- Hip flexor stretches help improve your posture and fight off lower back, hip, and knee pain.
- Using a foam roller on your upper legs may help relax your hip flexors and increase flexibility.
- You can also stretch your hip flexors and improve balance with a dynamic movement like lunges.
People who spend a lot of time seated, such as those who work desk jobs, are at the highest risk for having tight hip flexors, says Wickham. Because when you're sitting, your hip flexors are in a shortened position.
And when you spend hundreds and even thousands of hours sitting, your body adapts to this shortened and tight hip flexor position.
Wickham says you may have tight hip flexors if you're experiencing any of the following:
- The front of your hips and pelvis being in an anterior tilted (pulled forward) position
- Increased arch in your lower back due to the hip flexors pulling your pelvis forward
- Not being able to fully extend your hips backwards
- Pain in the front of your hips
- Pain in your knees
Hip flexor stretches are generally safe and beneficial. However, Wickham says you should not stretch this area immediately after:
- A hip flexor muscle tear or straight
- A hip injury
- A hip surgery
Stretches for your hip flexors
Incorporating active hip flexor stretches into your daily routine, or at least before your workouts, is a great way to reduce the likelihood of pain and injury. Here are five hip flexor stretches that Wickham recommends:
1. Rectus femoris muscle release with foam roller
- Lie on your stomach with the middle of your upper leg (about two inches above your knee) resting on a foam roller.
- Use your arms to move your body up and down in small increments, so the foam roller will roll up and down the front of your thigh.
- Roll the same spot about five to six times.
- Move the foam roller up towards your hip on your upper leg.
- Again, use your arms to move your body so the foam roller will roll up and down the thigh five or six times.
- Repeat the above steps, continuing to move the foam roller upward until you are just below the hip bone.
- Spend about two to three minutes on each leg.
Studies have shown that foam rollers can marginally improve flexibility before a workout. Therefore, starting out with a foam roller stretch mayn help relax your hip flexors beforehand, which could allow you to get a deeper stretch, Wickham says.
2. Couch stretch end-range isometrics
- Get down on one knee, with the front leg forward, bent at about a 90 degree angle
- Fold the other leg back, straight up against a couch, wall, or bench.
- Keep your core engaged and your body upright as you increase the stretch by getting your heel closer to your butt.
- Kick your back leg into the couch (or whatever prop you are using) and hold it for 20 seconds. You'll feel the stretch in the front of your thigh and hip flexors.
- Relax for a moment, but stay in the stretch.
- In the same position, contract your glute muscle of the back leg and hold for 20 seconds. This will increase the hip flexor stretch.
- Perform three reps on each leg.
Wickham says this is one of the most effective active hip flexor stretches, since it maximally stretches the hip flexor area as well as the thigh.
The active muscle contraction (when you contract your butt) also makes a difference: "This active component is key as active stretching is far superior to passive stretching and yields much better results," says Wickham.
3. Couch stretch rotation holds
- Start in the same position as the previous stretch, with your back leg bent against the wall, and your heel close to your butt.
- Keep your core engaged and upright as you rotate your upper body and torso away from the back leg. Rotate as far as possible and hold for 10 seconds. You'll feel it in your hip flexor and the front of your thigh.
- As you hold the stretch, challenge yourself to rotate even further to increase the stretch.
- Perform six reps on each side.
This stretch reaps the same benefits as the previous one, with the added challenge of an active torso rotation, which increases the intensity of the stretch by incorporating more surrounding muscles. Another bonus is that this stretch targets your midsection as well, stretching out even more muscle groups, Wickham says.
4. Sprinters hip flexor stretch
- Get down on one knee, with the top of your back foot on the ground.
- Slide your back leg backwards, while pushing your back leg and foot into the ground, straightening your back knee as much as possible. To increase the intensity of the stretch, move your leg back further.
- Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, while keeping your core muscles engaged. You'll feel the stretch in the front of your hip, thigh, and ankle.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Perform four reps per leg returning to the starting position between each rep.
This is a stretch that's accessible whether you're a beginner or advanced stretcher. "The beauty about this stretch is that you don't have to be extremely mobile to get into the stretching position, yet it is still a very effective active stretch," says Wickham.
5. Lunge hip flexor stretch
- Get down on one knee with the top of your back foot on the ground.
- While actively pushing the top of the back foot into the ground, lift your back knee until it's as straight as possible, so your leg is off the ground except for your foot.
- Hold this for 20 seconds. Be sure to keep most of your weight focused on the back leg. You'll feel the stretch in the front of your ankle, thigh, and hip.
- Slowly place your knee back on the ground.
- Perform four reps per leg.
Wickham says this stretch is great for targeting all of the hip flexor muscles as well as the front of the leg, including the ankle. This can help with flexibility and warming up for more physical activity.
Additionally, the stretch may improve balance if you don't use support while you're performing it. "This stretch will improve your balance because you are in a narrow split stance position, with a narrow base of support, which is a challenging position for your balance. In addition, you don't have your back toes on the ground — you have the top of your back foot on the ground, which can be challenging for a lot of people," says Wickham.
Stretching your hip flexors is a simple and healthy way to decrease the likelihood of pain or injury of the lower back, hips, and knees.
Plus, regular stretching of the hip flexors will help with your overall flexibility. Wickham recommends doing hip flexor stretches at least two or three times a week, ideally.
Wickham warns that doing hip flexor stretches won't necessarily be comfortable. However, if you experience sharp pain, numbness, or tingling, you should ease up or do a different stretch.
If any sharpness, tingling, or numbness persists for hours after stretching, or if you have generalized hip pain that doesn't improve after a week of stretching, you should get evaluated by a physical therapist.
Ashley Laderer is a freelance writer from New York who specializes in health and wellness. Follow her on Twitter@ashladerer