Did you know that weak hip flexors can cause a variety of problems for you?
It can create pain, discomfort, and a loss of mobility…
And even lower your status in the eyes of others through bad posture.
If you’re sitting for more than a few hours per day…
This may be you.
On the flip side, you might be an active person and still suffer from weak or tight hip flexors.
For example, many runners suffer from tight hip flexors, which cause pain and sometimes injury. In this case, it is likely caused by weak Glutes rather than inactivity.
No matter what the cause of your weak hip flexors, it is important to strengthen them. As with any muscle, the more your work them, the stronger they become. If you also add some flexibility exercises, they will become strong AND agile.
Are you ready to get started? Let’s go.
What Are Hip Flexors, And How Do You Unlock Them?
Hip flexors are a group of muscles that run directly in front of your hips, on either side of your pelvis. I will spare you all the scientific names, but there are about 9 muscles that make up this group. They vary in size, length, and dominance, but they all play a role in hip flexion.
Hip flexion refers to the movement of the knee toward the chest or bending at the waist. For example, if you are in a standing position and you raise your knee or leg out in front of you, that is hip flexion. Likewise, if you bend over from the waist and touch your toes, that movement also involves hip flexion.
What Causes Weakness In Your Hip Flexor Muscles?
The #1 most common cause of weakness in the hip muscles is a sedentary lifestyle.
Your body was designed to move. Your hip flexors are actively working every time you take a step. Unfortunately, our modern world has created an environment in which we are sitting for much of the day.
If you have an office job and you’re at a desk for the majority of the day, you run the risk of having weak, tight hip flexors. In the seated position, these muscles are flexed. If you sit for 8 hours, they are flexed for 8 hours. Imagine flexing your biceps for 8 hours straight…. Ouch!
When you spend a ton of time sitting down, your hip flexors become weaker and weaker. I’m not saying you should quit your desk job, but I am suggesting that you do some exercises to both releases and strengthen those muscles! If you don’t, the weak hip flexor situation will quickly turn into a muscle imbalance, lower back pain, hip pain, and all kinds of other issues.
As mentioned before, this can also happen to athletes or highly active individuals. But regardless of the cause of the weakness, these exercises will help you improve both strength and flexibility.
How Do I Strengthen My Hip Flexors?
In order to really make a difference in your hip flexor problems, you’ll want to do both strengthening and stretching exercises on a regular basis. Don’t attempt to do one without the other. You will likely end up back in the place you are right now.
Here are the best exercises to strengthen your hip flexors:
Straight Leg Raise
The straight leg raise will help engage the hip flexors and start to strengthen them. It is simple to do and requires no equipment.
Lie down flat on your back, preferably on a solid surface such as the floor
Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor
Extend your right leg long on the floor
Keeping your right leg straight, lift it up to a 45-degree angle (approximately)
Lower it back down towards the floor, without touching the floor
Raise it up again
Repeat this movement 10 times, lifting and lowering your right leg while keeping it straight
Switch sides and do the exercise again on the left leg
Straight Leg Raise Plus
If your hip flexors are a little bit stronger, you can add an extra element to make this exercise more challenging. For this, you will follow the same steps as listed above. However, after the 10 repetitions of leg lifts, you will complete 10 short, quick pulses before switching to the other leg.
Standing Knee Raise
This exercise is performed in a standing position. If you don’t have great balance, be sure to place your hand on a countertop, chair, or wall for support.
Stand upright with your feet hip distance apart and parallel and your knees soft
Lift your right knee up to the level of your hip
Slowly lower it back down to the starting position
Repeat this movement 10 times, rest for 30 seconds and perform 10 more
Switch sides and repeat the process with your left leg
If you need a little more of a challenge on this exercise, you can try doing more repetitions or you can place an ankle weight around your ankle.
Lunge to Knee Raise
This is the final and most advanced exercise we will discuss today. It will also require some balance, so be sure to have support if your balance isn’t great.
Stand upright with your feet hip-distance apart and parallel and your knees soft
Take a big step back with your right foot and plant it on the floor behind you
Be sure that your feet are still hip-distance apart. They should be on “railroad tracks” and not a “tight-wire”
Bend both knees to 90 degrees, lowering your body into a lunge position
Stand back up and bring the right knee forward into a knee raise, just like the previous exercise
This should be done as one smooth movement
Return to the lunge position and do it again
Repeat this exercise 10 times. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 10 more times.
Switch to the other leg and repeat the entire process
This is the most advanced of all the exercises we discussed today, so be mindful of how you feel. Listen to your body. If your body isn’t quite ready for this exercise, work on the others until you become stronger. Exercise is about progress, not perfection.
How Do I Stretch My Hip Flexors?
Now it’s time to lengthen those muscles. If you do strength work on a particular muscle without working on flexibility, you could make the tightness even worse. So let’s talk about releasing or stretching the hip flexors.
There are a variety of ways to release the tightness in your hips. The basic science here is that they become shortened when you sit down, so you want to lengthen them to release the pain and stiffness.
These are the best exercises to stretch hip flexors:
The Kneeling Stretch
Kneel down on your right knee
Place your left foot out in front of you with your knee bent at 90 degrees
Lift your chest and pull your shoulders back for good posture
Keeping your chest lifted, shift your weight forward onto the front foot
While shifting your weight forward, press your right hip forward as well
In this position, you should feel a nice stretch on the right side of your pelvis. It will run roughly from the top of your hip to the top of your thigh.
Hold this for 20-30 seconds, then release and do it again. Hold it for another 20-30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the same process on your left knee.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
You can also stretch your hip flexors in a standing position. If you have poor balance, I recommend holding onto a chair or placing your hand on a wall for balance.
Stand upright with your feet hip-distance apart and parallel and your knees soft
Bend your right knee to lift your heel behind you
Bring your right heel up to your glutes (your butt)
Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and hold it
Your right knee should be pointing at the floor
Gently pull your right knee back while pressing your right hip forward
You should feel a stretch in the same place as you did on the previous stretch. Hold this for 20-30 seconds. Release. Do it again. Switch sides and repeat the whole process.
These are two very basic ways to start releasing the tightness in those muscles and help eliminate your back pain and poor posture.
This stretch is another way to help loosen up your hips and relieve some pain. It is more advanced than the others listed here, so take it at your own pace. Don’t push your hips out too far or force them. Greater flexibility will come with time and consistency.
Take a seat on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you
Bend both knees towards your chest and place both feet flat on the floor
Place your hands loosely on your ankles (right on right, left on left)
Allow both knees to fall apart from one another and out to the sides
The soles of your feet should now be facing one another
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, lengthen your spine to sit up straight
Gently try to press your knees down towards the floor, without forcing them
Hold this position for 20-30 seconds
Return to start, rest for 30 seconds and do it again
This is a loaded question because there are so many different ways that your hip flexors can affect a squat and vice-versa. In general, a squat uses your quadriceps and your glutes to lower and lift your body. There are lots of other muscles involved, but these are the two prime movers or “agonists” as they are scientifically called.
Hip flexors do a play a role in the squat movement because a squat moves your body into a position of hip flexion. What does that mean? It means that as you move deeper into a squat, the hip flexors become more flexed.
When performing a squat, your core muscles also come in to play. They are responsible for keeping your chest in an upright position throughout the range of movement. However, if these muscles are weak and your chest starts to fall forward, the hip flexors kick in.
When you lean forward while performing a squat, your hip flexors start to fire. They will contract in an effort to help you balance. This job would typically be performed by the glutes if your chest was upright.
Another thing that could happen is your hip flexors pulling you deeper into the squat. When your chest is forward and your glutes aren’t working as hard as they should, the hip flexors will contract even more. This could lead to lots of other issues including low back or knee injuries.
So the short answer is no. Squats don’t really help your hip flexors to get stronger. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Squats offer a variety of other benefits and are definitely an excellent exercise to add to your routine.
Your Next Step…
Hip flexors play a major role in mobility and pain management. If you are a sedentary individual trying to relieve some pain and become healthier, strengthening your hip flexors will help. If you’re an avid runner or another type of athlete, strengthening your hip flexors will help!
The question is:
How badly do you want this problem to go away?
Do you want actual tangible help to greatly improve your hip muscle strength?