Before learning how to stretch the hip flexor muscles, we must first consider the anatomy. When we refer to the hip flexors, we are talking about the muscles that lie on the front of the hip that are used in activities like sprinting and kicking.
The hip flexors function in three ways: flexing the hip joint, flexing the trunk and stabilizing the pelvis.
Extended periods of sitting causes the hip flexors to tighten which can lead to poor posture and lower back pain.
If lower back pain is something you experience, be sure to read this article to learn more about the hip flexors but also check out our post 5 Exercises for Lower Back Pain.
Anatomy of The Hip Flexors
The iliopsoas is the most commonly tight hip flexor and is composed of two muscles, the psoas major and iliacus as they share the same insertion point.
The psoas has an origin on the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine and the iliacus which has an origin on the iliac fossa (See figure 1).
The rectus femoris, which is another hip flexor, crosses the hip and knee joint making it a hip flexor when the knee is in extension.
Finally, a less commonly known hip flexor, the tensor fasciae latae (TFL). The TFL is not commonly classified as a hip flexor but it originates on ASIS of the iliac crest and inserts onto the IT band, which means it assist in hip flexion.
Figure 1: Hip Flexor Anatomy
After a popular response to our article 5 Exercises for Tight Adductors, our latest article explores the tight hip flexors and outlines some mobility drills that you can start implementing straight away.
Why is tight hip flexors a problem?
If the hip flexors are tight, they will negatively effect posture and cause the lumbar spine to become over extended.
This posture, most commonly known as anterior tilt, leads to inhibition of the glutes and posterior chain (See figure 2).
The easiest way to think about this is liken it to a pulley system. If the muscles on the front of the pelvis are tight, they will rotate the pelvis forward.
Figure 2: Lower Body Cross Syndrome
How to fix tight hip flexors?
It is important to note, any postural change requires both mobility/ release work of the short muscles groups and strength work of the opposing muscle group. Check out our post of anterior pelvic tilt to find out more about this topic.
"Poor posture will not only effect performance in the gym but may also increase the chance of injury."
Below we have included five exercises to help release tight hip flexors.
1. Hip Flexor self myofascial release
The self-myofascial release with a trigger point ball is a great way to release tight hip flexors.
Lay flat on a trigger point ball and apply pressure to the front of the hip. The ball should sit just below the hip crease on the hip flexor. The goal is to use your bodyweight to help to apply pressure down on the ball to help break up the tissue.
Move back and forth over the tender areas, holding on the tight spots. Once you have done this you can rotate onto your side, off the hip flexor and apply pressure to the TFL.
2. Couch Stretch
The couch stretch is a great mobility drill to release tight hip flexors. This exercise can be done pretty much anywhere.
The couch stretch targets on the rectus femoris as the position involves hip extension and knee flexion.
When doing this stretch, the goal should be to rotate the pelvis posteriorly and squeeze the glute on the side you are stretching to increase the stretch on the hip flexors.
To increase the tension, slide your knee back towards the bench ensuring you keep an upright posture throughout the stretch. Remember to breathe and try to relax into the stretch.
3. Spiderman with Thoracic Rotation
The spiderman with thoracic rotation is a more dynamic mobility drill that is great for the hip flexors. This is a great drill to do as a warm up before training.
Start in the push up position with your hands under your shoulders. Bring one foot forward outside your hand while keeping the other leg straight.
The goal is to drop your hip down, feeling a stretch in the rear hip flexor. On the same side as the forward leg, lift the arm off rotating towards the ceiling.
4. Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
The split squat is an exercise that can be used in a warm up or completed during a strength program. It helps improve ankle mobility and stretch tight hip flexors.
To perform the exercise, start with your feet shoulder width apart and step one foot forward into the starting position. Keeping an upright posture, move forward and down, allowing your knee to track over your toe until your hamstring touches your calf.
Once you have reached the full stretched position, ensure you can feel a stretch on your rear hip flexor, then push through the front foot back to the start position.
5. Bench Hip Flexor Stretch
The bench assisted hip flexor stretch is another variation that targets the iliopsoas. This stretch has less emphasis on the rectus femoris as the knee joint isn't in full flexion like the couch stretch.
Set up on the side of a bench and ease into the stretch like the video below. It's important to keep the pelvis in posterior tilt and not overextend through the lumbar as you relax into the stretch.