The hip flexors are a particular group of muscles that are vital to the physical functionality of every individual, from the finest athlete to ordinary folks. They comprise primarily of the iliacus and psoas major muscles that connect the femur (or thigh bone) to the pelvis, and serves to flex the thigh and trunk. Essentially, the hip flexors aid in hip flexion. The hip flexors can perform two different movements: “When the pelvis is in a stationary position, a contraction of the hip flexors will pull the femur upward, whereas, if the femur is stationary, a contraction of the hip flexors will tilt the pelvis forward and the butt back” (Biss, 2016). Hip flexors typically get little attention with regards to strength and conditioning. They are either forgotten or neglected, which can become troublesome. Simple everyday routine such as sitting at your work desk can weaken your hip flexors because the seated position tends to shorten those muscles. Not only do tight hip flexors disrupt good posture and typically cause lower back pain, but in a weakened state, they increase the risk of developing foot, ankle, and knee injuries, especially in runners (Niemuth et al. 2005).
The good news is that, it is not too late to strengthen your hip flexors and restore optimal muscle balance, which is sure to prevent injuries and get you stronger. Here are some steps that you can take to either stretch or strengthen your hip flexors:
Run A’s on the Spot
Sounds silly doesn’t it? Simply put, this is high knees running in place, which combines knee lifting with simple running motion. This exercise strengthens and develops muscular endurance in the hip flexors. To do high knees on the spot:
1. Begin with one leg planted on the ground, and lift the other knee high but not passing hip height.
2. Jump from one leg to the next, hitting the ground with the ball of your feet, keeping the arm relaxed while following the motion.
3. Continue this alternating motion for 30-45 seconds
Foam Roll the Knots Away
According to Chiropractor Dr. Ben Kim, foam rolling (self-myofascial release) your hip flexors is “highly effective at improving blood flow and ligamento muscle length, and it can also help mobilize your ball and socket hip joints and the dense ligamentous capsule that surrounds these joints” (Kim, 2012). To get rid of those knots and tight muscle fibers that inhibit your range of motion, foam roll your hip flexor region by:
1. Place the foam roller in front of knees while you kneel on the floor, and then, fall forward and walk your body out with your hands.
2. Drop one side (the side you want to work) of your hip complex on the foam roller, with the leg on that side fully extended and slightly raised.
3. Softly roll up and down, rotating the torso to the opposite side to maximize the amount of weight placed on psoas major, just below your waistline.
4. Roll for 30 seconds to a minute on each side, and two minutes for a deeper massage.
Improve Muscle Extensibility with Couch Stretch
Comfort and relaxation may be expected from a couch, but the couch stretch may not be the most comfortable movement; however, it is extremely effective for opening up your hip and improving the extensibility of the hip flexor muscles. To perform a couch stretch:
1. Get into a kneeling position in front of a couch, chair, or wall to hold your foot up, and flex your back knee to the extent that it is as close as possible to your butt.
2. Keep your lower back straight, while you squeeze your glute muscles and hamstring, which aids in pushing your hips forward.
3. Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds. Switch to the opposite side and repeat.
4. Complete three sets of 30 to 45 stretches.
Make a Pose Navasana
There are ways to strengthen the psoas isometrically and bring balance and stability to the spine, thereby preventing injury. The yoga pose, Navasana, also known as the boat pose, is effective at strengthening the iliopsoas. To do the Navasana pose:
1. Start in a tall seated position on the floor, keeping your knees bent and feet flat.
2. Lean back on your sitting bones until elbows are straight, lifting your feet off the floor and keeping chest upright.
3. With legs at a 45-degree angle and torso in a V shape with legs, balance on your sitting bones for 5 breaths.
4. Complete three sets of 5 breaths.
Hang a Little!
Hanging knee raises are great exercise movement to target and effectively strengthen your weak hip flexors, with the added benefit of developing your abdominal muscles in the process as well. To do hanging knee raises:
1. Start by hanging freely from a pull-up bar with arms extended at medium or wide grip.
2. Contracting your core, slowly pull your knees towards your chest, or aim for the elbows, making a 90-degree angle.
3. Hold the contraction and then, with control, lower your legs to the starting position.
4. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Keep your hips flexors strong and healthy in order to maintain effective movement and to prevent one form of injury or another. These exercises and stretches are just the thing you need!
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Biss, Matt. “Flex Those Flexors: 3 Steps to Powerful Hips.” Bodybuilding, 13 December 2016, http://www.bodybuilding.com/content/flex-those-flexors-3-steps-to-powerful-hips.html. 20 Jan. 2017
Kim, Ben. “How to Keep Your Hip Flexors Healthy.” Drbenkim, 06 February 2012, http://drbenkim.com/hip-flexor-stretch-pain-stiffness.htm. 20 Jan. 2017.
Niemuth-Robert, Paul, Robert Johnson, Marcella Meyers, and Thomas Thieman. “Hip Muscle Weakness and Overuse Injuries in Recreational Runners.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, pp. 14-21, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15654186. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.
Rail, Kevin. “Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises.” Livestrong, 07 May 2015, http://www.livestrong.com/article/156403-hip-flexor-strengthening-exercises/. 20 Jan. 2017.