21 Sep How To Master The Hip Flexor Stretch
Can’t feel your hip flexor stretch? Are you sure you’re doing the hip flexor stretch correctly? You’re not alone. The majority of people “stretching” their hip flexors actually aren’t performing the stretch correctly and instead are just merely stretching their lower back. This tutorial will walk you through how to stretch your hip flexors the correct way!
What Are The Hip Flexors
Contrary to popular belief, the hip flexors are not solely one muscle. The hip flexors are a general term to describe any and all muscles that flex the hip. Flexion of the hip involves the movement of your leg upwards in a standing position (think knee to chest motion). While there are many muscles that contribute to some degree of hip flexion, the main hip flexors are the psoas major, iliacus, rectus femoris, and tensor fascia latae.
Typically when we think of muscle actions, we think of the origin as the bone staying still, and the insertion as the moving bone. For example, for our brachialis (an elbow flexor), the origin is in the upper arm (anterior surface of the distal humerus) and the attachment is in the lower arm (coronoid process and tuberosity of the ulna). When we contract our brachialis, we move the insertion (lower arm) closer to the origin (upper arm) and bend our elbow, like a bicep curl! But what we typically don’t think about is that the same muscle, the brachialis, can also perform the opposite action of moving the origin (arm) closer to the insertion (elbow) in certain situations.
For the hip flexors, this means that they not only can bring your leg (femur) close to your body (pelvis/spine), but they can also move your body (pelvis/spine) closer to your leg! Because each of the hip flexors has it’s own unique origin and attachment points, you can bias stretching one hip flexor more than the other by moving the origin and attachment points further away from one another (ie stretching!).
Are You Experiencing Pain From Your Hip Flexors?
The hip flexors commonly can limit the function of our hips if they are not working optimally. The Hip [P]Rehab Program is a physical therapist developed, step-by-step program that teaches you how to optimize your hip health. This 3-phase program will expose you to various hip and lower body strengthening and stabilization exercises supported by science. This program will bulletproof your hips for anything life throws at you, such as hip impingement with physical therapy intervention! Learn more HERE!
Learn How To Unlock Your Hip Flexors!
How To Stretch Hip Flexors: Master The Pelvic Tilt
To stretch the hip flexors, we should just move into the opposite direction AKA hip extension, correct? Well, yes we need to move into hip extension to stretch the hip flexors. The issue with lazily moving into hip extension is the more hip extension we go into, the more tension there is on our hip flexors. Eventually, this tension (if left unchecked) will reach a point where it will begin to pull on the origin of the hip flexors at the pelvis, causing the pelvis to tilt forward or anteriorly. The moment this happens, you lose all the tension on the hip flexors and effectively lose your stretch!
To keep that tension to properly stretch the hip flexors, we need to posteriorly tilt our pelvis.
Simply put, posterior pelvic tilt is the movement of your hip bones (pelvis) moving in a backward direction (think like a dog tucking its tail) and is typically controlled through the lower abdominals and the glutes. While it’s a very small motion, it can be very hard to control for many people! Try out these cues to learn how to posteriorly tilt your pelvis:
- Imagine having a tail. Try to tuck your tail between your legs
- Point your belt buckle towards the sky.
- Draw your belly button in and squeeze your glutes
Only once you master the posterior pelvic tilt can you begin to stretch your hip flexors! Learn more about how to master the pelvic tilt!
How To Stretch Your Hip Flexors: Understanding Iliopsoas/TFL Bias
The iliopsoas is the combined muscle of the psoas major and iliacus. They are the biggest single joint hip flexor and typically the one that most people are looking to stretch. While the iliopsoas does flex the hip, they also contribute to external rotation of your leg and bending of your back (towards the same side). Because of these additional muscle actions, we can preposition our body in the opposite direction to further bias stretching the iliopsoas over the other hip flexors. Thus, in addition to moving the hip into extension and focusing on posterior pelvic tilting, to bias stretching the iliopsoas we also want to:
- Move the hip into a neutral or even internally rotated position. Your back foot should be pointed directly behind your or even out to the side a bit
- Bend your back slightly away from the side of the hip you are trying to stretch
The tensor fascia latae (TFL) can be stretched in a very similar fashion. To bias this muscle more, shift more of your weight onto your knee that is down on the ground and really bend away from it. Think of “pushing your hip out” to the side!
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
- HOW: Begin this exercise in a staggered stance position with one foot on an elevated surface, the foot on the ground is the side you will stretch. With both feet facing forward, tuck your tailbone and shift your weight forward.
- FEEL: You should feel this stretch on the front of the hip on the back leg.
- COMPENSATION: Avoid rotating the back leg out and arching the back.
How To Stretch Your Hip Flexors: Rectus Femoris Bias
The rectus femoris is considered a two-joint hip flexor because it crosses two different joints: the hip and the knee. Why is this relevant you may ask? It means that we can take up tension in the rectus femoris at another joint (the knee) before getting into our hip flexor stretch. The rectus femoris will act to straighten (extend) the knee, thus to place more stretch/tension on it we want our knee to be in a bent position. This is why we assume the half-kneeling position when the goal is to target the rectus femoris!
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
HOW: Begin in a half-kneeling position. Slowly lunge into the front leg while avoiding the low back from arching. You have an option of elongating the spine by reaching towards the ceiling. You should feel the stretch on the front of the hip of the leg on the ground. Avoid arching the low back.
How To Stretch Your Hip Flexors: Stretch Variations
Now that you understand how adding other vectors besides just hip extension can influence a hip flexor stretch, you can be as creative as you want with your mobility work! Here are some different hip flexor stretch variations we like to use.
Standing Dynamic Hip Flexor Stretch With Shoulder Drivers
I will typically also prescribe dynamic stretches to people unless they are truly in need of more range of motion (after surgery or a long-standing history of being very inflexible). But before turning any stretch into a dynamic stretch, you must first master the simple static versions above first!
How To Stretch Hip Flexors: Half-Kneeling Hip Hinge
This is a drill I like to use to teach someone to hip hinge, but it’s also a fantastic dynamic hip flexor stretch as well! Start in a half-kneeling position with your back upright. Anchor a band behind you at the waist level and loop it around your waist with your chest facing away from the anchor. Hinge forward at the hips while maintaining the kneeling position with a flat back. Return to the starting position by pushing your hips forward and repeat. You should feel your hip and low back muscles working and a stretch in your hips as you hinge backward.
Prone Hip Flexor Stretch
This is a great one that uses gravity to assist with the stretch and allows you to relax and sink into a potentially deeper stretch. I like to use this one for static stretching because you can relax! Lay down on an elevated surface like a bench, a couch, or a bed. Bring one leg off and march that leg up as far as you feel comfortable. The lower the surface the more aggressive the stretch will be. You will feel the front of the hip that is on the elevated surface stretching. Avoid arching the low back with this exercise.
If you have issues kneeling/standing or have balance issues, this is a great alternative that can be performed at the side of your bed! While laying on an elevated surface such as a couch, table, or bed bring one knee into your chest. Allow the other leg to hang off of the edge of the table. Focus on your breath and allow the leg hanging off to relax. If not enough stretch you can put an ankle weight or a bag that has weight on your ankle to further bend your knee.
Tight Hips? Learn How To Improve Your Hip Mobility!
As previously mentioned, any muscle that flexes the hip is a hip flexor. As a result, it is important to bias each hip flexor when performing stretches to ensure you are hitting each muscle! There are a variety of ways you can stretch the hip flexors, and you can work on finding whichever position is best for you. In certain situations, stretching is not always the only answer to resolving pain or an injury. Read more on our blog that discusses the question of how much do you need to stretch! As always, be sure to follow up your stretching with specific strengthening and muscle setting as well!