Get down on floor and bring your feet together in front of you, bending your knees out to the side. Sit down into your hips, while keeping your back tall and core tight, and push your knees down to the ground. You can place your hands on your feet or the floor behind you, whatever you need to keep your back tall. If your hips are really tight, gravity might be painful enough for you, no extra pushing required.
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..
One way to effectively “stretch” the hip flexors is to get the pelvis back to neutral, potentially even into a posterior tilt, while firing the living hell out of your glutes. I’m not simply talking about maximal voluntary contraction. I’m talking cracking walnuts with your cheeks. Making a tonne of coal turn into three carats worth of diamonds, that kind of pressure.
Frequently, I find that these individuals have increased TONE (resting muscle tension) due to poor core stabilization. In response to this dysfunction, the body increases tone in the hip flexors to help create some stabilization. In treating these individuals, I want to decrease tone of these muscles and then follow that up with specific exercises that help them develop better core control.
This stretch targets the abductors and deeply opens the hips and groin while lengthening the hamstrings. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Keeping your right leg straight, extend it up to your side, reaching hold of your ankle with your right hand. Continue to pull your leg higher up to your right side, into a half-split pose. Hold this position for 30 seconds before releasing and attempting with the opposite leg.
An active warm-up is essential to achieve good form and maximum efficiency, especially if you train in the evening, advises Jason Fitzgerald, founder of StrengthRunning.com. A series of dynamic, prerun movements will lubricate the joints, improve your active range of motion, and wake up muscles that have been dormant all day, helping you to stay upright and extend out the back. For this, try Gary Gray’s celebrated lunge matrix.
For example, your quadriceps muscles are a group of four that are located at the front of the thigh; one of the group members, the rectus femoris flexes the hip, which brings your lower extremity (thigh, lower leg, and foot) forward, in front of you. On the other hand, your hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh. When they contract, they extend the lower extremity, bringing it behind you.
While leg lifts, certain ab exercises, and even hula hooping can all help work the hips, the hip flexors can still be a tricky part of the body to stretch Kinetics of hula hooping: An inverse dynamics analysis. Cluff, T., Robertson, D.G., and Balasubramaniam, R. School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Human Movement Science, 2008 Aug; 27 (4): 622-35.. To get them even stronger and more flexible, try these five simple hip flexor stretches:
Any/all of these will indicate that the client or athlete is attempting to compensate for the weak or under-active muscles. The TFL cramp is a classic illustration of synergistic dominance. A muscle cramps when attempting to shorten in a disadvantageous position. With the hip flexed above ninety, the TFL is already shortened and unable to produce the necessary force to hold in a position of poor leverage. The attempt results in cramping, much like a hamstring cramp in bridging when the glutes are under-active. The same effects are often seen when attempting hanging knee ups (an exercise we almost never do, as it teaches compensation), except the cramp or strain is in the rectus femoris.
Athletes with marked weakness of the hip abductors will exhibit the classic Trendelenburg gait pattern. Hallmarks of the Trendelenburg gait pattern are depression of the swing phase pelvis (as the stance phase hip abductors cannot resist the pull of gravity on the unsupported side of the body).4,8,13 Athletes often find ways to compensate for a relative weakness, such as with a compensated Trendelenburg gait pattern. With this pattern the athlete exhibits increased deviation of the body in the frontal plane toward the stance leg. This causes a decrease in the moment arm of gravitational forces pulling on the unsupported half of the body and a relative decreased load on the stance phase hip abductors (Table 12-1).8,13
Movement at the ankle is controlled by two joints. The ankle or talocrural joint is formed from the tibia and fibula of the lower leg and talus of the foot. Functionally, it acts as a hinge, allowing dorsiflexion (pulling the foot upwards towards the lower leg) and plantarflexion (pulling the foot downwards away from the lower leg). Eversion (tilting of the sole of the foot away from the midline) and inversion (tilting of the sole of the foot inwards towards the midline) is controlled by the subtalar joint formed between the talus and calcaneus bones of the foot.
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).
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to having weak and tight hip flexors as they are always in the shortened position. Tight hip flexors can lead to a limited range of motion, poor posture, lower back, and hip pain, and even injuries. These muscles need to get a workout when you are standing and doing movements such as raising your leg to climb stairs, run, or ride a bicycle.
This article will explain why doing hip flexor stretches may not loosen your hips, and what you can do instead to relieve tightness and improve your ability. If you like this story, be sure to subscribe to the PTDC newsletter. It’s free, and you’ll get the best fitness industry advice—from training techniques to coaching skills to marketing and business—delivered straight to your inbox every week.
Muscle strains may then be a further hindrance to exercise, perpetuating the cycle of inactivity and leading to an even greater decline in mobility. As we get older, our muscle mass naturally decreases and our activity levels decline. Inevitably, muscles grow weaker and joints stiffen up. Stretching can help reverse that aging process. Whether you are young or old, athletic or sedentary, stretching is a great way to improve your fitness and agility.