The problem of tight hip flexors is fast becoming an epidemic.
As we spend more time in front of our screens it means we are sitting for long periods of time.
When we are in a seated position for much of the day, our hips will become tight and inflexible.
Tight hip flexors can easily arise in anyone who has been sitting at their desk at their job and then comes home to do more sitting down in front of the TV afterwards.
In this post, I’ll cover what the hip flexors are, how they become tight and some of the symptoms of tight hip flexors.
Once that has been covered, we’ll move on to learning how to stretch them and also strengthen them.
What Are the Hip Flexors?
Notice the ‘s’ at the end of the word hip flexor in the title above.
There is a common misconception, or laziness when people talk about the hip flexors in that we forget to note that the hip flexor isn’t one muscle.
In fact, the hip flexors are made up of five muscles connecting the thigh bone to the pelvis.
The Hip Flexors are made up of:
- Tensor Fascia Latae
- Iliopsoas (iliacus and psoas combined as one)
- Rectus Fermoris
- Adductor (inner groin)
These are the muscles that when flexed cause ‘hip flexion,’ which is where you raise your knee upwards when standing.
On the other hand, with the femur stationary, the hip flexors contract and the pelvis is tilted forward and the butt backwards.
The hip flexors primarily help:
- Lift the knee and bring it up and towards the abdomen when in a standing position.
- Movement of your leg from side to side and front to back.
- Moving the knees towards the chest when sitting down, jumping, running or peddling.
As already stated, tight hip flexors are typically caused by too much sitting.
This is because when you are in a seated position, your legs are at a 90-degree angle, rather than their extended 180- degree full range of motion.
Staying too long in this position shortens the hip flexor muscles’ length and causes it to remain in a shortened position.
Over time the hip flexors will adapt to this position and become short and tight.
The implication of this is that when a muscle is shortened it lacks the strength that a normal length muscle can generate.
There are many other implications of tight hip flexors which we will discuss.
Symptoms of Tight Hip Flexors
The first symptom of tight hip flexors is a feeling of chronic tightness in the hip area.
Short and tight hip muscles also reduce the range of motion throughout the joint.
Other likely symptoms include weakened glutes and a tilted pelvis, which causes excessive spinal curvature and lower back pain.
This is known as an anterior pelvic tilt.
Foam Rolling & Stretching the Hip Flexors
Before you start stretching your hip flexors it is important to loosen the main muscle groups by foam rolling them.
Once the muscle is loosened, then the next step is to stretch and lengthen the muscle.
This section will cover how to foam roll and stretch each of the main hip flexors.
Hip Flexor 1 – The Tensor Fascial Latae (TFL)
The TFL is located at around 45-degree angle on the front of your hip.
It’s a thick muscle that runs on the outside of your thigh near the very top.
By the way, it’s a short muscle around 4 inches so to release it and stretch it will require some precision.
Foam Rolling the TFL
- Place your hip onto a foam roller then rotate to a 45-degree angle to hit it.
- Since it is a small muscle you do not need to roll down the length of your thigh but only up and down a few inches at a time.
- Rolling on each side for 30 seconds should loosen them up.
- If you feel a tender spot the best thing to do is to hold that position for at least 30 seconds. The pain should subside.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
To stretch the TFL:
- Move into a similar position to a single leg lunge with the trailing leg resting on the floor.
- Then shift your weight back. Your front leg should be in alignment with the trailing leg.
- To keep your balance you may want to rest on a bench. Once in position you lean towards the bench.
- Slowly shift forward until you feel a stretch in your TFL. You should feel a stretch in the TFL of the back leg that is resting on the floor.
To learn how to do this stretch I recommend watching the video explanation above. You can do this stretch on each side for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Standing TFL Hip Flexor Stretch
You can also stretch the TFL in a standing position.
- In this stretch, place one hand on a wall so that it supports your weight.
- Draw the leg nearest to the wall behind your leading leg.
- You should feel the stretch in the TFL in the back leg.
- Make sure to push your hips forward and in towards the wall.
- Hold it for 30 seconds to a minute and then switch over to the other side.
Hip Flexor 2 – The Iliopsoas
This muscle is hard to release and stretch because we have so little access to the muscle since it runs so deep.
It attaches itself and runs from the back of the lumbar spine and reaches through to the front of your leg bone.
If you look at research on how to increase flexibility in the iliopsoas, you’ll likely come across a variety of ways to do it.
In other words, there doesn’t appear to be a consensus on the best way to release it.
One of the better videos on this subject is shown above.
Give this video a quick watch if you want to learn how to stretch this hip flexor.
Hip Stretch and Mobility Drill
The video above includes a move to help mobilise the hips.
To perform this routine:
- First squat down, with your toes straight ahead and sit down low. Keeping your torso upright slide to the side (or underneath a bar).
- When you reach the opposite side, rotate your torso like in the picture below, and raise your arms above your head. Lean out to the side and you should feel stretch in the hip.
- Once you’re here, you can move back into the squat position and do the same on the other side.
Generally, this muscle is hard to release so you may want to focus your efforts on the other tight muscles a little more than this one.
The video above shows two additional PSOAS stretches.
Hip Flexor 3 – Rectus Femoris
The Rectus femoris is probably the easiest hip flexor muscle to hit as it runs right down the centre of your thigh from your hip to your knee.
You won’t need any complicated tools and a plain old foam roller should work fine.
- To stretch this hip flexor you will need a bench of some kind that you can place the top of the foot that you want to stretch on.
- Support yourself up with the other leg and use it to push your butt back towards the bench.
- You want to slowly move your butt toward the heel of the upturned foot. You should feel the stretch on the other leg.
- Keep your lower back flat, core engaged and butt squeezed.
- By engaging the glutes, you can stretch the psoas muscles, which is greatly important for people who normally sit a lot or experience frequent back pain.
Hip Flexor 4 – Adductors
The adductors are responsible for bringing your leg towards the mid-line.
They run down the inside groin area down towards your knee.
To foam roll the adductors, lie on your front and put one leg over the roller so the foam roller can run down the inside of your leg.
Slowly roll from the top of the knee all the way to the top of the groin.
Frog Pose Stretch
Any time the legs are pulled apart from another is most likely to hit the adductor muscles and cause them to stretch.
The most common way to stretch the adductors is by using the frog stretch.
The frog pose has several benefits, from physical, to mental and spiritual, including:
- It opens the hip joints, which reduces strain on the knees
- It strengthens the lower back as it opens the hips
To perform this stretch:
- Get on the floor onto your hands and knees. Gradually move the knees outwards and to the side. Align the ankles and the feet with your knees so that they are lined up straight.
- Move the elbows and forearms towards the floor. While sliding downwards, keep the palms flat on the floor. Then, slowly exhale and push the hips backwards. Keep on pushing the hips to the back until you feel stretching in the hips and the inner thighs.
- Return to Table Pose. Start by bringing the hips forward in rocking motion. Then push up on the forearms and palms to bring yourself to the initial table pose again.
The butterfly stretch is another effective exercise for opening up the hips, adductors and thighs to improve flexibility.
- Sit on the floor with your both legs straightened out to the front. Keep the legs in front, and then sit straight up to elongate the spine.
- Bring your feet soles together. It might be easier bringing one in first, and then the other so as to meet it. Make sure you’re seated upright, with your head above the spine.
- Bring the heels as close to the body as possible. The knees need to bend point outwards. Hold on to the ankles and pull the feet towards your pelvis. Then get as closer as possible.
- Lean forward. And then make sure the back stays straight. You can use the elbows to push gently on the thighs for a deep stretch.
- Hold on to the pose for a few seconds. Stay still in the pose, and do not even slightly bounce up and down. When you start feeling fain, especially in the knees, stop with the stretch.
- Relax and then repeat the stretch. To make this really effective, you would want to repeat the stretch. Hold on to the position for thirty seconds for two to four times, which depends on your tightness, comfort and flexibility.
Other Effective Hip Flexor Stretches
Here is a list of other useful stretches that open up tight hips, as well as stretching variations of the hip flexors.
This stretch will help lengthen the PSOAS hip flexor, however, it has many other benefits too.
By doing this stretch you’ll also stretch out the glutes, groin and piriformis.
If you suffer from knee problems you may want to try a different stretch.
Happy Baby Pose
The happy baby pose is particularly useful for stretching the inner groin. Not only that but it’s fairly easy and relaxing too!
This stretch targets much of the hips, including the hamstrings and groin area.
Half Kneeling Hip Flexor & Quad Stretch
This stretch is much like some of the stretches we have already seen, except this one has a quad stretch too.
How to Avoid Tight Hip Flexors
The best way to avoid having tight hip flexors is to stop putting them in positions where they become shortened and tight.
Additionally, there are simple things one can do daily to help reduce the risk of tight hip flexors.
If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, try getting up and moving around at frequent intervals.
You can take breaks from sitting by going out for a walk or run.
Furthermore to avoid pain in the hip flexors, warm yourself up properly before any physical activity, and regularly stretch when finishing each workout.
Your hips will thank you for this!
The muscles do not get tight without cause, and it’s often because they’re compensating for some weakness elsewhere or are constantly placed in a shortened position.
Seek assessment by a therapist or a movement specialist to identify the weak point.
Frequent causes may include some weakness in your posterior chain, poor alignment and motor control, and inadequate core stability, or a combination of them all.
Hips don’t lie, but they may really sidetrack your training should they fall out of whack.