Are you only stretching one hip flexor? The “hip flexors” are actually a whole group of muscles that help you walk, kick, bend, twist, and stabilize your pelvis. Most people have performed a basic hip flexor stretch at some point in their lives. While it may have led to experiencing some relief, it can be more helpful to use targeted stretches for the muscles that are tight on your body (not your neighbor’s).
In this article, you’ll learn about why the hip flexor muscles become tight and practice several completely manageable hip flexor stretches for even the tightest of hips. These stretches affect your hips from all angles to relieve tightness and keep your whole body feeling strong and limber. One of the best parts about these hip flexor stretches is that the same movement can stretch different muscles, depending on the width of your stance and angle of your body. (So you really only have one stretch taking up valuable memory space.)
[Read more from Aletha: Deep Dive into the Anatomy of the Hip Flexor Muscles]
Why are my hip flexors so tight?
Whether you are someone who is physically active or not, the amount of sitting that the typical person does each day contributes to the development of tight hip flexors. Sitting places the hips into a flexed position, where the psoas muscle, iliacus muscle, and other hip flexor muscles find themselves in a shortened position.
Not only are your hip flexors likely spending longer periods of time in this shortened chair-sitting position (don’t get me started on the couch-sitting position), they also play an important role in helping to stabilize and support your lower back and pelvis in a stable upright posture.
When you throw in the additional demands placed on the hip flexor muscles when walking, running, cycling, working out, picking up kids (and everything they’ve dropped on the floor), and so many other activities we perform on a regular basis, you may begin to see how these very important muscles work overtime for our bodies day after day.
If you don’t take the time to help these muscles lengthen and recover, hip tightness develops over time and it can affect your hips, lower back, knees, and other areas of the body.
You don’t need to stop any of those regular activities (although I’ll evangelize about taking frequent breaks from sitting in front of your computer), but the next time you’re taking a chair-free break from work or getting ready for a workout, give a few of these stretches a try. Your tight hip flexors will thank you for it!
The best stretches for your tight hip flexors
To get the most effective and longest-lasting results from a hip flexor stretch, it’s important to pick the right stretch to target a specific muscle and also perform the stretch with proper technique. Here are several different hip flexor stretches; discover which ones work best for you while learning a little bit about your amazing body. (And if it doesn’t feel amazing right now, check in again afterwards.)
Best stretches for the iliopsoas muscle
The iliopsoas is your main hip flexor and consists of two muscles – the iliacus muscle and the psoas muscle. Depending on your personal preference, you can effectively stretch these hip flexors using a kneeling hip flexor stretch or a standing hip flexor stretch, both of which are described below.
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- Get down into a half-kneeling position with your front and back knees at about a 90-degree angle. Your stance should be around shoulder-width apart and your pelvis should be facing forward.
- Squeeze the glute on the back leg and also engage your lower abdominals, trying to tuck the pelvis to flatten out your lower back. You may feel a stretch at the front of your hip on the kneeling side.
- Keeping those muscles engaged, gently shift your pelvis forward to increase the stretch.
- With the arm on your kneeling side, reach overhead and across towards the opposite side of your body, allowing your body to side bend slightly to lengthen the psoas muscle.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
- Place one foot about 2 feet in front of the other with the feet placed around shoulder-width apart. The front and back knee will have a slight bend in them. Keep your pelvis facing straight ahead.
- Squeeze the glute on your back leg and engage your lower abdominals to try to tuck the pelvis to flatten out your lower back. You may feel a stretch at the front of your hip on the back leg.
- To increase the stretch, gently shift your pelvis forward by pressing your foot into the ground to straighten your back leg. The front knee may bend a little more. Be sure to keep the glute and abs engaged.
- With the arm on the same side as the back leg, reach overhead and across towards the opposite side of your body, allowing your body to side bend slightly to lengthen the psoas muscle.
Best stretches for the TFL muscle and the pectineus muscle
The tensor fascia latae (TFL) is a hip flexor muscle located on the outside of the hip that also connects to the iliotibial band (IT band). The pectineus is a hip flexor muscle located on the inside of the hip in the groin region.
You’ll stretch these muscles using the same instructions as the kneeling and standing hip flexor stretches mentioned above, but will make two slight adjustments to change the angle of the stretch to target the outside of the hip (TFL) or the inside of the hip (pectineus). All of the other instructions remain the same.
To target the TFL muscle, the first adjustment is setting up with a narrower stance, around hip-width apart. The second adjustment is shifting the pelvis diagonally towards the back leg. (Note: you will feel the stretch in the outside of the hip on the back leg).
To target the pectineus muscle, the first adjustment is setting up with a wider stance, slightly outside shoulder-width apart. The second adjustment is shifting the pelvis diagonally towards the front leg. (Note: you will feel the stretch in the inside of the hip on the back leg).
Kneeling, it looks like this:
Standing, it looks like this:
Best stretches for the rectus femoris muscle
The rectus femoris is one of your quadriceps muscles, but is the only one of that muscle group that crosses the hip joint and acts as a hip flexor. The following stretching variations using a kneeling or standing position can effectively target the rectus femoris and the other quadriceps muscles on the front of your thigh.
- Get into a half-kneeling position about shoulder-width apart, where the front knee is at about a 90-degree angle. The back knee is bent with your back foot up against a wall, a couch, or being held in position by your hands reaching behind your body.
- Squeeze the glute on the back leg and also engage your lower abdominals, trying to tuck the pelvis to flatten out your lower back. You may feel a stretch at the front of your hip and into the front of the thigh.
- Keeping those muscles engaged, gently shift your pelvis forward to increase the stretch.
To help make it more comfortable on your knee, consider doing this on a softer surface or add a cushion or yoga mat underneath your kneeling side.
Standing Quad Stretch
- From the standing position, reach back to grab your foot or ankle and bring your heel towards your butt. Stand up nice and tall.
- Squeeze the glute on the back leg and also engage your lower abdominals, trying to tuck the pelvis to flatten out your lower back. You may feel a stretch at the front of your hip and into the quads.
While performing this stretch, you can lean up against a wall or hold onto something with your other hand for support. This removes balance from the exercise and allows you to focus entirely on the stretch.
Want to deepen your knowledge and your stretch?
You’ll get answers to your questions about tight hip flexors, how they affect the functioning of your entire body, and plenty of stretches to keep you out of trouble in the book “Tight Hip, Twisted Core - The Key To Unresolved Pain” by Christine Koth, MPT.
Hip Flexor Stretch FAQs:
What are hip flexors?
The hip flexors are a group of muscles in your body that assist in hip flexion, the movement of bringing the knee closer to the chest. This muscle group includes the iliacus, psoas, rectus femoris, tensor fascia latae, pectineus, sartorius, adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, gracilis, and even part of the gluteus medius.
What do hip flexors do?
The hip flexors play an important role in moving your body. Every single time that you take a step, you are using your hip flexors to bring your leg forward. These muscles also help to stabilize and support your hips, pelvis, and spine.
Why are hip flexor stretches important?
Hip flexor stretches are important because they can help increase range of motion in the hip joints, reduce pain and tightness, and improve the way your body performs in your daily activities.
What problems can tight hip flexors cause?
Tight hip flexors can contribute to many different problems throughout the entire body, including hip pain, knee pain, back pain, foot pain, and more.