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Hip flexor stretches - woman stretching

Hip flexor stretches: What are they & should I be doing them?

You might hear that hip flexor stretches are one of the BEST stretches you can do for your body. Hip flexor stretches help to loosen up tight hips, which can be the most common causes of lower back pain. If you are sat still for the majority of the day, this can cause the hip flexors to tighten up.

Clara Roberts-Oss, a 500-hour Yoga Teacher Trainer explains ‘We belong to a ‘sits culture’ owing to the amount of time we spend sitting at our desks and commuting. Sitting for long periods affects the hip flexors and may cause strain to the lower back, so making time to stretch AND strengthen the hip flexors is essential to the body’s health and vitality.’

Some common activities such as running and cycling can also cause your hips to tighten, so if you perform these exercises regularly, keep on reading. 

So let’s dive right in, we have some professional insight to help answer all questions regarding hip flexors and why we should perform hip flexor stretches.

What are hip flexors and what do they do?

Clara Roberts-Oss informs us: ‘The hip flexors, aka the psoas, are a deeply rooted core muscle that attaches to the lower lumbar spine and traverses past the groin and hips to connect at the top of the femur bone. Lifting the knee to the chest is an example of psoas contraction, meaning the muscle tenses and shortens. Sitting repeats this shape, thereby shortening and tensing the psoas. Cycling, running, and weight-training exercises target the hip flexors, making the psoas tense and tight if such activities are not complemented with stretching.’

Dr. Dylann Craig also adds: ‘The hip flexors consist of two main muscle groups, the psoas and the iliacus, that run from your lower back across the front of your hip joint. These muscles typically help you lift your leg up to your torso. When the hip flexors get tight, they can pull on your lower back and cause a postural fault called an anterior pelvic tilt.’

So, the hip flexors attach to the lower lumbar spine and connect at the top of the femur. When the hip flexors tighten, this causes an anterior pelvic tilt, which is an anterior pull on the pelvis. Performing the right stretches can loosen up the muscles and ease the lower back pain.

Who should perform hip flexor stretches?

Dr. Jordan Duncan believes that ‘Most runners should be doing hip flexor stretches. Tight hip flexors can result in unwanted compensations, for example altered torso position while running, because of the lack of hip extension range of motion available to the runner.’

Jeff Parke, the owner of Top Fitness Magazine, adds: ‘Stretching your hip flexors is a good idea for anyone who spends most of the day sedentary. When you are in a seated position you are more likely to have weak hip flexors which can lead to poor posture, hip and lower back pain, and a higher risk of injury.’

Dr. Jordan Duncan explains that ‘by stretching the hip flexors, people who sit a lot will be able to maintain more neutral pelvic and lumbar postures.’

So, it seems that whether you are mostly sat down all day, or whether you live an active lifestyle through running regularly, hip flexors are an important stretch for all.

The benefits of hip flexor stretches:

Wellness Professional/Nutrition Coach, Andy Brown, explains ‘Hip Flexor stretches are one of, if not, the most beneficial stretches you can do. All of my clients utilize this stretch during the end of our sessions. In my opinion, anyone who has experienced tightness, pre and post operation exercises are all candidates for these stretches. Additionally, athletes for many sports should be doing these stretches.

Many, if not all of us are sedentary and a hip flexor stretch will open or create blood flow through that area. This helps to loosen those surrounding muscles and tendons. Also, more range of motion and mobility will be created. Hip flexor stretches benefit for improving range in regular squats, running, cycling, or any type of functional cardio exercise. Further, they can work to strengthen the glutes (medius and maximus). In general if the hip flexors are weak, then this puts the primary stress towards more of the glutes. Therefore, when the hip flexors are mobile, stronger, then the glutes become more of a power muscle through various exercises.’

Founder of Whole Intent, Ashlee Van Buskirk adds: ‘In addition, your hip flexor stretches will help keep your hips and lower back strong and well-aligned. Plus these stretches will benefit your health by:

  • Improving your hip flexibility
  • Lengthening your stride
  • Better circulation
  • Reducing the inward curve of your lower back (to better support your skeletal and muscular health)
  • Decrease pain in your lower back, hip, groin, and knees.’

So, now we know the benefits of performing these stretches, but are there any drawbacks?

The drawbacks of hip flexor stretches:

Hip flexor stretches may not be what you need to do if you are suffering with tight hips. Dr. Alyssa Kuhn informs us that ‘hip flexor stretches may not be the best thing for you if your hip is feeling tight. When our muscles and joints feel tight, our first instinct usually is to stretch them. But they are tight for a reason! This is usually because they are making up for a muscle imbalance elsewhere. Thus, the muscles become tight because the body needs stability. The better thing you can do is actually complete movements that help both contract and relax the muscle like a standing, banded isometric march, or a laying down, 90-90 isometric hip flexion. Both of these work to make the muscle contract which ultimately helps the muscle actually relax more than stretching will help with!’

Andy Brown informs I would be cautious with anyone pre and post operation for surgeries. One has to evaluate and see where that individual is for specific exercises. Further, anyone with osteoporosis, osteopenia, should proceed carefully then they can progress.’

Ensure you are performing hip flexor stretches correctly:

Dr. Jordan Duncan explains ‘The biggest drawback of hip flexor stretches would be performing them wrong. A common mistake made when people attempt to stretch their hip flexors is that they simply move their pelvis forward and extend their lumbar spine (lower back) in the half kneeling position. This tends to stretch the quadriceps more and puts the psoas (one of the primary hip flexors) on slack. It is more important to create posterior pelvic tilt rather than moving the pelvis forward when stretching the hip flexors. This creates a better stretch of the iliacus and psoas muscles, the primary hip flexors.’

Ashlee Van Buskirk, warns ‘there is some inherent risk in these hip flexor stretches. If you do the stretches with improper execution (e.g., poor posture/form, bad stretching habits, etc.), you may risk misalignment in your hip flexor muscles, which in turn can lead to greater instability in the front of your hip. So you want to make sure that you are stretching out your hip flexors with the right posture and form to avoid injury and worsening your pain.’

What hip flexor stretches can I perform?

Clara Roberts-Oss believes that yoga stretches and strengthening exercises can ‘Relieve the psoas and keep the hip flexors strong and supple’. 

‘For hip flexor release, perform lunges, bridge pose, half or full frog pose, hero pose, bound angle pose, wheel pose, or dancers pose to lengthen the psoas. 

For hip flexor strengthening to prevent injury, bow pose, tree pose, camel pose, and crow pose engage the psoas.’

Sports Physiotherapist Pete Colagiuri informs us ‘As a general rule of thumb, if a hip flexor stretch is not felt in front of the hip and upper thigh, or if there’s pressure on the lower back, hip flexor stretches should be avoided. If the stretch is hard to achieve without a very forced position, it should be avoided. Otherwise if the stretch is comfortable and only felt in front of the hip and upper thigh, it’s a worthy inclusion into a post-session routine.’

Stretching with Auro

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