Sitting for long periods can cause your hip flexors to shorten up and become tight. This can lead to problems with posture and back pain, as well as foot, ankle and knee injuries (1).
Hip flexor muscles attach the hip joints to the top of the femur and the inside of the knee, allowing flexibility of the upper leg. Sitting for too long makes these muscles tighten, which results in stiffness and pain.
What Are The Hip Flexors?
Hip flexors, as the name implies, flex the hip. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to climb stairs, bend over, or even walk!
They are located deep in the front of the hip, and connect the leg, pelvis and abdomen. Despite being some of the most powerful muscles in the body, many people often neglect their care, which results in back pain, poor posture, lower belly pooch, and foot, ankle and knee injuries.
The muscle groups that create what we call the hip flexors include:
– Iliopsoas – iliacus and psoas muscles that group together to flex the hip.
– Rectus femoris – one of the quadricep muscles at the front of the thigh.
– Sartorial – supports the more powerful iliopsoas and rectus femoris in accomplishing hip flexion.
– Pectineus – an accessory hip flexor that originates from the front of the pelvis, and inserts near the top of the thigh bone. Works to flex the hip and move your thigh inward.
– Tensor fasciae later – located at the outside front of the hip, which flexes and abducts the thigh (moves it away from the body).
– Gracilis – a thin muscle that runs along the inner thigh, attaching the pubic bone to the top of the tibia (adducts thigh at the hip – meaning it moves the thigh inward toward the body).
– Longus, brevis and magnus adductors – a group of muscles along the inner thigh that move the femur toward the midline of the body.
– Gluteus maximus, medics, and minimum – muscles of the upper legs and buttocks that attach the hips to the back above and the legs below.
Why You Need To Stretch The Hip Flexors
Having flexible, strong hip flexors will benefit your body in a variety of ways.
Tightness in the hip flexors often accompanies anterior pelvic tilt, where the front of your pelvis is pulled forward from your spine and out of alignment (like when your butt sticks out more than it should). This results in back pain and weak abdominal muscles.
The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute of Rehabilitation states that “restrictions in hip joint mobility can not only cause hip pain, but also affect the back and knee by changing the mechanics of how they move. Tightness of the hip flexors located at the front of the hip can affect the position of the low back and sacroiliac joints and how they function in relation to each other” (2).
Chronic pain will often result from this hip, back and neck strain, as a result of muscle, fascia and nerve constriction. Practicing hip flexor stretches will help prevent all of this.
10 Hip Flexor Stretches
If you sit at a desk all day, your hip flexors are particularly at risk. Performing these stretches and standing up every 30 minutes to 1 hour is essential.
1. Pigeon Stretch
The perfect pose for tight hips, as it stretches the hip rotators and the hip flexors. This is a challenging pose, but if you practice it consistently over time, you’ll notice that it gets easier.
1. Sit with your right knee bent and your left leg extended behind you. Pull the right heel in toward your left hip. Make sure the left hip is always pointing down toward the mat. If it starts to open up toward the ceiling, draw your right foot back in toward the body.
2. Stay here with your hands resting on your right thigh or hips, or, walk your hands out in front of you so that your torso is resting over your right knee.
3. Hold here, and breathe into the tightness and tension for 5-7 deep breaths.
4. Repeat on the other side, with the left knee bent.
2. Spiderman Stretch
This stretches the hip flexors, inner thighs and glutes. It is especially useful for increasing hip flexor mobility.
1. Begin by sitting tall on your knees. Bring your right knee forward, bending at the hips. Your left knee and toes should be touching the floor.
2. Step forward with your front foot, and bring both hands tot he ground beside it. Relax your back leg, by bringing your left knee to the ground.
3. Hold for a few breaths as your bring your left hip toward the ground.
4. Bring your right hand to the right of your right foot and shift your weight to sit on your left thigh. Your right leg should straighten out as you do so. Hold for 5 deep breaths.
5. Return to the main position, and twist your chest towards your right knee, while holding here for a few breaths. You can repeat the twisting motion away from your knee as well if you like.
6. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.
3. Happy Baby
Most people can do this stretch because it is very relaxing and gentle. It is effective in stretching out the hip flexors, and opening up the hips in general.
1. Lay flat on your back, and bend both knees. Hold the outside edges of your flexed feet with your hands, keeping your arms on the outside of your legs.
2. Equally press both knees to the floor below your armpits, while trying not to tense your shoulders or chest.
3. Stay here for 5-10 deep breaths.
4. Frog Pose
One of the deepest stretches, frog pose, helps open up the groin area (especially the adductors) and relaxes the psoas muscle.
1. Beginning on all fours, bring your forearms to the floor. You can put a blanket under each knee for padding if you like.
2. Widen your knees, one at a time, as far apart as possible, and bend them so that your thighs and your shins are at 90-degree angles. Flex your feet.
3. Keep your front ribs in, your waist long, and your tailbone down.
4. Take 5-10 long, deep breaths. It will likely be very sore, but easing into this difficult pose only takes time and patience.
5. Head To Knee Stretch
A popular stretch for runners, head to knee targets the hips and hamstrings, while giving the back a gentle stretch, too.
1. Sit on the ground with your legs out in front of you. Bend your right knee, and pull the sole of your foot against your left inner thigh.
2. With a tall spine, reach both hands to your left foot, and stack your torso on top of your left thigh. Rest your hands on your shin or knee if you can’t reach your feet. Try not to round the back.
3. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, while relaxing your shoulders away from the ears. Repeat on the other side.
6. Hip Flexor Mobilization
This low impact stretch allows you to control how much weight you put into it. This stretch involves a foam roller, which you can buy almost anywhere nowadays (and they’re not too expensive). Using a foam roller in this exercise will allow you to release and stretch the fascia (connective tissues) that covers the muscles and is incredibly effective at targeting the hip flexors.
1. Press a foam roller into the crease of your hip as you lie down on your belly.
2. Let your weight sink into the roller and roll back and forth to massage out your muscles.
3. When you find a spot that’s tender, focus on it, and apply even more pressure to help release the tightness.
7. Assisted Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
A great beginner stretch for opening up the hip flexors, while you support yourself with a solid object.
1. Lay down your yoga mat, and get into a half-kneeling position with your back leg being the one you are about to stretch.
2. Hold a stick in front of you, and actively push it down into the ground. This will engage your core and stretch all the right muscles.
3. Keep your body upright, and rotate your pelvis inward, squeezing your glutes.
4. Keeping your muscles engaged and body upright, lean forward at the hips for 5 deep breaths.
5. Repeat 5-10 reps for each leg.
8. Thomas Stretch
A simple hip flexor stretch that will help remediate any imbalances throughout the legs, pelvis and lower back.
1. Comfortably lie on your back on the edge of a table or bed.
2. Hug one knee up to your chest, and let the opposite leg hang down and bend at the knee over the edge of the table or bed.
3. You’ll feel a stretch along the front of your hip, right in the area of the hip flexors. Do not bounce, and no not allow your low back to extend off the table/bed.
4. Hold for 5 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
9. Butterfly Stretch
This is a static stretch that targets the muscles of your inner thighs, and more specifically, the hip adductors that allow you to pull the legs inward.
1. Sit on the ground, with both knees bent, and bring your feet together.
2. Using your hands, open your feet up like a book, and use your leg muscles to press your knees down toward the floor.
3. Lengthen the spine, and draw your belly button inward. Relax your shoulders, and gaze in front of you or toward your feet. Stay in this position for 5 breaths, and fold forward and draw your torso toward your legs, while keeping the spine straight.
4. Rest your hands on your feet, pressing your knees down with your arms, or extend your arms on the floor in front of you. Stay in this position for another 5 deep breaths.
10. Open Lizard Stretch
Lizard pose is a great stretch for the hip flexors, hamstrings and quadriceps. It will improve flexibility of your hip ligaments and strengthen the muscles in your legs.
1. Come into a lunge position with your right knee forward. Lower your left knee to the floor, and rest your hands on the ground under your shoulders.
2. Slowly lower your right knee to the right so that you’re resting on the outside of your right flexed foot. Keep your arms straight, and press your chest forward to increase the stretch.
3. Hold for 5 deep breaths, and repeat on the left side.