Tight hip flexors are a common problem which can lead to low back pain, poor abdominal tone, weak glutes and increased risk of injury during sport and exercise. The reason tight hip flexors can cause all these issues is that when they are tight, they pull the pelvis into a forward tilt. Fortunately, it’s easy to stretch the hip flexors. Try including the stretches below into your workout or your daily routine – you can stretch any time your muscles are warm from being active. See the end of the post for the hip flexor stretches PDF download.
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. 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.
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. You can stretch any time that your muscles are warm from activity, such as walking or household chores.
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
#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: You may see people in the gym lifting the rear foot as shown below. The reason is that it increases the stretch on one of the hip flexor muscles. The rectus femoris muscle crosses both the hip and knee joints and acts as a hip flexor and a knee extensor. So flexing the knee like this increases the stretch on the muscle. However, it does not increase the stretch on the other hip flexor muscles as they don’t cross the knee, while the rectus femoris will be adequately stretched with the quad and hip flexor stretch above. There is therefore no advantage to doing the variation shown below and it puts unnecessary pressure on the knee joint.
#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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