Hip Flexor Stretches – 3 Best Poses for Flexibility

Article by Lucas Rockwood


Let’s find your hip flexors! They could be the cause of tight hips and a sore back or knees. From a standing position, lift your knee up toward your chest. The main muscles that contract to make this movement possible are the psoas, iliacus, and rectus femoris. The sartorius and pectineus also play a smaller but important role in flexion too. Let’s take a look at each of these five muscles.



PSOAS

This is your filet mignon muscle that starts at thoracic vertebra 12 and lumbar vertebrae 1-4, crosses the pelvis and then attaches on the inside of your femur on the lesser trochanter. If this muscle is tight, it can pull your lower back into extension and put excessive pressure on your lower back region.



Iliacus

This hip flexor starts on the inside of your pelvis, meets up with the psoas and attaches on the lesser trochanter.

NOTE: the psoas and iliacus are often referred to as the iliopsoas muscles since they act in unison and are wrapped in the same iliac fascia.



Rectus Femoris

This is one of your four quadriceps muscles that starts up at your anterior inferior iliac spine (lower front part of your pelvic wing bones). It runs down the middle of your thigh and turns into your patellar tendon. When this muscle is tight, it can limit your hip extension, pull your pelvis forward (anterior tilt), and potentially create knee problems downstream from your hip joint.



Sartorius

This is the longest muscle in your body, often over 50cm long. It starts at your anterior superior iliac spine (top, front of your pelvis and crosses your thigh to attach to the inside of your tibia below the knee. This is a secondary hip flexor and more activated in flexion combined with lateral rotation of your hip.



Pectineus

This small, strong muscle starts on the lower front of your pelvis (pecten pubis) and attaches on the back, inner part of your femur, inferior to the lesser trochanter While mostly involved in adduction of the femur, the pectineus is a secondary hip flexor as well.


What happens if your hip flexors are tight?

From a standing position, take a big step forward into a lunge and hold. Those same muscles on your back leg need to relax and extend to make hip extension possible. Your ability, or lack thereof, to lunge, will be determined by the mobility of those same five muscles. In a deep lunge, it’s easy to see and feel the limitations of those flexor muscles to extend, but less obvious is how those tight muscles might affect your standing posture, walking, and running gaits.

Tight hip flexors are a common cause of exaggerated anterior pelvic tilt, side swing gate, back, hip, and knee pain.


Why are my hip flexors so tight?

Since we spend most of our day sitting, in a shorted hip flexor position, your muscles naturally shorten and tighten over time. In a world without furniture and cars, we would get up and down off the ground hundreds of times a day, constantly extending our hips and stretching those muscles. In developed societies, you might go days or even weeks without any significant hip extension movements at all.


3 Best Hip Flexor Stretches

To stretch your hip flexors, you need to extend your hip, relax completely, and hold for 2-5 minutes. If you’re familiar with the Science of Stretching approach to flexibility, you’ll know the Three Principles of Practice: (1) Wet Noodle, muscles stretch best when relaxed, (2) Breathe to Relax, inhale through your nose for four counts and out through your mouth with a “ha” sound for an eight count, (3) Time Under Passive Tension, spend 2-5 minutes in each pose when training mobility.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

  • Pad up a tabletop, desk, or countertop
  • Extend your back leg
  • Choose the option that gives you the best stretch with no pinch in your lower back

Blaster Pose

  • Place a pad under your left knee
  • Lunge your right foot forward outside your hands
  • Allow your hips to move forward and down
  • Choose the position from the options above to give you the best stretch without any back pain

Full Splits

  • Straddle a pile of pillows
  • Point your back toes
  • Stack your shoulders over your hips
  • Choose the option above that gives you a 7/10 intensity (not higher)

Hip Flexor Stretch for Back Pain

Your psoas muscle starts at your lower back, crosses your pelvic, and attaches on the lesser trochanter on the inside of your femur. Because this unique muscle connects the upper and lower body, a tight psoas can contribute to an exaggerated lumbar spinal curve and excessive anterior pelvic tilt. This “butt out” posture can put extra load on the lower back during all movements and potentially lead to back pain.

For these reasons, the best hip flexor stretches are the three presented above.


Hip Flexor Exercises & Pain

Like all muscles, your hip flexor muscles can become sore and even strained from overuse or over-stretching. Overuse might occur from excessive strength training whereas over-stretching might occur from over-extending the muscles in a lunge or dynamic movement. While painful, an overused muscle can often heal relatively quickly if you rest and try gentle exercise during recovery.


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