Located deep in the front of the hip and connecting the leg, pelvis, and abdomen, the hip flexors— surprise, surprise— flex the hip. But despite being some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies (with a clearly important role), it’s easy to neglect our poor hip flexors— often without even knowing it. It turns out just working at a desk all day (guilty!) can really weaken hip flexors since they tend to shorten up while in a seated position. This tightness disrupts good posture and is a common cause of lower back pain. Weakened hip flexors can also increase the risk of foot, ankle, and knee injuries (especially among runners) Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., et al. Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, VT. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2005 Jan; 15 (1): 14-21.. So be sure to get up, stand up every hour or so! And giving the hip flexors some extra attention is not just about injury prevention. Adding power to workouts, working toward greater flexibility, and getting speedier while running is also, as they say, all in the hips The effect of walking speed on muscle function and mechanical energetics. Neptune, R.R., Sasaki, K., and Kautz, S.A. Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas, Austin, TX. Gait & Posture, 2008 Jul; 28 (1): 135-43..
Muscle Imbalances – The front of your hips, your hip flexors, are the muscles that will tighten and shorten while you are sitting for hours each day. While you are sitting, the back of your hips, your glutes and your hip extensors, are being overstretched. But just because they are being tightened and stretched respectively, doesn’t benefit either of them. They are also being weakened because of the lack of use of each muscle group.
Take a step back and think about where you spend most of your day. If you're a young athlete, you probably spend most of your time at school or maybe work or practice and even a little time at home, if you're lucky. Now think about what position your body is in during those periods. I would bet that you spend most of your day sitting down. You may walk to class or run in practice, but the majority of your day is spent in a seated position.
The hip flexors help balance the posterior pelvic muscles. Three key muscles often become tight and shortened as a result of activities of daily living. These are the iliacus, psoas major, and the rectus femoris. The iliacus and the psoas major are often referred to as the iliopsoas because they share the same insertion at the lesser trochanter of the femur. The psoas minor inserts on the superior ramus of the pubis bone and mainly supports the natural lordotic curvature of the spine, but is only found in about 40% of the population. The psoas major originates on the anterior surface of the lumbar vertebrae and runs over the pubis bone and inserts into the lesser trochanter of the femur. This muscle not only helps to flex the hip, but also has an effect on the lordotic curvature of the lumbar vertebrae. The rectus femoris has a proximal attachment at the acetabulum and inserts into the tibial tuberosity. This long muscle plays a role in both hip flexion and leg extension (Figure 9-4).
4. Just swing it. For the front-to-back hip swing stretch, lie on the left side with hips stacked, propped up on the left elbow. Bend the left leg to a 90-degree angle and raise the right leg to hip level with toes pointed. Keep abs tight and swing the right leg all the way in front, then swing it all the way to the back, squeezing the booty along the way. Switch sides.
Lay on your back on your mat and pull your knees to your chest. Place your hands on the inside arches of your feet and open your knees wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back pressed into the mat as much as possible, press your feet into hands while pulling down on feet, creating resistance. Breathe deeply and hold for at least 30 seconds.
The sartorius supports the more powerful iliopsoas and rectus femoris in accomplishing hip flexion. This long, narrow muscle arises from the front of your hipbone, crosses your front thigh and inner knee and inserts at the top of your shinbone. The unique position of the sartorius enables it to support other leg motions, including knee extension, leg rotation and outward thigh movement. Sartorius strains, which commonly occur in runners and hurdlers, usually occur where the muscle arises at the hipbone. Pain and leg weakness are common symptoms. As with the other hip flexors, stretching and strengthening exercises serve as good preventive measures.
Our hip flexors serve many vital functions. The goal of the hip flexor is to make it easy to for joints to move through their full range of motion smoothly. They’re responsible for important aspects of motion, like our ability to bend, run, or kick. Without our hip flexors, controlling the movement of our legs would be virtually impossible. Our hip flexors also work to stabilize the joints of the hips and lower body.
My increased knowledge of the biomechanics of hip flexion is one of the most valuable things that I have learned in the past five years. The problem with understanding hip flexion, in general, and the psoas muscle, in particular, is that we use the term hip flexor as a generic term to apply to five muscles, four of which have distinctly different leverage positions from the other one.
Those are some great stretches! I own a personal training studio in Severna Park, Maryland. Majority of my clients have physical limitations – so it’s important for them to stay flexible. I send these to my clients and even do these exercises for myself. I highly recommend these stretches to anyone, even people without physical limitations. I love the fact these are actually videos and not just stretches because it’s so much easier for people to figure out how to perform the stretches. You guys are the real MVP!
How to: Get on your hands and knees, in a tabletop position (a). Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go and bring your feet in line with your knees. Your shins should be parallel with one another (b). Flex your feet and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. (If the stretch is too intense, try putting your arms on a block or firm pillow.) Hold for eight to 12 breaths (c). If holding the stretch for longer, try slowly moving your hips forward and backward to bring the stretch to different parts of your hips.