Many instructional workout videos refer to the term “hip flexors”. It creeps into the workout and even into the precautionary statements. But what’s all the fuss about this particular muscle group? Why are they more important, than many other muscle groups? What causes hip flexor strains? And finally, what are the best exercises or stretches to work the hip flexors?
This muscle group is given a lot of importance because they have a part in many activities involving lifting the leg off the ground. With that being said, the simple act of walking, that many of us take for granted, is possible, mainly because of these hip flexors along with the hip extensors. A common issue that accompanies the hip flexor muscles is a strain commonly known as a hip flexor strain. If you’re into sports or athletics, there is a high chance you are all too familiar with this. If not, this article is perfect for you.
For those who have had their fair share of sports injury, this can serve as an insight into it, and what exercises can be performed to get the hip flexors stretched and exercised effectively.
What Are The Hip Flexors?
If you’ve ever tried to lift your leg towards your body (as in the case of a High Knee exercise), you know that it isn’t the easiest. This is mainly because this particular movement involves the use of a variety of muscles that are collectively known as the hip flexors.
The hip flexor muscle group is at the front of the hip and consists of two major muscles known as the iliacus and the psoas. They are the muscles connecting the femur to the lower back, hips and groin. These cause bending at the hip joint and are known as iliopsoas and form the major chunk of this group. The other muscles involved are the rectus femoris and the sartorius muscles. These are the medical terms and hence might involve a couple of repetitions before remembering them all. For those who aren’t medically inclined, the iliopsoas muscles are also referred to as the inner hip muscles. The rectus femoris is part of the quadriceps and form the anterior portion of the thigh (along with the sartorius)
It might be interesting to note that the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris are very powerful hip flexors that do a lot of the major lifting for the group.
What Causes Hip Flexor Strain?
Similar to any other muscle strain, hip flexor strain occurs when the muscles are put under stress for long periods. The hip flexor muscles and tendons can get worked to the extent that they become inflamed. This inflammation causes the commonly known hip flexor strain. A painful soreness tends to accompany this strain, which can make some workouts near impossible. The strain is a tear in the muscles which can be classified as a grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3 depending on the severity of the tear. According to the Australian Physiotherapy Association, the most common tear is a grade 2 tear. Sudden movements and tight hip flexors can also cause such tears and strains.
A minor strain can be treated with compression, rest and placing ice on the area but more serious injuries can mean a visit to a doctor or therapist for treatment and recovery. The likeliness of having such a strain increases dramatically if you are into cycling, martial arts, running or dancing. Any sport or activity that involves a lot of high-knee action tends to increase the chances of a hip flexor strain. Even exercises that involve large durations of deep stretching are can be prone to these strains.
Next are the best exercises that get the hip flexors burning (in a good way, of course). There are numerous exercises out there, and new ones are being created as we speak. With that being said, here are a few handpicked exercises and stretches that you can’t go wrong with helping to prevent severe injury.
Hip Flexor Stretches and Exercises
Here are a few ways to stretch the hip flexors for improved flexibility and to also loosen the muscles up before exercising. Some of these are featured in our Unlock Your Hip Flexors review:
This involves standing with the feet facing forward and at hip-width distance. Slowly bring the right knee up and attempt touching the butt with the heel. Hold the leg in that position and try to point the kneel in the direction of the floor. Repeat on the other leg.
This involves sitting on a chair/bench with both feet firmly placed on the ground. Slowly slide the right foot back and achieve a 90-degree angle between the right leg and the right thigh. Ensure the left foot is still firmly on the ground. Hold for a while and repeat for the other leg.
This is probably the hardest of the three. This involves kneeling with the left knee while achieving a 90-degree angle between the right leg and the back. Ensure the back is upright for maximum effect. Lean into the right hip and hold for a while. Repeat for the other leg.
Hip Flexor Exercises
Here are a few exercises that are very effective for hip flexors:
Lunges are popular and have been widely practiced as a staple workout for the legs. You can do this with or without weights.
- Stand upright with hands on the hips.
- Take a step forward with the right leg (with a big stride to get the maximum distance between both legs).
- Bend the extended knee (kneeling) and transfer all the body weight onto the right leg.
- Lower the left leg till the knee is right above the ground (DO NOT TOUCH)
- Get back into resting position and repeat on the other leg.
Mountain Climbers (Floor sliding method)
This calorie-burning exercise can be slightly modified to work the hips.
- Position the body in the mountain-climber resting position.
- Place sliders under the feet
- Pull each leg towards the chest alternatively (in the usual mountain climber position).
- The fact that the feet never leave the ground puts extra tension on the hip flexors.
Nothing beats the good old exercise named after the muscles.
- Lie flat on the ground with the chest facing upwards.
- Slowly pull one knee up towards the chest causing flexion of the pelvis ensuring the toes are pointing parallel to the ground.
- Hold for as long as it is comfortable and release.
- Repeat on the other leg.
What Does Hip Flexor Strain Feel Like?
Look out for these characteristics in your pain:
The most obvious sign would be:
- Visible swelling or bruising along the hips
- Pain when trying to perform a hip flexion (or any of the above exercises)
- Sudden pain in the leg and thigh areas
- Muscle spasms in the leg and thigh