29 Jul How To Master The Hip Flexor Stretch
Can’t feel your hip flexor stretch? You’re not alone. The majority of people “stretching” their hip flexors actually aren’t targeting that muscle correctly and instead 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. 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, 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. 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!).
The Pelvic Tilt Is The Most Important Part Of A Hip Flexor Stretch
To stretch the hip flexors, we should just move into the opposite direction of 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 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 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
- Hump the air.
- 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!
READ MORE: Three Exercises To Master The Pelvic Tilt
How To Stretch Your Iliopsoas/TFL
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 action, 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 down hip and really bend away from it. Think of “popping your hip out” to the side!
Sample PrehabX Video
WHY: This exercise is great for opening up the front of your hip by improving the flexibility of your hip flexors.
HOW: Begin this exercise in a staggered stance position with both feet facing forward. Tuck your tailbone and lunge towards your front leg. Avoid rotating the back leg out and arching the back as you lunge towards that front leg. If you have an elevated surface like a chair or step, lunge the front foot on top of it and lunge forward to further this stretch.
FEEL: You should feel this stretch on the front of the hip on the back leg.
How To Stretch Your Rectus Femoris
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!
Sample PrehabX Video
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.
FEEL: You should feel the stretch on the front of the hip of the leg on the ground.
COMPENSATION: Avoid arching the low back.
Hip Flexor 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 in some sort of shortened position). But before turning any stretch into a dynamic stretch, you must first master the simple static versions above first!
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!
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!
Supine Hip Flexor Stretch
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!