You engage your hip flexors, among the most active muscles in your body, in many everyday movements -- when you take a step, rise from a seated position and even when you kick a ball or hurdle a jump. Without regular stretching, the hip flexors can become tight and put you at risk for lower back and hip pain. Tight or weak flexors may cause you to have a swayback posture, and may lead to instability in your hip joint as well as decreased ability to flex your hip, notes Amber Larsen, CrossFit trainer. Regular stretching can help you maintain a full range of motion and good posture, and reduce your risk of pain.
Hip Flexors at a Glance
Two muscles make up your hip flexors -- the psoas major and iliacus. Located deep in your abdomen, these muscles extend from your lower spine and inner hipbone, cross through your pelvis and insert on your inner thighbone. Because they are similar in structure and function, they are collectively referred to as the iliopsoas. The main role of the iliopsoas is to flex or bend your hips, to pull your knee upward and to draw your thigh toward your trunk.
Two stretching techniques -- static and dynamic -- can help you keep a full range of motion in your hips. Dynamic stretching is active stretching, which involves controlled movements. With static stretching, you stretch or elongate your muscles until you feel some tension and then hold the stretch for several seconds without moving.
For a dynamic stretch, try leg swings. Stand next to a wall, extend your arm and put your hand on the wall to brace yourself. Start with the leg closest to the wall and swing it forward and backward. Gradually increasing your range of motion, swing your leg forward and backward 10 times and then switch legs.
The kneeling hip flexor stretch provides an example of a static stretch. After warning up, simply kneel with your left knee on the floor, your right knee bent 90 degrees and your right foot on the floor in front of you. While keeping your back straight and head up, slowly lean forward until you feel the stretch in your left thigh, hold 30 seconds and then switch legs.
Stretch with Yoga
Many hip-opening yoga poses can also help loosen up your hip flexors. An example is the classic Bridge Pose, a back-bending pose that helps lengthen tight hip flexors. Start by lying with your back on the floor, arms by your sides, knees bent and your feet flat on the floor near your butt. Inhale and slowly lift your butt until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor, and bring your sternum toward your chin. Hold for 30 seconds.
Other hip-opening poses to try include, but you’re not limited to, the Camel, Warrior, High Lunge and Upward-Facing Dog.
Good-To-Know Stretching Tips
Tips for stretching the hip flexors include: Avoid stretching when your muscles are cold as this could lead to pulls and strains. Engage in a 10-minute, light aerobic warm-up to increase your circulation, and to loosen up your muscles and joints for a greater range of motion. Stretching should be pain free, and if you do experience any discomfort, you may need to back off the stretch a little. If you continue to feel pain, stop and consult your doctor. Refrain from holding your breath, bouncing or any jerky movements. Stretch both sides of your body and with static stretching, hold each stretch for 30 seconds.