Another way to look at it, if you stretched a short and tight muscle and it regained length, it shouldn’t get tight again, should it? Whereas if the muscle wasn’t technically “tight” but rather holding excessive tone in order to keep your spine from looking more like a losing game of Jenga, stretching it will just give more opportunity for low back pain, and quickly lead to the muscle tensing up again to defend the spine. This is the problem with conventional hip flexor stretches.
Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips. Whether you’re at the gym or heading out for (or back from!) a run, these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keep them loose long-term, and not only make you a better runner, but make running feel better to you.
The rectus femoris is one of the four quadriceps muscles -- the quadriceps are the major muscle group of the front of the upper leg. The rectus femoris attaches to the anterior inferior -- the part toward the feet -- portion of the iliac crest and runs to the base of the patella, also known as the knee. The femoral nerve supplies the rectus femoris with nerves. This is the only muscle that crosses the hip joint, which enables it to work as a hip flexor and a knee extender muscle.
The sartorius originates at the ASIS and proceeds to traverse obliquely and laterally down the thigh to eventually insert at the anterior surface of the tibia, just inferomedial to the tibial tuberosity, as part of the pes anserinus. In addition to flexing the hip and knee, the sartorius aids in the abduction of the hip. It is innervated by the femoral nerve (i.e., the posterior division of L2 and L3).
The iliopsoas muscle is the prime hip flexor and shortening may affect the lower back, pelvis, and/or hip joint. Caution should be taken during this release due to the sensitive area in which the therapist's hand pushes, i.e. proximity to the appendix, possible abdominal aortic abnormalities, potential tissue weaknesses predisposing to inguinal hernias, ovarian conditions, or general irritation/inflammation of the gastrointestinal system; hence, this release may occasionally be replaced by the regular therapeutic stretch presented in Chapter 7 (see Fig. 7.14).
Unfortunately hip mobility issues like these are some of the most common problems I see in the weightlifting population. However, the issues manifest differently in different people. In some, it's a basic inability to descend below parallel—or anywhere near it—in squat variations. In others, it can contribute directly to debilitating lower back pain, even in people who spend hours every week strengthening their backs.
Note: Exercises that strengthen the hip flexors also involve contracting (shortening) these muscles. So if tight hip flexors are a problem for you, it might be wise to limit how many direct hip-strengthening exercises you perform. These exercises are more geared toward people who have been told they have weak hip flexors that need strengthening or are looking for targeted exercises to build more power and stamina in the hip flexors.
If you can set aside time apart from your workouts, try Starrett’s couch stretch: In front of a couch or wall, sit on all fours. Place the shin of one leg parallel against the wall or couch, then bring one leg up into a kneeling position with your knee above your foot. Straighten your torso and fire your glute, as if to slide your two legs together. Hold for two minutes per side, contracting and releasing as you wish.
My exercise of choice here is floor-slide mountain climbers. You will need some furniture moving pads, Valslides, or something similar that will slide smoothly on your floor. Paper plates even work well in a pinch. Put your feet on the sliders and move into a push-up position. To perform the movement, simply pull one knee at a time up toward your chest, going as high as you can while keeping your foot on the slider. You can alternate legs with each rep or do sets of one leg at a time. Don't expect it to be easy.
Other muscles that can be recruited to assist with hip flexion include the tensor fascia latae (TFL), the pectineus, the adductors, the gracilis, and the anterior aspects of the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. The contribution of these secondary hip flexors largely depends on the position of the hip at the time at which movement is initiated.
The more than 20 muscles that make up your hips are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis, moving your legs from side to side, and shortening to draw your knees toward your chest every time you sit down, run, jump or pedal, explains Kelly Moore, a certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness, which brings health and wellness initiatives to companies throughout Chicago.