Tight hip flexors are a common complaint and cause of back pain. When we talk about hip flexors we are looking at the Psoas, Illiacus and the Rectus Femoris. When these muscles get tight back pain can follow. There are two common reasons why you get tight hip flexors. Let’s take a look.
Sitting Down ALL DAY.
Majority of you guys will be sitting down most of the day. When you are in this position, your hip flexors are bent. Your muscles are really pliable and smart. The tighten up, develop trigger points and stay that way.
Terrible Core Stability.
The second common reason your hip flexors can get tight is poor core stability. If you inner ab muscles aren’t working, then your Psoas steps in and works to stabilize your lower back. We’ll talk about this later in the post.
Hip Flexor Stretches And Beyond
Lets take a look at 8 of the best hip flexor stretches.
1. My Stretch
This is my own hip flexor stretch and one I perform before any exercise. I have relatively good core stability, so this is great for me as I stabilize my pelvis well. To perform this correctly you need to squeeze your glute muscle on the side which your knee is on the floor (reciprocal inhibition which we will discuss later in the article). Hold your hips strong while you push forward and bring your other hand back to touch your foot on the floor. Make sure you hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds. If you suffer from back pain during this stretch then you likely struggle with core stability. Stop with this stretch and work more on strength and dynamic exercises that you will see below.
2. Partner Stretch
My Dad showed me this stretch (he’s one of the top Strength and Conditioning coaches in Australia) and hammered me with it when I had really bad back pain. Anyone can help you do it and it is very effective. You need to find a table and someone to help you. Lay with your bum right on the edge of the table, pull one knee to your chest and hold it there. Extend the other leg off the table and let it hang. You partner should then push down for at least 10 seconds while you try to pull the leg upwards. Basically you resist the stretch as strong as you can. After 10 seconds you stop resisting and let your partner stretch you again. You will find that you get more range of motion right away. Repeat three times.
3. Rec Fem Stretch
This is a really good stretch to make sure you hit your Rec Fem (which crosses your hip and knee joint), which is one of the hip flexor muscles that doesn’t usually get hit with standard hip flexor stretches. My hot tip for this exercise is to put a pillow underneath your knee, otherwise it gets really painful!
One of the ways to stretch your hip flexors is to activate your glutes. There is a phenomenon called reciprocal inhibition and it is heavily at work here. There are several muscle partnerships in your body that work this way. When you glutes are weak, your hip flexors will become tight. When you hip flexors are released, your glutes are free to activate and get strong. We are going to exploit that here with this simple exercise. You will also get a dynamic stretch as you straighten out your body and squeeze your glutes.
You can do this exercise with one or two legs. Start with your bum on the ground. Press up through your heels and straighten out your body.Hold for one or two seconds and lower you body again. Repeat 10-15 times.
5. Overhead Lunges
This is an exercise you should include in your program and is great for stretching out your hip flexors dynamically. Holding something over head will help you stretch out the fascia over your hip flexors as well as stabilizing your core. Hold something overhead and step out. Make sure you step far enough out so your knee doesn’t go too far over your foot. Press back up to a standing position.
6. Split Squat
I use this exercise to dynamically stretch my hip flexors and strengthen my glutes and quads. It is one of my ultimate exercises. If you are a beginner this will be really hard to start as it is putting all your weight on one leg, but you will improve very quickly. Start with one leg behind you on the couch and step out far enough so when you drop down your knee doesn’t go too far over your foot. Drop down until as close to parallel as you can go, this will vary depending on strength and flexibility. You will improve quickly.
7. Overhead Squats
This variation of the squat will ensure that your hips flexors are stretched out during the exercise. As you stand up from the squat your hip flexors will be on stretch. These are not as effective as the two exercises above, but should be included in your warm up for your exercise program. Hold something over head with your arms completely outstretched. Squat down ensuring that you move with your hips first. Go down as far as you can. You will be limited by strength and flexibility at the start, but you’ll find that your mobility improves quickly as you get stronger through the range of motion.
8. Tennis Ball Work
Sometimes stretching isn’t enough. This is a way to really hit the trigger points in you hip flexor muscles and release them on a deeper level. You can’t always get to a massage therapist and its important to be able to do some soft tissue work on yourself. This is where a tennis ball comes in handy. Grab a book and your tennis ball. The book will make sure that you get deep enough into the hip flexor. Place the book on top of the tennis ball and lay down over it. The tennis ball should be 1-2 inches to the left or right of your belly button. Then get up onto your elbows to stretch your hips flexors out. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds at atime, you should feel your hip flexors release. If you want to see ways to release your whole body with a tennis ball, check out this book.
Work Your Core
As mentioned earlier, sometimes tight hip flexors can be caused by a weak core. In this case, you need to do some strength work for your abs. I really like prone holds or planks for this. Everyone can do it and they really get in deep and work your stabilizer muscles. Start on your elbows and keep your body straight. Work on holding this position for as long as you can until your form breaks. You will improve quickly.
Now you have a wide range of hip flexor stretches and exercises to both passively and dynamically stretch your hips. Start implementing them into your warm ups and programs. If you have really tight hip flexors you should do this work every day to ensure you get the release you need. Any questions just leave a comment below and i’ll get back to you ASAP.
If you want to take it a step further, check out this book on tight hip flexors.