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.
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.
When these muscles are under constant tension because of ergonomics and habitual postural positioning, they may become tight and shortened. This can result in pulling forward on the lumbar vertebrae, creating hyperlordosis and causing the pelvis to tilt anteriorly. This is commonly seen in people who maintain a seated position for a prolonged period such as office workers, computer programmers, and others who find themselves sitting at a desk for hours every day. It is important to provide education on proper ergonomics, movement, and self-care to these individuals.
In addition to these exercises, there are simple things you can do every day to help reduce your risk of hip flexor pain. If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, try to get up and move around every hour or so. Warm up properly before any physical activity, and stretch regularly at the end of each workout. Your hips will thank you for it!
It's easy to compensate in this position by hyperextending your lower back, but it's crucial that you don't. Instead, I want you to focus on squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, which will push your hips forward into a full-on "schwing." If your right foot is back, you should feel an intense stretch on the right front side of your hip. Hold it for a long time, like a minute or two, and then switch sides.
Athletes with relative shortening of the hip flexors and accompanying weakness of hip extensors will exhibit decreased hip extension at terminal stance phase or “toe off.” Athletes who lack hip extension may also exhibit related limitation in great toe extension. Often these athletes will show decreased wear under the great toe aspect of their shoe sole and relative increased wear under the more lateral toes. These athletes may also demonstrate increased hip flexion at initial contact or “heel strike” in an effort to make up for the shorter stride length caused by limited hip extension. In patients with knee instability this will contribute to hyperextension or “giving way” of the knee.13
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.
The primary hip flexors are the rectus femoris, iliacus, psoas, iliocapsularis, and sartorius muscles. The rectus femoris muscle has two distinct origins proximally: the direct head and the reflected head. They originate at the AIIS and the anterior acetabular rim (in close proximity to the anterior hip capsule), respectively. The tendinous fibers of the rectus femoris coalesce distally and become confluent with the other quadriceps musculature in the thigh. The quadriceps consists of four distinct muscles: 1) the vastus intermedius; 2) the vastus lateralis; 3) the vastus medialis; and 4) the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris is the only quadriceps muscle that traverses both the hip and the knee joint. The rectus femoris is a powerful hip flexor, but it is largely dependent on the position of the knee and hip to assert its influence. It is most powerful when the knee is flexed, whereas significant power is lost when the knee is extended. The rectus femoris is innervated by the femoral nerve (i.e., the posterior division of L2 to L4).
The pectineus is an accessory hip flexor. This short muscle originates from the front of the pelvis, crosses the hip joint and inserts near the top of the thighbone. In addition to hip flexion, the pectineus works with other muscles to move your thigh inward. The pectineus may be involved in groin strains, which occur commonly among players of sports that require rapid acceleration and position changes.
Kneel with a wall or pillar behind you, knees hips-width apart and toes touching the wall. Arch your back to lean back while keeping your hips stacked over your knees. Take your arms overhead and touch your palms into the wall behind you. This bend does not need to be extremely deep to feel a great stretch in the hips and strength in the lower back.
The iliopsoas muscle group consists of two muscles: the psoas muscle and the iliac muscle. These muscles work together to help the hip flex. The psoas muscle connects to the lumbar vertebrae L1 through L5. The other end of the psoas muscle connects to the tendon on femur bone. The lumbar plexus, a nerve bundle that originates at the middle of the spine, supplies the psoas with nerves. The iliac muscle connects to the ilium, the largest bone of the pelvis, on the top and runs under the psoas to the same tendons of the femur bone as the psoas muscle. The nerves of the iliac muscle are supplied by the femoral nerve, which is located in the leg.
Gait analysis studies in the elderly show that they typically have a shortened step length. Whether that is a result of tight hip flexors or due to reduced balance, the propensity to walk with shorter steps will itself lead to tightness in hip flexors and anterior joint structures. Hip stretches may be a relatively easy preventative strategy for the elderly with gait abnormalities and may help to prevent falls.
Following the core strengthening, working on glute activation through various hip extension movements is the big finale. For one, the glutes main function of hip extension is an agonist to the hip flexors, and are also directly involved in low back stability, which means they help to pick up the slack for the core during movements, and helps reduce the impulse on the psoas, therefore reducing the “tightness.”
Dean Somerset, CSCS, a personal trainer and post-rehab specialist in Edmonton, Alberta, is owner of Somerset Fitness Ltd. He has a degree in kinesiology from the University of Alberta and is certified by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He’s written articles for The PTDC as well as T-Nation and Bodybuilding.com, and contributed to Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness, and many other magazines and websites. You can contact him at his website or Facebook , and check out his unique approach to training on his YouTube channel.
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.
Start in a runner’s lunge, right leg forward with knee over ankle and left knee on ground with top of your foot flat on the mat. Slowly lift torso and rest hands lightly on right thigh. Lean hips forward slightly, keeping right knee behind toes, and feel the stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold here, or for a deeper stretch, raise arms overhead, biceps by ears. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
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:
The hip flexors are the muscles at the front of your hip. They’re responsible for several essential functions. Since they’re so often overlooked, we often forget to stretch them before exercising or engaging in rigorous activities. Tight hip flexors can also be a product of being sedentary. So, if you don’t lead an active lifestyle, or if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, you’ll be susceptible to hip flexor tightness.
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.
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.
Come into a lunge position with your right knee forward, and lower your left knee to the ground, releasing so the top of your left foot is flat on the floor. Place your hands on the ground under your shoulders, keeping them both to the inside of your right leg. Keep your arms straight and press your chest forward to increase the stretch. Sink into your hips, but try to keep the weight balanced between them. Be aware that your front knee doesn’t go over your toes. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms resting at sides. Press into heels and engage glutes to lift hips. Transfer weight to left leg and extend right leg straight out for five breaths. Inhale as you lower right leg to hover over floor for five breaths, then exhale as you lift it back up. Perform 8 reps, then repeat on opposite leg.