This article is written by dr. Kristina DeMatas from Sporty Doctor.
The hip flexors are a group of muscles around the top of your thighs that connect the upper leg to the hip. This muscle group allows you to bend at the waist and raise your leg to your chest. Some of the main hip flexor muscles include the:
- Rectus femoris
- Tensor fasciae latae
Your hips help many parts of your body function and move so the more flexibly and strong your hips, the more potential your body has for strength, power, athleticism and overall optimal daily functioning, injury-free.
Symptoms of Tight Hip Flexors
You’ll feel a tightness that stretches across the hips, originating from hip flexor tension. Tight hips may put you at increased risk for injury due to the increased demands on tissues that aren’t functioning properly.
When your hip flexibility decreases, it can cause issues like lower back pain, knee problems, tight hamstrings and muscle strain. Tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can cause your lower back to overcompensate.
Improving hip mobility has the benefit of decreasing the strain on your lower back and knees, making walking, stair climbing, and running easier and more efficient, and movement in general, more pleasant.
Causes of Poor Hip Mobility?
Tight hips cause poor hip mobility. Modern lifestyles increasingly involve more sitting: office work, car commutes, school pick-ups and a sedentary lifestyle (think gaming and couch potato streaming) which all contribute to decreased hip mobility. Tight hips can also be caused by:
- A tipped pelvis
- One leg that is longer than the other
- Poor posture (leaning on one hip over another when standing, or holding a baby to one side of the hip only without alternating sides)
- Sleeping on an unsupportive mattress on one side of your body all night
- Standing or sitting for extended periods
On the more extreme end of the scale, acute hip flexor strain can be caused by overuse of hip flexor muscles and tendons. Even athletes like cyclists, dancers, football players, martial artists, soccer players and gym junkies can experience issues with this important muscle group.
How Can I Make My Hips More Flexible?
Keeping your hips healthy, strong and flexible will decrease the likelihood for pain, injury or compromised range of motion. You can maintain the flexibility of your hips by:
- Stretching your hips (hip flexor stretch)
- Performing hip mobility exercises to increase your hip flexibility and range of motion
5 Hip Flexibility Stretches
Standing Quad Stretch
With this stretch, you’ll work out the quadriceps muscle group while loosening up your hips. Slowly stretch so you don’t strain your lower back.
- Standing with feet placed hip-width apart, pull in your abdominals and square your hips in one straight line. Keep your back straight.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Bend your left knee.
- Pull your left foot back towards your buttocks and hold your left ankle or foot with your right hand.
- Gently pull the left heel towards your glutes and hold this position for at least 20 seconds to feel a mild pull in the front of your left leg.
- Repeat the stretch with the other leg.
Basic Hamstring Stretch
The basic hamstring stretch can help improve daily mobility functions such as walking.
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight stretched out in front of you.
- At the hip, try to lean forward and fold your upper body towards your knee at the hip, keeping your knees flat on the floor. If you need to keep knees bent, try to get your waist to your thighs to feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
- If you can, extend your arms and palms forward on the floor.
- Hold the position for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Return your body to a seated position and repeat three times.
The ‘Pigeon Pose’ is a yoga pose that opens your hips. You’ll stretch one hip – and leg – at a time.
- Bend your right knee while sitting and extend your left leg so it rests behind you.
- Move your right heel towards your left hip so that your right leg starts to form a right angle with your body.
- Your left hip and back leg should be pointed downward so your hip starts to open. Try to get this leg straight.
- Rest your hands on your right thigh and remain in the position. You can also slowly walk your hands out in front of your body so that your torso starts to bend downwards to the floor to rest across your right knee.
- Repeat the pose on the other side with your other leg.
This stretch will help increase your range of motion, flexibility and help gently work on hip rotation.
- Sit flat on the floor or a mat.
- Bend one knee at a time slowly towards your hip.
- Bring your feet together so that they are touching from toe to heel, with each knee bent.
- If you can, gently press down on your left knee with your left hand, and your right knee with your right hand so that your knees get closer to the floor. You should feel a stretch in your groin area.
The piriformis is a small, hard-to-reach muscle located deep in your gluteal region. The piriformis muscle helps the hip rotate, turning the leg and foot outward.
- Lie on your back.
- Bend your right knee to your chest.
- Bring your left knee towards your chest and rest your right ankle on your left knee to make a right angle.
- Reach behind through the space between your legs to grab behind your back knee so that your right ankle comes closer to your face at a right angle.
- Pull your left leg towards your face, hold for at least 20 seconds and release.
- Bring feet gently to the floor and switch legs.
- Repeat each leg three to five times.
4 Hip Mobility Exercises
This move is a triple threat, effectively working your hips, glutes, and pelvis. Use a resistance band as your hips get stronger and when you want more of a strengthening challenge.
- Lie on one side, resting your head on your lower arm.
- Stack your legs on top of one another, bent to a 45-degree angle.
- Contract your abdominal muscles to your spine.
- Keep your feet touching and raise the upper (banded) knee to the sky (stretching the resistance band open).
- Keep your lower leg firmly on the floor.
- Hold the position.
- Perform 20 reps for each side.
Single Leg Glute Kicks (a.k.a Donkey Kicks)
This exercise strengthens your glutes and upper hamstrings, and all you need is some floor space to perform the exercise.
- Position your body on all fours, hands palms down and each top of foot flat on the floor. Your hips will be facing forward.
- Extend your left leg back behind you.
- Bend your left knee so that your left foot is facing up towards the ceiling.
- Push your left foot to the sky by using your quadricep muscles and keeping your left leg bent behind you at a right angle. Keep your left thigh off of the ground.
- Pulse your left leg to the sky 15 times.
- Return to the starting position, switch leg sides and repeat the move on the other side.
- Perform the full cycle three times through.
Plié Squats open your hips and, as a bonus, give you more shapely legs by defining your lower body.
- Spread your feet slightly wider than your hips, with hips forward.
- Point your toes at a 45-degree angle.
- Place your hands on your hips, or clasped to your chest.
- Slowly squat down, lowering your upper body to the ground, bending your legs at a 90-degree angle.
- Do not let your knees come forward over your toes.
- Pause and hold the position, feeling your glutes and thighs tense to hold your body weight.
- Lift your hips and upper body back to a full upright position.
- Repeat the squat 15 times.
- If you want to get fancy, add a calf raise at the end of each rep as you raise your body back up out of the squat position.
Glute Med Side Lifts
If you want to work your glutes and abdominal muscles at the same time, this is an excellent beginner’s exercise similar to the reverse clamshell, but you keep your legs straight.
- Place a resistance band around both ankles.
- Posture your shoulders back while balancing on one leg.
- Lift the other leg directly to the side to extend the resistance band and hold for two seconds.
- Slowly return the leg to its original position next to your other leg.
- Repeat 20 reps and then switch legs.
Curious to see how you can up your hip stretch routine and add more flexibility workouts into your daily routine? Check out these 21 hip stretches and hip flexor exercises.
Functional and mobility training will help hip flexibility, overall functioning and health of your body. Invest in yourself today.
Author bio: Dr. DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. She is a licensed, practicing Physician in Jacksonville, FL and founder of SportyDoctor.com.
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