This stretch targets the adductors while opening the hips and lengthens the quad muscles, increasing strength and flexibility in the upper legs and hips. Begin by kneeling upright. Straighten your right leg out behind you, keeping your knee on the floor. Place your fingertips on the floor on either side of your knees and push your hips lower toward the floor, so your groin approaches your left foot. Hold this pose for 30 seconds before repeating on the opposite side.
Extension (as a definition) increases the angle between the bones in a joint. When you extend your knee, you are straightening your knee from the bent position, increasing the angle between the femur and the shin bones. When you are extending your hip, your leg is essentially moving backwards in space, say 10-20 degrees. When you walk, run, or lunge, you have one hip passing through extension. Now why the fuss about these two words?
The wisdom that Sahrmann shares in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes explains many of the injury riddles of the Strength and Conditioning field, particularly the “hip flexor pull” or “quad pull.” The key to understanding the motion of hip flexion comes from looking at the anatomical leverages of the different muscles involved. There are five muscles that are capable of assisting in hip flexion:
Pull your shoulder blades down and back and reach down with both hands to grab the back of your left thigh to pull your knee toward your chest. Keep the right leg straight and push the back of the right heel into the ground; feeling your right glute muscle contract. Keep your abs and core tight and as your hip relaxes, pull it in closer if possible. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Iliopsoas muscle and tendon strains may occur with activities that require repetitive hip flexion, such as hurdling, uphill running and playing soccer. Deep hip pain is the primary symptom. Hip flexor stretching and strengthening exercises reduce the likelihood of iliopsoas strains. Weighted or unweighted leg raises from a standing, sitting or lying position strengthen the iliopsoas and other hip flexors.
The hip flexors often get deemed as tight. You can stretch the hip flexors as a group by doing hip extension. This may not get to the root of the issue though. As we just learned, each hip flexor participates in the motion differently depending on the position of the femur. Carefully add internal or external rotation and abduction or adduction when extending the hip to stretch hip flexion. It’s a good place to start when wanting to create a more effective stretch.
Once you know where each muscle attaches you can identify specific weakness by designing exercises that target a smaller group of muscles or positions instead of all of them at once. To know which ones are tight or weak strengthen your knowledge of the anatomy of hip flexion and function of the various muscles. Then, design exercises that target each muscle more independently to explore the strength of each one. This is often called corrective exercise.
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.