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Exercise or stability balls are oversize, wobbly inflated spheres that constantly engage multiple muscles to maintain balance. They work for strengthening and stretching and can target hard-to-reach muscles like the iliopsoas and other hip muscles responsible for hip flexion. If you lead a desk-bound sedentary life, adding an exercise ball to your fitness arsenal makes it easier to counter tight, shortened hip flexors with effective stretches.
Pain and the Psoas
The iliacus, the psoas major and the psoas minor are hip flexors, deeply buried in your pelvic area, that work together to raise your knee and your leg, push off into a run, and stabilize your spine. Collectively, the muscles are known as the psoas, and if you let them tighten up you can end up with a backache, painful knees, shin splints, inflamed arches and restricted freedom of movement. You have to extend those hip muscles to counter sitting all day. Stretching the hip flexors helps keep your back aligned, prevents injuries that happen when you exercise stiff, shortened muscles, lets you explode into a sprint or stride safely through your daily jog and makes it easier to perform everyday functions comfortably and gracefully. An exercise ball will challenge your core muscles and the hard-to-reach hip flexors at the same time.
Exercise Ball Hip Rotator Stretch
To begin the exercise ball hip rotator stretch, lie on a mat with your knees bent and the backs of your calves and heels on an exercise ball. Rest your arms, palms up, on the floor and breathe into relaxation a few times so your hips settle to the mat. Contract your core muscles and bend one leg, placing that ankle on the opposite knee. Pull the thigh and knee of the leg on the exercise ball to your chest, keeping that heel on the ball and the other leg in position -- ankle on opposite knee. Repeat the stretch several times, rolling the ball to keep it under your heel and feeling the stretch in the hip of your bent leg. Alternate sides.
For reverse extensions, lie on your stomach over an exercise ball, supporting yourself on your hands and toes. Tighten your core muscles to bring your legs up parallel to the floor and walk your hands forward so your hips are resting squarely on the ball. Squeeze your legs together and hold them in a straight line with your torso. Using control, slowly lower both legs together toward the floor. Don't bend your knees or relax your core muscles. Repeat the walk forward and leg raise to parallel several times, exhaling on the forward move and inhaling as you lower your legs. Your glutes, quads and hamstrings also benefit from this stretch.
Exercise Ball Bridge
Lie on a mat with your flexed ankles on the ball and your arms extended at your sides to begin the exercise ball bridge. Flatten your lower back by engaging your abs. Squeeze your glutes, press your legs and heels into the ball and push your hips toward the ceiling. Let the contraction in your core muscles help to raise your hips. Hold the straight line of your torso and legs from shoulders through heels, but don't exaggerate the hip stretch by pushing up too high. A straight torso will protect your lower back from strain. When you are stable in the raised position, raise one leg, keeping the foot flexed. Alternate legs. Lower your torso to the floor with control. In addition to improving posture and your range of movement, stretching tight hip flexors relaxes the tension you may hold in the large muscles of your pelvic area and thighs.