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 functionality of our hips if they are not working optimally. If you are dealing with pain in your hip area, this rehab program will teach you step-by-step how to improve your hip health. Learn more HERE!
How To Stretch Hip Flexors: Master The Pelvic Tilt
To stretch the hip flexors, we should just move in 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
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!
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 the option of elongating the spine by reaching toward the ceiling. You should feel the stretch on the front of the hip of the leg on the ground. Avoid arching the low back.
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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!
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.
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 to 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.
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!
Take Control of Your Hip Health
It’s all in the hips! Okay, maybe not ALL but in most activities the hips are the main driver of movement. The surrounding hip musculature provides stability and force production for walking, lunging, single leg stance, and squatting patterns. It’s a unique design that requires mobility, stability, strength, and power. If mobility and stability become compromised discomfort becomes the result. In this program, you learn to take control and earn back meaningful activity by improving hip mobility, stability, and strength, or a better way to put it: function!
About The Author
Michael Lau, PT, DPT, CSCS
[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer
Michael was born and raised in Northern California but now currently resides in Sunny SoCal ever since attending the University of California, Los Angeles as an undergraduate majoring in physiology. After his undergraduate studies, he received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from cross-town rival the University of Southern California. As a licensed physical therapist with a strong background in strength and conditioning, Michael likes to blend the realms of strength training and rehabilitation to provide prehab, or preventative rehabilitation, to his patients. A common human behavior is to address problems after they become an issue and far often too late, which is a reactionary approach. He believes the key to improved health care is education and awareness. This proactive approach-prehab-can reduce the risk of injuries and pain in the first place. He is a huge proponent of movement education and pain science. Clinically, he has a special interest in ACLR rehab and return to sport for the lower extremity athlete.
Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.