Running is a high impact, fairly high intensity exercise that often leads to a range of issues with injury and chronic pain. Most of these issues can be avoided and are due to poor running technique and muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances happen when some muscles become weak and stretched, while others are short and tight. One of the most common muscles to become tight is the hip flexor. If you run regularly, try these 5 hip flexor stretches for runners to help you improve your muscle balance and stay injury free.
What are the hip flexors?
There are 3 main muscles involved in hip flexion: the two muscles that make up the iliopsoas group and the rectus femoris, which is part of the quadriceps group and also extends the knee. Hip flexion is any action which brings the front of your thigh closer to your trunk. In running, the hip is flexed from an extended position as the leg swings through in the forward stride. The hip flexors connect from the pelvis and some of the lower vertebrae to the top of the thigh bone. You should feel the stretches right at the top of the front of your thigh.
Why it’s important to stretch the hip flexors
When the hip flexors are tight, they pull the pelvis into a forward tilting position. This leads to a cycle of increasingly weak glutes and tight hamstrings, both of which cause problems for runners. Tight hip flexors also limit how far the hip can extend, which can shorten stride length.
General points about stretching
Muscles should be warm before they are stretched, as this is when they are most pliable. Stretching cold muscles can lead to injury. After your run is an ideal time to stretch, but you can also stretch any time that your muscles are warm from activity. Despite years of studies and debate, there is little evidence to support the ideas that “warm up stretching” serves any purpose or that stretching after a workout does anything to avoid muscle soreness. If you like stretching before or after your run, then do so, but it’s not essential to do it at these times. If you do stretch before running, you still need to have warmed your muscles first.
For improvements to flexibility, stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds. Stretches shouldn’t be forced or feel painful. You should be aware of a feeling of resistance in the muscle being stretched, but it shouldn’t hurt. After you’ve held a stretch for several seconds, the feeling of resistance might ease, in which case you can stretch a little further.
5 hip flexor stretches for runners
#1 Calf and hip flexor stretch
This is primarily a stretch for the calves (also important for runners), but since the hip is extended, the hip flexors are also stretched.
- Stand with feet pointing forwards, about hip distance apart, front knee bent and back leg straight.
- Press your back heel into the floor to feel the stretch on the back calf and back hip flexor.
#2 Lying hip flexor stretch
This stretch is often used by physical therapists to assess hamstring tightness. You just need to lie on your back on a firm but comfortable surface (on a mat or carpet for example, but not your bed) and bring one knee towards your chest. You should feel the stretch in the straight leg.
#3 Standing quad and hip flexor stretch
The quadriceps extend the knees, with the longest of the 4 muscles also acting as a hip flexor. This stretch is for all 4 quadriceps muscles, as well as the iliopsoas. To make sure your hip flexors get a stretch with this one, you need to engage your glutes to push your hips forward slightly.
You may need to put your hand on a wall or chair for support.
- Stand tall with your legs close together. Flex the knee of the leg you are stretching to take your ankle behind your body. Make sure your thighs stay together.
- Hold onto your ankle to increase the stretch in the front of your thigh.
- Now engage your glutes to push your hips forward slightly so that you feel the stretch in your hip flexors too.
#4 Kneeling hip flexor stretch
Get into the position shown, back knee on the floor, front knee bent and directly over the heel.
Ease the back leg out behind until you feel the stretch in your hip flexors.
Note: there is no advantage to the popular practice of lifting the foot as shown below. All lifting the foot does is put pressure on the knee cap. If you want to increase the stretch, take your body and front foot further forwards.
#5 Lunge hip flexor stretch
This is an alternative to the kneeling stretch. Both stretch the hip flexors in the same way, it’s just a matter of personal preference which you find more comfortable.
- The start position is very similar to the calf stretch, except the back foot isn’t as far behind.
- Bend your back knee and lift your back heel, as you push your hips forwards to feel the stretch on the hip flexors.
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