2 – Work to separate your lower back bones (it’s really an engagement of your extensors in conjunction with your lower abdominals that puts an interesting tension upon your thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) that will make the feeling of separating back bones)
      3 – Concentrate on adjusting your pelvis to where it needs to be for the exercise whether it stays stable (constantly readjust it) or moves.
      4 – Hug the midline first by pressing heels together with as little external rotation as possible to engage the adductors and the deep external rotators. Later both the heels and the big toe knuckles. That means we mostly work “parallel and together.” And even when legs and feet apart then to seek those same connections

      As you develop these actions in coordination with each other you will find that your Teaser will develop. not from doing Teaser…but by strengthening and rebalancing your soft tissue tension!

      From that…please ask me more questions. I should hope it doesn’t take me so long to respond…until I’m in the semester again! I will try harder!
      – Shari

  • 63. Mary Cromer  |  July 4, 2017 at 7:48 am

    Wonderful explanation of the use of all those muscles and their purpose during those particular exercises. Thanks for the article.

    • 64. theverticalworkshop  |  July 4, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Thank you, Mary, for taking the time to read this and comment!
      – Shari

  • 65. June Sun  |  October 8, 2017 at 3:56 am

    Clear explanation of the role of hip flexor in Pilates movements. I wondered the cue “no gripping in hip flexor” for quite a while. In which way my hip flexor is gripping or engaging? I’ll try your cue in my practice soon!

    • 66. theverticalworkshop  |  October 8, 2017 at 10:44 am

      Thank you, June, for reading this and commenting. Indeed, I will be curious how this goes in your self-practice and your teaching. Please keep me posted!
      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 67. Lori  |  March 17, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    What a great article, helping the Pilates student to understand, as well as teachers! I was in search of information because of hip flexor pain in jumpboard class while holding one leg out straight or to the side. This article gave me good information on how to mitigate my pain and ways to strengthen the area. Thank you.

    • 68. theverticalworkshop  |  March 18, 2018 at 11:07 am

      Hi, Lori,
      Yes, indeed…I bet keeping your leg straight and out to the side was the issue. If you work your midline in all exercises (and work your deeper lower abdominals and lower back muscles) then your hip flexors as a whole will strengthen and coordinate.
      Also in this exercise…consider how far out to the side you’ve got your leg while you’re supine in jumpboard…
      Your adductors have to be strong enough to support this. Bring your leg more forward (more up to ward the ceiling) and less out to the side until your adductors are able to support the pull of gravity on your leg.
      Let me know if you have any other questions about that…or anything else!
      All the best and thank you!
      – Shari


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