When your hip is straight and you’re wearing your socks off… well, they’re not making your knee swell as much.
But if that didn’t convince you, how about a better explanation? “Your leg is very flexible,” says Julie M. Leung, MS, a clinical exercise physiology instructor, with an emphasis on flexibility. “So the flex-shortens the joint, and shortens the joint it comes in contact with.”
How many times have you heard a dancer say they “can” do a knee bend? Think of the dancer leaning forward slightly with their knees slightly bent. Or imagine them leaning back slightly with their knees bent. “Think of all the flexibility in their hips that they have to bend their knees,” Ms. Leung says.
Flexibility in the hips and knees leads to more flexibility in the hips and knees. The hip flexors, which help move the hips and knees forward during a dance, are “very flexible,” Ms. Leung says. The knee flexors, which help move the hips and knees backward during a dance, are also extremely flexible. These two muscles work in concert to move the knees forward, but the difference in how much flexibility these areas of the body have, and their combined impact, is what causes the knees to swell.
Why does the flex/shorten tradeoff work? Because the hip flexor muscles contract to move the hips forward. “We have to flex the hips by the hip flexor muscles to turn,” Ms. Leung says. Therefore, the more flexibility in the hip flexors, the more flexible these muscles get. But because they contract, they can not only compress the hip, but they can also stretch the hip tissue.
“If anything, the shorter the stretch, the more the hip tissue is stretched,” Ms. Leung says. It also means that while the knee flexors are very flexible, the hip flexors will have to make “some muscle memory” (aka flexibility training to get new stretches through a dance). Which brings us back to our knee problem. Because the hip flexors are so flexible, their stretch can stretch the hip tissue—meaning that you’ll need to stretch the knee flexors more before you can achieve proper flexibility.
You might also be able to “relax” your knees during a dance based on what you think the hip flexor muscles are doing. “I think the hip flexors are pretty strong because they’re kind of like flexed
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