In our earlier “lesser-known muscle groups” post HERE, we talked about what muscles comprise the hip flexors, what they do and why they need to be both stretched and strengthened.
If you sit at a desk job all day or notice that you have anterior pelvic tilt (which you can read more about HERE), stretching out these muscles is very important for proper movement, good posture, and relief of lower back pain. If you are an athlete, especially a sprinter, or just looking to run faster or jump higher, strengthening them will be beneficial to you. Let’s take a look at how we can accomplish both of these tasks:
Overhead Lunges – Take the same advice from when performing split squats (Refresh your memory with the article HERE), keep your torso upright and your hips in correct alignment and stable. You can begin this exercise just by holding your hands over your head and progress by holding a weight and increase it as you become more proficient.
Bulgarian Split Squats – These have been covered in my past article on single leg training HERE. When using these as a stretch and warm-up, you don’t need to use weight. Make sure you are hitting good depth and getting a nice stretch through your hip.
Rear Foot Elevated Lunges (with or without arm up) – Similar to Bulgarian Split Squats, but with more stability. For an extra stretch, bring up the arm on the side of the elevated foot.
Stationary Hip Flexor Stretches (Standing and Kneeling) – These are good to do when you get a chance to stand up at the office. Quick, painless, not too awkward looking! For a deeper stretch, move these closer to the ground with a longer lunge.
Make sure to push the open hip forward to get the most stretch.
Hanging Knee / Leg Raises – Grab hold of a pull-up bar and let your body hang down. Make sure to try and pull your shoulder blades down to stabilize your shoulders. Brace your core and bring your knees up to your chest in a controlled manner. You want to try and minimize how much your body sways during this exercise. To progress this exercise, straighten your legs when you raise them.
Bench Knee / Leg Raises – If hanging leg raises are a challenge, or you have a shoulder or arm injury that prevents you from hanging comfortably, this exercise can be performed on a bench as well. Lay down flat and grasp the back of the bench behind you. Bring your knees up towards your chest, but take care to avoid curling your lower back along with them! Progress this exercise by straightening your legs out.
Various Core Exercises with quick Tempo – performing these exercises with a fast pace will recruit the hip flexors more than your abdominals. Slow the pace down to recruit more of your abdominals over hip flexors. For example, the bicycle or flutter kick exercises.
Putting it All Together
Before your workout and during the day, perform some of the stretching exercises to loosen up your hips and give some relief to your legs and lower back. During your workout you can easily hit two birds with one stone and knock out some core exercises along with strengthening the hip flexors by performing some of the movements listed above. Remember the key message here: A tight muscle does not mean a strong muscle!