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Unravel Those Hip Flexors

Hip Flexor Tightness

What are the Hip Flexors?

As the summer starts to close many people will be noticing the after effects of increased running mileage. I hear a lot of people mention tight, aching, or painful sensations over the front of the hips which may also be accompanied by a painful lower back. This is partially down to a tightness of the hip flexors which is a collective name for a group of muscles known as the rectus femoris, psoas, and illiacus.

The hip flexors primary function is to flex the hip, this basically means that they lift the thigh forwards and up towards the torso. If you think about the cyclic pattern of running we are repeatedly lifting the thigh in our swing phase. Not only this but the majority of jobs and lifestyles nowadays involve a lot of sitting; at a desk, in the car, or in meetings. The seated position puts the hip flexors in a shortened state. If we hold this position for prolonged periods these muscles will become very tight.

Psoas Muscle

Psoas Muscle

Rectus Femoris Muscle

Rectus Femoris Muscle

Iliacus Muscle

Iliacus Muscle

What does this mean for my body?

If the hip flexors are tight when the thigh is pulled backwards during walking, running, or standing it will stretch these tight muscles and cause some discomfort. The other issue is that the prolonged sitting position and the tightening of the hip flexors causes their counterparts (the gluteals or buttocks) to become lengthened and weaker. This results in a stronger pull on the pelvis in the forward or anterior direction which causes our pelvis to tilt forwards. This has a knock on effect on the lower back causing it to arch inwards hence the common lower back aches and pains.

What can I do?

The fix seems very straight forward, if the hip flexors are tight and short we need to lengthen and loosen them. As well as this to create muscular balance we need to retrain and strengthen the gluteals. By restoring balance in these muscles the postural imbalances will be rectified and hopefully relieve any aches and pains as well as regain a normal range of movement.

Exercise Ideas:

Perform the following 1-2 times per day (or every other day depending on time) or it can be added to your warm ups for any activity you currently do.

1. Hip Flexor Kneeling Stretch

Kneel on one knee, so your leg trails behind you, lunge the other foot out in front of you. keep your torso upright and thrust the pelvis forwards until you feel a stretch up your thigh and over the hip. Hold this position for 30secs and repeat 2 times on each leg. Once you can balance effectively introduce raising the arms straight up over the head, remaining upright through the torso. (See Image 1)

Image 1. Hip Flexor Stretch

Image 1. Hip Flexor Stretch

2. Pigeon Pose

Place one leg and knee flat on the floor in front of you, then trail the other leg flat behind you. Use your arms to control your weight and lower your weight down so your hips drop towards the floor. you will feel this stretch around the buttock and hip area. Hold this for 30 secs and do 2 sets each side. (See Image 2)

Image 2. Pigeon Pose

Image 2. Pigeon Pose

3. Fire Hydrants

This gets its name from the pattern of movement mimicking that of a dog and fire hydrant. Kneel on all fours so your hands are under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Then keeping your back flat and straight raise one knee off the floor and take the leg out to the side, as though cocking the leg (hence the name). return the leg back in and repeat. Do 2 sets of 15 each leg. (See Image 3)

Image 2. Fire Hydrants

Image 3. Fire Hydrants

4. Gluteal Bridges

Lie on your back and bend your knees so you feet become flat on the floor. Then, keeping your shoulders and upper back flat on the floor, raise your hips up off the ground as high as you can, squeezing the buttocks. Once at the top hold it for 1-2 seconds then slowly return to the floor and repeat. Do 2 sets of 15. Once you can do this with great control you can try the same movement but using one leg only (make sure you work both legs thought). See Images 4 & 5.

Image 3. Double Glute Bridge

Image 4. Double Glute Bridge


Image 4. Single Leg Glute Bridge

Image 5. Single Leg Glute Bridge