So here we are, three entries deep into the “It’s All in the Hips” saga. We’ve covered gluteus medius and its role in stability. We’ve also talked about the gluteus maximus and its importance in power production. Today, we’ll take a journey to the front of the hips to talk about the hip flexors.
The hip flexors are a group of muscles that cross through the front of our hips that help, you guessed it, flex our hips (anatomy people aren’t known for creative names). When I talk about the action of hip flexion I’m talking about moving your leg forward and up, like moving your knee towards your chest, for example. This is an action we perform constantly when walking, running, ascending stairs, or driving a leg up while making a layup in basketball. There are several muscles that help contribute to that motion and those muscles attach to our thigh bone (femur) at one end and, depending on the muscle, to either our hips or low back at the other end.
There are two common injuries that occur with our hip flexors – strained hip flexor muscles and low back pain (remember, some of those muscles attach to your low back). Both can be due to the fact that those muscles are tight, so working on your flexibility will help you reduce your chance of two different injuries at once. The reason that those muscles get tight is because we all sit too much. If you think about it, when you’re sitting your knees are halfway to your chest, meaning your hip flexor muscles are in a shortened position. For short periods of time, that isn’t a problem, but for most of us, we spend at least 8 hours a day sitting down at work or on the couch – more than enough time to cause your hip flexors to tighten.
You know I wouldn’t leave you without a potential resolution, right? Here are 2 different stretches that will help loosen your hip flexors.
In a kneeling position, slowly lean forward, taking care to stay tall – keep your chest up and squeeze your glutes (the muscles in your rear). You should feel a stretch across the front of your hips. Make sure that you only go to a point where you feel a gentle stretch, not pain. Hold that position for 30 seconds, repeating 3 times on each leg.
Lay on your stomach and wrap a strap (a twisted beach towel, sheet, or belt works well) around one ankle. Pull your heel towards your hips, bending at the knee. You should feel a stretch through the front of your thigh. If that’s too easy, you can put a pillow beneath your knee to increase the stretch. Again, hold this for 30 seconds, repeating 3 times on each leg.
In addition to those stretches, I’d strongly encourage you to try some other mobility exercises like foam rolling or ball rolling to help increase your flexibility. It’s always a good idea to work on overall hip strength as well to help keep your hip flexors to keep from compensating for other weak muscles. For tips on that, check out this previous article.