That’s right — we said strengthen your hip flexors.
With tight hip flexors being such a common problem, people are always asking for the best hip flexor exercises to stretch these muscles. Perhaps they’ve never considered also adding hip flexor strengthening exercises into their routine.
Whether you’re an athlete or a NARP (non-athletic regular person), we’ll share from our perspective on why strengthening the hip flexors is important and lay out the best approach for doing so (since they’re probably tight to begin with).
Five reasons to strengthen your hip flexors
Strengthening your hip flexors can help you maintain good posture and core stability, reverse the effects of sitting, improve the symptoms of weak hip flexors, decrease the likelihood of pain and injury, and increase athletic performance.
Strong hip flexors help maintain good posture and core stability
The iliopsoas muscles, your main hip flexors, play an important role in helping you maintain good posture and core stability. They each connect to the lumbar spine, travel through the pelvis, and attach to the inside of the femur near the hip joint. As a result, the iliopsoas are the only muscles that connect your upper and lower halves of the body!
Whether you are sitting, standing, walking, running, or moving around some other way, the iliopsoas is responsible for providing stability for your lower back, pelvis, and hips — all of which make up the “core” of your body. It’s important for these areas to be strong and supported!
Reverse the effects of sitting
As you’ve likely heard before, sitting places the hip flexors into a shortened position where they are asked to perform a lot of work to help us sit up straight for hours and hours each day. Over time, these muscles fatigue, tighten up, and actually become weaker.
Adding some exercises for your hip flexors can help build the strength back up in these important muscles, increase blood flow to the area, and help the muscles lengthen out more effectively later on when you do some hip flexor stretches.
Symptoms of weak hip flexors
If you know what it feels like to have tight hip flexors, then you know what it feels like to have weak hip flexors, as these often go hand-in-hand. Common symptoms of weak hip flexors include (but are not limited to):
- Tightness at the front of the hip and/or the lower back
- Reduced range of motion in the hips
- Stride length when walking or running feels “off”
- Clicking, popping, or clunking sensation felt in the hips when moving in certain ranges of motion
- Difficulty activating posterior chain muscles (e.g. glutes and hamstrings), which may also feel tight
- Experiencing lower back and/or hip pain and discomfort after standing, sitting, or walking for longer periods of time
Pain and injury due to weak hip flexors
When the hip flexors are weak, muscle imbalances can begin to develop in the surrounding areas of the body. This affects the alignment of the pelvis, restricts movement of the hips, and reduces stability around the lumbar spine. Ultimately, there is a chain reaction seen throughout the entire body.
The mechanics of your body change and compensatory movement patterns develop. The pre-existing muscle imbalances become “stronger” and continue to hold your bones out of their natural alignment. Over time, this creates wear and tear on the structures of your body and leads to pain.
Strengthen hip flexors to improve athletic performance
Having strong muscles around your hips (like your hip flexors, glutes, etc.) allows the hip joints to work in each of their ranges of motion — flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and external rotation — and do so efficiently.
Whether your sport involves running, jumping, squatting, throwing, hitting, skating, or changing directions, strong and mobile hips support the body’s ability to produce force, power, and speed to increase athletic performance across the board.
Tips for strengthening your hip flexors
When strengthening your hip flexors — or any other muscle, really — it’s generally best to have a solid approach to achieve the goal in mind. Here are our best tips for you to consider as you create a routine that works best for your body.
Relax your hip flexors before strengthening them
Learning to relax your hip flexor muscles is an important first step before you strengthen them. With the amount of sitting that we do on a regular basis, these muscles are likely to be exhausted and may already be holding tension. Contracting the iliopsoas without letting the muscles recover won’t do you any good.
Think about it — what sitting does to the hip flexors is what squeezing your biceps for 10+ hours each day would do to your arms. As the hours pass by, the muscles get tired, the contraction of your biceps becomes weaker, and it gets harder to straighten your arms because the muscle is tight and holding tension.
Trying to squeeze the bicep even more after having it flexed for 10+ hours doesn’t let the muscle recover and it won’t actually get stronger. By first letting the bicep muscles relax, they will be able to produce a stronger contraction the next time you train them, leading to actual strength gains. This same concept applies to your hip flexors.
To relax the hip flexor muscles, consider adding in various hip flexor stretches to your routine. However, understand that stretching alone may not be enough to get the muscles to truly relax if they are holding tension. Using a hip flexor release tool that applies pressure to BOTH the psoas and the iliacus muscles (like the Hip Hook, pictured below) can help release that tension and improve the effectiveness of your stretches. This sets you up for better success with your hip flexor strengthening exercises because your psoas and iliacus will have recovered and be more relaxed. Hip flexor strengthening exercises are also psoas strengthening exercises because you are working the entire iliopsoas.
The best hip flexor exercises are adapted to your body’s needs
The hip flexors are just like any other muscle in your body -- they need an appropriate amount of functional strength to perform the daily activities that you do each day. As such, you should be training your hip flexor muscles in accordance with these demands.
We’ll use 3 different kinds of people — a weightlifter, a marathoner, and a desk jockey — as an example to help illustrate this concept of functional strength in the hip flexors. Each of them need strong hip flexors in a slightly different way.
Strengthening hip flexors for weightlifters
A weightlifter needs to have very strong hip flexors to help support and stabilize their lumbar spine, pelvis, and hips in a strong position when performing exercises (such as squats or deadlifts) with very heavy loads. A way in which they may train for this could involve using paused reps or a slow tempo during the descent of the movement (like a squat) to exhibit strength and control throughout their entire range of motion.
Strengthening hip flexors for marathon runners
A marathoner needs to have the strength in the psoas and iliacus muscles to be able to lift the weight of their leg (which is actually quite heavy!) stride after stride over the course of the race that lasts several hours. They might train for this with a more dynamic exercise that simulates running, such as a knee drive, with added resistance (using a band or a cable) and perform this for higher reps to build up their endurance.
Strengthening hip flexors for sitting at a desk
Someone who sits all day long can benefit from having strong hip flexors, as these muscles help you sit upright in a good posture. However, we also know that sitting too long can actually fatigue these muscles and weaken them. To train for this, they might consider doing hip flexor marches from a standing position or knee raises while seated. Also important is to get up to move around and take frequent breaks from sitting, giving the hip flexors a chance to recover to stay strong and relaxed.
Establish a routine to help with hip flexor recovery
We’ve already talked about what happens to the hip flexors when they don’t have the chance to recover — they become overworked, tight, and weak. Creating a balanced routine that involves a combination of releasing, stretching, and mobility alongside the hip flexor strengthening exercises can keep your hips feeling strong and relaxed while helping your body feel at it best. Click here for the best hip flexor strengthening exercises.
Want to learn more about your hip flexors?
Deepen your knowledge about your hip flexors and discover how tightness, weakness, and imbalances in these muscles impact the way your entire body functions by reading the book “Tight Hip, Twisted Core - The Key To Unresolved Pain” by Christine Koth, MPT.
Frequently asked questions about the hip flexors
How do I know if my hip flexors are weak?
If you are someone that spends a lot of time sitting down or doesn’t get enough movement and exercise on a regular basis, your hip flexors are likely to be weak. Here’s a simple hip flexor strength test to find out if you have weak hip flexors.
Standing on one leg, raise the knee on your other leg towards your chest. Make sure that the knee raises up higher than your hip to better target your hip flexors. Maintain a neutral pelvic position and ensure that you are not hiking your hip up on the working side to compensate for a weak hip flexor. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds and then switch sides, noticing any imbalances side to side.
If you’ve continuously stretched your hip flexors but the tightness keeps coming back, or if you failed the test outlined above, that may be an indication that you’d benefit from getting some strength into these muscles.
How do I know if my hip flexors are tight?
Tight hip flexors do not fully lengthen to their full range of motion. Tight hip flexors also hold tension when at rest. There are a few ways to test whether this is true on your body. First, use the Thomas Test to see if your hip flexors can reach full extension.
You can perform the Thomas Test on yourself at home. If your hip cannot reach extension, then you’ve “failed” the test and may have tight hip flexors. However, it is important to note that you can “pass” the Thomas Test yet still have tight hip flexors.
The next definition of a tight hip flexor is one that holds tension even when at rest. This happens when a portion of the muscle remains contracted (like having a muscle knot or trigger point). This impacts the ability of the muscle to perform its full function, causing it to tighten up as a form of protection to create stability around the hip joint.
Perhaps the best and most effective way to test for this form of tightness is to press on these muscles. If your psoas and iliacus muscles are tender or painful to the touch, then it may be an indication that these muscles are holding tension and are, in fact, truly tight.
What causes weak hip flexors?
Your hip flexors spend a lot of time each day in a shortened position when sitting, where they can become easily fatigued. This contributes to the hip flexors becoming weaker and tighter, especially as you sit for longer periods of time day after day without letting the muscles recover.
What are the benefits of strong hip flexors?
Having strong hip flexors can help you maintain good posture and core stability, reverse the effects of sitting, improve the symptoms of weak hip flexors, decrease the likelihood of pain and injury, and increase athletic performance.
How do you strengthen the hip flexors if they are already tight?
To strengthen tight hip flexors, you may find it helpful to first get those muscles to relax. Using a hip flexor release tool in combination with other hip flexor stretches can help the muscles to recover before you perform hip flexor strengthening exercises.