Stretching the hip flexors doesn’t always get the results your clients desire, but it can – if you add the right “twist”. Before we talk about how to more effectively stretch the hip flexors – let’s let them off the hook, ok? Tight hip flexors get unfairly blamed for many pains and injuries.
Since hip flexion happens every time we sit, squat and step the muscles involved do work hard and could get tight. It’s important to note that a muscles role is to be tight. If your muscles weren’t tight then you would literally be a pile of bones like our friend Andy the Skeleton over here.
In addition to that truth, a very important question needs to be asked. When a client says “my hip flexors are tight” do they mean that all 11 hip flexors tight? Or is it just 3-4 of them that are tight? Or 8 of them? And are the same hip flexors tight on both sides of the body? Hip flexion is a movement with many muscles and deserves a closer look when considering stretches. That’s where you, the muscle expert come in to play!
Stretching the Hip Flexors
Doing hip extension is the most basic way to stretch the hip flexors. If this isn’t working, it’s time to get more specific. To stretch the various hip flexors in a more targeted way you can abduct or adduct the leg and also internally or externally rotate it. Hip flexion gets combined with these various motions.
Beyond this, knowing how each hip flexor muscle contracts or shortens is an important step to more effectively stretch each of the 11 hip flexor muscles. If you know which muscle is tight then you can guide a client into stretching it by having them do the opposite motion of the tight muscle.
For example, the glutues medius (anterior fibers) does hip flexion, but also does abduction and internal rotation. An ideal stretch would engage the opposite motions of the tight muscle to be most effective.
- Stretch the gluteus medius by doing hip extension, adduction and external rotation.
How would you know the gluteus medius specifically is tight? That’s the million dollar question! It’s tricky to know which muscle is tight, but easier to find out which one is weak… I discusses this in Hip Flexor Exercises for Personal Trainers. Check it out.
Important Side Note: Don’t be fooled by stretch or exercise isolation claims. i.e. that you can stretch just the psoas major or just the TFL. You’ll also be stretching several other muscles. The more you understand anatomy and muscles attachments the more clear this becomes.
Active Hip Flexor Stretches
Active hip flexor stretching is beneficial because the body is facilitating the stretch without passive forces. When contracting the hip extensors the hip flexors naturally get stretched. You can have clients stretch their hip flexors as a group actively by doing these exercises. Add hip internal/external rotation and abduction/adduction to see how it changes the feeling of the exercise and stretch for your clients. Have them hold these exercise positions for 10-20 seconds like you would a passive stretch.
This video briefly shows you these three sample stretch exercises. How you apply them (reps, duration, etc.) depends on the client goals.
- Bird Dog
Passive Hip Flexor Stretches
The classic way to stretch is to position the body as desired and hold it for 20-30 seconds with an outside passive force such as your hand or the floor. These work well for some people and not for others. Be cautious when imposing a stretch without actively contracting other muscles to support it. If you over stretch a muscle it can become injured.
This video shows two classic hip flexor stretches briefly. Make them more effective by using the muscles on the opposite side of the joint to stay in control of the motion. For example, cue the client to contract their gluteal muscles and hamstrings.
- Lunge hold standing and kneeling
- Knee flexion and hip extension
If you have questions about stretching the hip flexors, come and ask!
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