Ultimate Hip Flexor Guide: Pain, Stretching, and Exercises

Ultimate Hip Flexor Guide: Pain, Stretching, and Exercises

Read this if you have lower back pain. …Or if you simply want to avoid having it.

Over 80% of Americans have it and your hip flexors could be why!

Related - Do This Before Lifting Weights

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that attach your thigh bone (femur) to your pelvis and lumbar spine. They allow you to bring your legs toward your torso. This is a prime mover in all lower body movement, including walking, running, lateral movements and even just standing.

When we sit in chairs in our office cubicle, our hip flexors are inactive and they get tight. This combination can lead to low back pain, lack of flexibility, and a plethora of other issues.

All of the sources I have seen a focus on stretching the muscles of the hip flexors including the iliopsoas (psoas major, psoas minor and the illiacus muscle), rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, adductor longus and brevis, and the pectineus and gracilis. This is completely missing the boat. There are three ways we need to care for the hip flexors:

  1. Trigger Point/Foam Rolling
  2. Stretching
  3. Movement

By doing all three of these, we can ensure optimal health and performance. Tight and weak hip flexors will cause a strain on your lower back by pulling your pelvis forward.

Trigger Point and Foam Rolling

This is a great way to release the hip flexor muscles and relieve any pain or tightness caused by everyday life, like sitting at a desk. Here are some movements to get accomplish this. Trigger Point and Foam rolling can help with:

  1. Breaking up scar tissue: The fascia is the tissue surrounding a muscle. It is malleable, meaning those “knots” and sore spots can be “broken up” by finding the tender spot and working it out, thereby releasing the muscle for maximum output and mobility.
  2. Blood flow: This helps deliver nutrients to the cell and can act as a warmup by getting blood to the intended area or it can be used as a recovery tool with this same benefit.

Here are the best trigger-point methods to target your hip-flexors:


Lacrosse Ball Leg Lift

Lay down on your stomach with a lacrosse ball (a tennis ball will work as well) under your front hip. Move around until you find a spot sorer than others.

Lift the left on the side the ball is on off the floor slowly, keeping the rest of your body and your other leg on the ground. Slowly lower your leg to the ground.

Perform 3 reps per side for 2-3 sets.

Kettlebell Hip Trigger

Choose a relatively heavy kettlebell. Hold Kettlebell “bell up.” Place corner or curved part of the kettlebell on the front of your hip.

Move kettlebell around until you find a sore spot. Hold it there for 20 seconds. Switch Sides and perform 2-3 sets of 20 seconds per side.

Stretching

Static stretching has its place, but when strapped for time, SKIP this. Move straight into movement since movement is essentially ballistic stretching, a great way to get increased health, strength, range of motion as well as not risk decreasing strength as can happen with static stretching pre-workout. [1]

But for tight hip flexors, when done either post workout or on a submaximal weight training day, this can be a great tool to help with your hip flexors. Here are some static stretches that you can perform.


Kneeling With Posture

Lean forward slightly, tighten your core and squeeze the glute of the leg with the knee on the ground. Maintaining this posture, shift your entire body slightly forward. Hold this position for 2-4 seconds while breathing out.

Return to starting position and then squeeze your glute and slightly lunge forward again. Repeat 6-8 times and then switch legs. Perform 1-2 rounds of this movement.


Modified Hurdler Stride Stretch

Start in a modified hurdler position. Lean forward as far as comfortable possible. Hold for 20 seconds.

Relax and repeat two times. Perform for both sides.

Side Lying Quad and Hip Flexor Stretch

Laying on one side, position the lower leg at a 90-degree angle. Place your bottom arm either behind your head or in front of you.

Grab your top leg with your top arm on your back-side. While contracting the stretched leg’s glute, pull until you feel a stretch in the hip flexors and quads of the top leg.

Hold for 20 seconds and switch legs. Perform 2 rounds of 20 seconds per leg.

Movement Prep for the Hips

This is the absolute KEY to healthy hip flexors. With movement, we conquer balance, strength, flexibility and the ability to move!

This is far superior to static stretching and will not only prepare you for the workout ahead, it will help strengthen and eliminate imbalances and also can aid in recovery by delivering blood and nutrients to muscles. These are the best movement prep exercises for your hip flexors.

World’s Greatest Stretch

As the name implies, this is, arguably, the greatest stretch, in the world, ever. Working everything top to bottom, requiring balance and also incorporating a lunge-type movement for strength, if you had to choose one stretch to do the rest of your life, this would be it.

In a lunge position, right leg forward, foot flat on floor, knee bent 90 degrees, keep your left leg fully extended behind you with your foot on the floor; right arm straight and touching the floor and left arm bent both arms inside of your right knee, keep your back flat and shoulder blades retracted.

With your right arm, “punch up” to the sky and point straight up, all while keeping your left hand on the floor. Rotate back down and place your right hand on the outside of your right knee. You will now have your right hand on the outside of your knee and left hand on the inside, back flat, in a lunge position.

Extend your right knee and point your toe toward your face, all while keeping your back leg straight. Drop down back into the lunge position. Step back to standing position and repeat.

So, six reps each leg pre-workout.

Reverse Lunge With Lateral Bend

Start standing tall with tight posture. Step back with your right foot until you have completed a full lunge. While at the bottom of the lunge, reach your right arm and “punch the ceiling” and bend your torso to the left.

Return to the starting position with a tight core and lower your arm. Step back into the next lunge, this time raising your opposite arm and bending in the opposite direction.

Perform 6 reps each leg pre-workout.

7 Way Hips

Pioneered by Ryan Flaherty at Nike, this is the STUFF for hip warmups!

  • Lay on your side, both legs straight out, place the hand of your top arm on the ground in front of your chest to stabilize, the other hand can be used to support your head.
  • Raise the top leg while straight out to the sky then return to the bottom leg. Repeat 15 times.
  • Kick back with your top leg and then come forward to your bottom leg and stop there. Repeat 15 times.
  • Kick forward with your top leg and then come back to your bottom leg. Repeat 15 times.
  • Kick all the way forward and all the way back, passing your bottom leg in the middle. Repeat 15 times.
  • Perform large circles with your top leg to the front. Repeat 15 times.
  • Perform large circles with your top leg to the back. Repeat 15 times.
  • Perform a bicycle movement with your top leg. Repeat 15 times.
  • Perform the same thing on the opposite leg. One round is enough.

Mini Bands Lateral

  • Put a mini band right above your knees and around your ankles.
  • Start with your feet at shoulder width apart with a slight bend in the knees.
  • Spread your legs out as far as you can by side-stepping with one leg while keeping toes pointing straight and move laterally or to the side.
  • Bring other foot forward back to shoulder width.
  • Be sure to use proper form, opposite arm swing with opposite leg step.
  • Do NOT bring feet together, always go shoulder width to full extension.
  • Do 3 sets of 8 reps for both legs.

Mini Bands Linear

  • Put a mini band right above your knees and around your ankles.
  • Face forward with feet at shoulder width.
  • Walk forward alternating feet while keeping feet shoulder width apart.
  • Keep feet same distance throughout.
  • Be sure to use proper form, opposite arm swing with opposite leg step.
  • After 8 reps repeat but move backwards.
  • Do 3 sets forward and backward.

Stationary Hip Warmup

  • Face forward with feet at shoulder width.
  • Rotate one knee out while keeping the other stationary.
  • Complete 8 reps per side for 3 sets.

There is so much you can do to stretch your hip flexors, but these are the bread and butter! You can do more, but just do these and we will be set. Anything more will be redundant.

So, you might be asking, what about weight training? What can I do while lifting weights to strengthen my hip flexors?

Weight Training for Hip Flexors

A lot of people forget that by doing primal movements, we will improve our ability to move as we are supposed to. Primal movements are movements that we need to be able to perform to survive in nature.

Squatting (squats) and bending (deadlifts) are two great examples. We also want to focus on using closed-chain movements. This means that your feet and upper body are not free to move and wiggle around.

An example is while on a squat your feet are on the ground and bar on your back with hands around it (closed), on a leg extension you can wiggle your feet freely (open). These are the top exercises to work those hip flexors.

Squats

The KING of all exercises. But we aren’t talking that 90-degree stuff, we are talking deep squats. To get a deeper squat, squat!

If a bad back is an issue, never fear, the goblet squat is here! This, when taken BELOW PARALLEL, will loosen and strengthen the hip flexors.

The old adage that if you want to squat better, then squat, is correct! Add goblet squats into your training for strong and supple hip flexors.

How to Perform a Goblet Squat

  • Grab a kettlebell or dumbbell.
  • With proper posture, hold the kettlebell slightly away from your body. This will further engage your core.
  • With arms and upper body tight to support the kettlebell, squat down.
  • Go as far down as you can while keeping your chest out and core tight.
  • Once at the bottom of the movement, squat back up.
  • Perform prescribed reps and sets.

Lunges

Not only do lunges stretch the hip flexors, but you can add resistance and strengthen the hip flexors as well!

How to Perform a Lunge

  • Step forward and lower hips to the floor by bending the front knee and come down until just before the back leg touches the ground.
  • Return to the starting position by pushing back with the front leg.
  • Alternate legs and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Putting It All Together

We have all of this information. While we can interchange all of these movements, here is what I recommend for one of your warm-up options. Do this pre-workout or on your off day.

  1. Start with trigger point. For this example, we will perform Lacrosse Ball Leg Lift for 2 sets of 3 reps per side.
  2. Perform either 7-way hip or mini-band work, doing all three linear, lateral, and stationary. For the mini-band work, do 3 sets of 8 reps as prescribed above.
  3. Do movement prep. Perform any two of the movements, but try to always make one of them the world’s greatest stretch. For his example, we will do both world’s greatest stretch (6 per side) and the reverse lunge with lateral bend (6 reps each leg).
  4. On leg days, be sure to perform either squats (can be any squat: front, goblet or back) or lunges.
  5. Post-workout pick two or more of the stretches. For this example, we will do both "kneeling with posture" (6-8 reps per leg) and modified hurdler side stretch.
That is your prescription for the most supple, strong and sexy hip flexors in the history of mankind. We covered all components of this:
  • Strength
  • Mobility
  • Scar tissue breakdown
  • Recovery

Start this today! Be sure to work them hips at least three times per week and be on your way to a pain-free and mobile life!

Please comment below after doing this how it made you feel!

References
1) National Strength & Conditioning Association Volume 24, Number 6, pages 33–37
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