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Hip Flexors and You: How To Become Friends

There seems to be a recurring theme amongst our RF members: tight hips! You might notice it in the back of your hips when you’re squatting, or maybe in the front of your hip when you’re hinging, but no matter what causes it, one thing remains constant— it’s annoying! Why does it happen? And how can you help yourself? Let’s dive in! 

To begin, let’s start with a little anatomy. The hip joint is where your femur (long thigh bone) meets your pelvis. This type of joint is called a “ball and socket” joint because, well, it moves very similarly to a ball in a concave socket. This type of joint makes your hips fairly mobile, but in order to keep the joint stable during movement, the muscles and soft tissue have to do a lot of work. There are many muscles that help the hip both stabilize and move, such as your glutes, quads, adductors, hamstrings, and hip flexors. For the rest of this article, we’ll be talking specifically about the hip flexors. 

To fully understand what the hip flexors do, we’ll turn back to the anatomy.  The hip flexor muscles are actually five individual muscles on the front of the hip: the psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris, pectineus and sartorius.  

Pictured: Front of the pelvis/thigh showing the 5 hip flexor muscles

These muscles work together to flex the hip– when you bring your knee up towards your chest–  and lift the leg. The psoas and iliacus muscles are the “prime movers” of hip flexion; in other words, by contracting just these two muscles, the hip will flex. They are sometimes together referred to as the iliopsoas.  The rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius are called synergist muscles, meaning they assist with hip flexion but cannot achieve it as individual muscles. Being able to flex the hip is critical in everyday life; for example, everytime you walk, you are flexing your hip to lift your leg off the ground before each new step.  

It’s also important to note that muscles are pliable, meaning they are designed to alternate between shortened and lengthened positions.  Issues arise with tightness, especially in the hips, because muscles can tighten up when they are in a shortened position for long periods of time, such as sitting for multiple hours at a time.  What this means is that, over time, the muscles can become shorter and harder to stretch. Shortened muscles do not produce as much power as lengthened muscles and can cause muscle imbalances in the body.  In other words, say you work at a desk job and are required to be sitting at your desk during the workday.  Repeatedly sitting for 8 hours a day with no breaks or activity can lead to the hip flexor muscles shortening and causing stiffness or tightness.

Now that you know some of the reasons why your hip flexor muscles may be tight and/or weak, what can you do about it?  Well, that’s where we come in! The hip flexor muscles and soft tissue around them can be stretched to help relieve some tightness.  Some of these stretches/mobility include: 

  1. Rocking hip stretch 

  • Begin with both hands and knees on the ground in quadruped position

  • Starting with your left leg, lunge forward so your left foot is on the left side of your left hand 

  • To modify if needed: instead of starting with quadruped position on the ground, elevate your hands onto a stool

  • Gently rock your body forward until you feel a stretch on the front of your right hip

  • Then, gently rock out of the stretch until your left leg is completely straight and you feel a stretch in your left hamstring 

  • Alternate gently rocking backwards and forwards to stretch your right hip flexors and left hamstring 

  • Repeat for 5-10 reps and then switch legs

  1. Adductor rocks

  • Begin with both hands and knees on the ground in quadruped position

  • Stick your left leg out to the side until your leg is straight and your foot is flat on the ground 

  • Gently rock your body backwards and forwards while feeling a stretch on the inside of your left thigh 

  • Repeat for 5-10 reps and then switch legs 

  1. Alternating modified pigeon pose

  • Start by sitting on your butt with one leg in front of your body bent at 90 degrees and one leg to the side of your body vent at 90 degrees (hip 90/90 position)

  • Gently lean forward over the front knee until you feel a stretch in your hips, hold 5-10 seconds, and then gently back out of the stretch 

  • Repeat for 2-3 reps and then switch sides 

  1. Banded hip external rotation

  • Begin with a band around both legs just above the knee joints. Feet should be hip width apart.

  • Keeping your left leg stationary, push your right knee into the band and away from your left knee and then slowly return to starting position

  • Repeat for 5-10 reps and then switch legs 

  1. Eccentric goblet squats

  • Begin by holding a kettle bell in a goblet position 

  • Slowly over 5 seconds, descend into a squat

  • Once your reach the bottom of your squat, explosively return to standing position 

  • Repeat for 5 reps

Keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for an upcoming video demonstrating all these moves! 

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