Back in the day of gym class, your PE teacher probably conducted a few basic stretches before certain activities. If you took part in organized sports you probably stretched out before (and possibly after) practice as well.
Some of these stretched likely felt great, especially after sitting around a classroom all day. Other stretches may have seemed like a waste of time. There are some out there who will spend 10 plus minutes stretching before any kind of physical activity.
Realistically, you don’t need to conduct an entire yoga session before you gear up for lifting weights or shooting hoops. However, there are a handful of stretches you really should carry out just to warm up your body and improve your line of movement.
One target area are the hip flexors.
But what exactly are hip flexors, what do these muscles do, and is stretching out the area of the body really all that important?
We’ve got all your answers (and then some) right here.
What is a Hip Flexor?
The hip flexor is made up by a series of muscles running from the lower spinal cord down to the knee.
The main muscles involved with the flexor is the iliotibial tractor, adductor magnus, gracillis, adductor longus, adductor brevis, tensor fasciae latae, psoas major, piriformis and the pectineus. Now, all of that might sound Greek to you (probably because many of the words are based on Greek).
Basically, these are the muscles that run around the hip bones and connect the hip to the lower back and to your leg, down through the knee. These are relatively minor muscles in terms of size and in general, are used more as stabilizer muscles than anything else.
However, in terms of maintaining balance and ensuring you can flex and move your knees and hips, these are the most important muscles.
You use nearly all of these muscles whenever performing lower body exercises and most are activated when performing standing upper body exercises (Very Well, 2017).
Why Perform Hip Flexor Stretches?
When people talk about hip flexors, they make it sound like this is the only “flexor” area of the body. In reality, the hip flexor isn’t all that unique. Just about every other joint in the body is part of a flexor. There’s a flexor at the elbow, the shoulder and the wrist. There are also flexors in the thighs, toes, knees and really everywhere else. Basically, if it flexes it is a “flexor.”
So what makes the flexor in the hip different from the rest of your body?
It essentially is the connecting point between the upper and lower portions of the body. If you’re standing, holding weight, this weight pushes down on the hips. If you’re conducting lower body exercises, such as a squat or lunge, the hip stabilizes your body and prevents your hamstrings and quads from pushing out.
Due to the pressure placed on your hips though, the hips are more likely to slide out of place. It is not unusual for people to have misaligned hips, with one side higher/lower than the other. Misaligned hips will then cause problems throughout the rest of the body. It can lead to back pain, knee pain, and discomfort nearly everywhere. In addition to this, the shift in the hip placement causes muscles in the back to pull improperly. It also causes the muscles around the elevated hip to pull, resulting in a continual stretch.
One of the main ways to avoid these kinds of problems is by stretching out the hip flexors prior to a workout.
Hip Flexor Injuries
injuries to the hip flexor muscles can impact anyone at any time. However, there are some individuals who are more likely to suffer from hip flexors than others.
If you are an athlete and take part in any kind of sport where lunging is common place, the hip flexor is more likely to become strained. Some sports were hip flexor strains are more common include martial arts, hockey, football, and soccer, although runners, sprinters and other track and field events may lead to strains as well.
There are a handful of reasons why a hip flexor strain may come about. Weak muscles is a top reason and something more likely to affect an individual who is just starting to workout again. If you have taken an extended off-season or haven’t worked out in a while, hip flexor injuries are far more common place. Beyond this, not warming up the hip flexors results in stiff muscles and can increase the chance of a strain. That is exactly why you need to focus on hip flexor stretches before performing these kinds of activities.
Most other muscle groups are already somewhat warm prior to performing your athletic activity.
The hip flexors though are not completely stretched out, so performing stretches designed to target this area of the body is a must (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017).
How Do I Know If I’ve Suffered a Hip Flexor Strain?
Hip flexor strains can vary from mild to severe.
Usually, it starts with a tendor, mild feeling, and then continues to grow out from there, so identifying the pain early on is important. During a hip flexor strain, you’ll feel a mild pain that pulls from the front of your hip.
You may also experience a sensation similar to cramping to the point where it is difficult to walk. From time to time you might also suffer from spasms, swelling and bruising.
These occur in more extreme conditions and when the strain first occurs. It might also occur in the event of a complete muscle tear. If you suffer from bruising and swelling, you need to go see a medical professional right away (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017).
Hip Flexor Stretches
Stretching out the hip flexor muscles is one area you really need to target prior to every workout or athletic activity.
However, with over a half-dozen different muscles on each side of your hips used, a single hip flexor stretch isn’t going to do it all. You need to incorporate several different stretches to make sure you hit everything.
Chances are, you already know a few stretches that feel great around the hips, so, by all means, keep uses these stretches. However, here are a few of our favorites we like to recommend, regardless of your upcoming workout or athletic activity.
Honestly, we like it for two reasons. The first is obviously the name. If you can do any kind of exercise (we’re looking at you, Superman stretch), we’re all for it. Still waiting on the Batman and Iron Man stretches and lifts, but hey, there is still time. The second reason we like this stretch is
The second reason we like this stretch is that it really targets the hips and opening up the flexor muscles. To perform this stretch you’ll want to go into an excessively long lunge stance. Lunge so far out in front of you that your back knee touches the ground and is behind your butt. You’ll feel the stretch not only in your hips but in your butt, quads, and hamstrings.
Now, rotate your upper body as if you’re looking over your shoulder (on the upright knee side) and reach your upright knee side arm up in the air with your other hand placed on the ground. Think of it like you’re about to climb a building with your “Spidey” skills.
Hold this stretch, then perform the same stretch on the other side. Just be careful when first moving into this stretch. You may want to stretch your legs first before conducting this stretch, otherwise, you may feel some soreness in your upper thighs and butt.
Kneeling Hip Flexor
Move into more of a standard lunge position with one knee slightly back of your butt and erect spine. The extended leg should be slightly in front of your chest, with the thigh holding nearly parallel to the ground. Weight will be placed onto the knee resting on the ground, so if you have sore knees place a yoga or gym mat under the knee. Have your hands grab hold of one another above your head and pull up and slightly back. This will stretch not only your hip flexors but your back muscles as well.
Classic hip flexor stretch for sprinters and distance runners.
Position yourself into a pushup position, but allow your forearms through your elbow to rest on the ground. Keep your left leg in its current position and bring your right leg forward. Cross your right leg in front of your hip, running along your belt line. Allow your straight leg to go down against the ground and rock slightly forward. This stretches out not only your gluteus but your hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads. Hold the stretch, then switch to the other side and repeat the same process (Stack, 2017).
Another classic hip flexor stretch you’ve probably performed in the past.
Take a seat on the ground, then bring your feet into your core. Place the heels of your feet together and make sure your feet are as close to your pelvic area as possible. This will push your knees out. Push your knees down towards the ground slowly. You can use your elbows for leverage when pushing the knees down.
If you perform the stretch slowly it helps warm up the muscles and increases the stretch possibility.
Sumo Squat Stretch
The sumo squat stretch is similar to the deep squat hip flexor, although we prefer the sumo squat thanks to the wide stance and its ability to open your hips up further than a traditional deep squat.
With the traditional deep squat, you basically stand, legs shoulder width apart, and lower yourself down into a squat to the point where your butt is nearly touching the ground.
With a sumo squat, your legs are much further out than shoulder width. The further out your legs are, the more of an internal hip flexor stretch you receive. This is an excellent compliment stretch to the butterfly stretch. This stretch is also going to really hit your hamstrings as well. With your legs apart, go down into the squat and hold. You’ll feel the stretch throughout your inner thighs.
Hold this for a moment and return to the standing position. With this stretch, you can either hold it for a 10 to 20 count, or hold it for a few seconds, stand, and repeat up until you hit 20 (you can conduct this count for nearly all of the stretches listed here, although the lunge stretches are better done by holding the full 10 or 20 count).
With all of these stretches, there will come a time where you no longer feel the stretch as significantly. This is because your body has adapted and become accustomed to the stretch. Due to this, you’ll need to continue to push yourself and stretch deeper in order to extract the full benefit of the stretch (FitBodyHQ, 2013).
If you’ve been digging through the assortment of workout blogs, websites and videos online, you probably have come across all sorts of “professional” insights into stretching, what you need to do and what may actually increase your risk potential.
Despite all of this, just about every personal trainer, physical therapist and lifting expert will tell you the importance of hip flexors. Your helps really are the gateway to the rest of your body, so avoiding injuries here is a must. Before your next workout routine, make sure to toss in some (if not all) of these hip flexor stretches.
You’ll feel your core open up and likely will begin to see an improvement in nearly all of your lifts where your lower body and core is engaged (aka any lower body lifts or even exercises where you’re standing).
So do your body, and your future gains a favor and stretches out your hip flexors.