Most of the time in the fitness world, when you hear about the hip flexors, it’s in the context of stretching them because they’re overly tight. I definitely believe that tight hip flexors can be a problem, especially for people who sit a lot during the day, but I also believe that the emphasis on tightness and stretching has taken away from the importance of also strengthening these muscles. People are so focused on stretching them that they don’t take the time to make them stronger, or they think that strengthening them will just make their problems worse.
Does this resonate with you? Have you ever thought about making strength training for the hip flexors more of a priority? If so, read on to learn more about the importance of strengthening the hip flexors and find some specific exercises that will help you to accomplish this!
What Are the Hip Flexors?
The following are some of the primary hip flexor muscles:
- Rectus femoris
As the name suggests, these muscles are responsible for flexing the hip joint and bringing the bones of the legs and the bones of the hip and spine closer together. When you raise one knee up toward your chest, for example, you’re using your hip flexor muscles.
Why Strengthen Your Hip Flexors?
There are lots of reasons to focus on your hip flexor strength in addition to your hip flexor flexibility. Here are some of the most noteworthy benefits you can experience when you do this on a consistent basis:
- Improved hip stability
- Better foot placement and reduced risk of impact injuries when running
- Improved running speed and performance
- Increased vertical jump
- Improved range of motion (that’s right, strengthening a muscle won’t automatically make it “tight” and immobile)
This last point is especially important. If you feel that your hip flexors are always tight, the real issue might actually be that they’re weak and in need of strengthening. If you’re always stretching these muscles and aren’t doing a lot of strength work, chances are they’ve weakened over time and aren’t able to do their jobs properly.
Remember, you use your hip flexors in all kinds of exercises (walking, running, sprinting, jumping, squatting, lunging, etc.) and everyday movements. If they’re weak, other muscles are going to take over, and that can lead to pain and an increased risk of injuries.
Signs You Have Weak Hip Flexors
How do you know if you need to work on strengthening your hip flexors? The following signs may be indicators that you’re working with weakness in these muscles:
- Poor posture
- Difficulty standing up straight
- Pain in the lower back (especially when standing)
- Pain and tightness in the neck
As you can see, the signs of weak hip flexors sound a lot like the signs of tight hip flexors. An assessment from a professional, such as a physical therapist, can help you get to the bottom of your particular issue.
In the meantime, though, if you’ve been putting a lot of effort into stretching your hip flexors and it doesn’t seem to be helping, that can be an indicator that you might need to turn your attention toward strength work. This doesn’t mean skipping stretching altogether, but you might benefit from doing a little less stretching and/or adding in more strength work.
Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises
If you do think you could benefit from some hip flexor strengthing, here are some of my favorite exercises that I recommend adding to your warm-up routine or strength training routine:
Standing Hip Flexion with Isometric Hold
To do this exercise, start by standing up straight (you can hold onto a wall/chair for support if needed). Raise one leg and bend the knee to bring it toward your chest.
Once you feel stable, let go of the leg and try to hold it in place. If it drops, that’s another sign that you could benefit from working on your hip flexor strength. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, then lower and repeat on the other leg.
Seated Straight Leg Raise
For this exercise, sit on the floor with your back straight and one knee bent in toward your chest. Wrap your arms around the bent knee and flex the foot of the straight leg. Slowly raise it off the floor a few inches, then lower it back down. You can also add an isometric hold to this exercise to make it more challenging.
Banded Standing Hip Flexion
Stand up straight with a loop band wrapped around your feet (separate the feet about hip-distance apart) and your hands on your hips (you can also hold the wall for support if needed). Raise one knee and bend it to bring it up toward your torso. Lift your knee as high as the band will allow, then lower it back down and repeat on the other side.
To do this exercise, lie on your back with a loop band wrapped around your feet. Bend your knees and bring them into a tabletop position (like you’re doing a dead bug) with the feet flexed.
Keep one knee bent and pull it in toward the chest while straightening the opposite leg. Slowly switch sides, bending the straight leg in toward your chest and straightening the bent leg, keeping the foot flexed to hold the band in place.
Here’s a video demonstrating each of these exercises if you need more guidance:
Start Strengthening Your Hip Flexors Today!
If you always focus on stretching your hip flexors, now might be a good time to ask yourself whether or not strengthening them might also be helpful. Remember, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Including both strengthening and stretching exercises into your routine will help you enjoy the best of both worlds!
Do you need to work on your hip flexor strength? Comment below are let me know!