What if “tight” hip flexors were actually weak? Any combination of the 11 hip flexor muscles can be weak in a persons body, causing the other muscles to overwork and be tight. Tightness or tension is how your muscles hold your bones together. Without tension, we’d be a pile of bones!
Since hip flexion happens every time we sit, squat and step it requires many muscles to effectively create this motion.
The more muscles involved in a motion, the higher potential for dysfunction. Sometimes it’s a few of the muscles within the same hip that are weak, causing others to be tight. It could also be that certain muscles in one hip are weak, causing tightness in the other hip. There are indeed a lot of “cooks in the kitchen”, warranting some coordination. That’s where the personal trainer enters the scene.
Knowing how each hip flexor muscle contracts or shortens is one way to identify weakness, and strengthen the muscles needing it most. This knowledge stems from learning the muscle attachments. Take gluteus medius as an example. It attaches from the iliac crest to the greater trochanter of the femur. Because of where it attaches it can flex the hip, abduct the hip and internally rotate the hip. This makes it unique and different from the tensor fasciae latae which also flexes and abducts the hip, but internally rotates the hip instead of externally.
If it seems complicated, hang with me a little longer…I’ve got something for everyone coming…
Creating Specific Hip Flexor Exercises
Doing an exercise that combines all three of the motions of the gluteus medius is the best way to strengthen that muscle. A classic exercise is side lying leg lifts.
Keeping the motion small and controlled helps you see if the right or left side is stronger than the other. Analyze potential imbalance by observing the following:
- ask your client if one side feels stronger
- ask your client if one side feels tighter
- notice if one side moves differently than the other
- notice if you see compensation happening in the spine on one side and not the other
If there is a difference, encourage them to create symmetry between both sides by focusing on what they feel. You can also help guide them using your anatomy knowledge. Anytime you identify asymmetry in an exercise, going slower and using less motion can help correct it. Have your client perform the exercise at 10-15% of what they did before and then see if anything changes. The body does what it can to meet the brains desires. Reducing the demand and then slowly building back up is what corrective exercise is all about.
Learning the muscle attachments makes the unique movements of each muscle easier to identify and allows you to create specific corrective exercises for your clients. You can also use your knowledge of motion to create more specific hip flexor exercises.
If you have some catching up to do with regards to anatomy knowledge, this next part is for you!
Simple Sample Hip Flexor Exercises
Doing hip flexion is how you strengthen the hip flexors, right? Pretty simple. Leg lifts and marching are two common exercises that are applied. To get more specific add the other motions that happen in combination with hip flexion (internal/external rotation, abduction/adduction). Try various degrees of hip flexion since some of the muscles work more than others as hip flexion increases.
I demonstrate this concept in these videos quickly to keep it short and sweet. When you do the exercises with clients, have them hold the various positions for 5-10 seconds or do 10-15 repetitions, depending on their goals. As with any new exercise try them yourself first.
Hip flexion is a seemingly simple motion that has more going on behind the scenes than we give it credit for. I hope this article has helped you understand hip flexion better. We also can help you with stretching for hip flexors. And, if you’re looking to gain more anatomy knowledge for confidence in your personal trainer practice, take our anatomy course so that you can build confidence in this area AND get CECs!