Hip Flexor Stretch? Stop Stretching, Start Strengthening
Do you feel like you have tight hip flexors no matter how much you stretch them? How frustrating is it when you stretch them out, they feel good (for a bit), but you wake up the next morning and they feel tight again? Hip Flexor stretches can also help lower back pain, groin pain. Do any of these sound familiar? There is a better way then just stretching your hip flexors. It will release the tightness immediately and give you the longer lasting your searching for.
Anatomy of the Hip Flexors
When talking about your hip flexors they are actually a group of muscles at the front of your hip. They either pull the knee up towards the chest, or pull the chest towards the knees (depending on which way you want to look at it). They can include the quads (4 muscles at the front of the thigh) and the Psoas, and Iliacus (pictured right, highlighted in blue). Majority of the people are referring to the Iliacus and the Psoas when talking about tight hip flexors though.
The Psoas runs from the side of your spine (transverse process for you anatomy geeks) to the inside of your thigh bone (lesser trochanter of the Femur). The Iliacus is the other muscle that makes up the hip flexors. It runs from the inside of the hip and blends with the Psoas to also attach onto the inside of your thigh bone.
The hip flexors get a good workout when you knee tucks, bend forward, or perform sit ups. They also become the go to muscle for these movement when your core (abdominal) muscles aren’t strong enough to control movement.
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Why do you get tight hip flexors?
There are 2 main reasons why your muscles gets tight. One is because they are overused. Whenever you exercises you create mirco-tears in the muscles which then come apart and swell to form bigger muscles. This increases both the size and strength of muscles. You do biceps curls, your biceps get bigger, you get happier. Simple. When these micro tears occur the muscle fibres can get stuck together. This prevents them from sliding smoothly over one another like they should. Your muscles then become “short and tight”. Stretching is good for this type of “tightness”.
The other reason your muscles get tight is because they become “long and weak”. Your muscle is not being stimulated and is constantly being stretched. This occurs when you sit in a chair or have a “sway back” (anterior pelvic tilt). Your hip flexors are constantly getting stretched and put under tension. They become “long and weak”. This is the type of muscle tightness you need to perform some strength and stability work on. They are already being stretched all day and by stretching them you are only making the “tightness” worse.
How to Tell If You Are Short and Tight or Long and Weak?
Stand side on in front of a mirror. Check out the position of your pelvis. Place one finger on the bony part at the front of the hip that is sticking out. And place one finger on the bony part at the back of the hip that is sticking out. It is normal to have 10-15* and anterior pelvic tilt (front of hips sits below back of hips). If you have a larger anterior tilt than that, odds are your hip flexors are long and weak and would benefit from strengthening them and working on your glutes.
How to Fix Your “Tight Hip Flexors”
You can either try your hip flexor stretch or I like to get a ball into the hip flexors and release them off (this just generally relaxes you and make you feel good) with the exercise below.
More Than Just A Hip Flexor Stretch
But the long term fix will to be a strengthening exercise such as the single leg glute bridge with psoas lock. It helps to build up strength in the glutes. Pressing the hands into your knee helps to strengthen your hip flexors at the same time. This is also getting the right muscles to work together at the right time. Win Win.
So next time you are feeling “tight” try your hip flexor stretch or release them off with a ball. Then also throw in stability drill afterwards (such as the single leg glute bridge with psoas lock) and see how much longer that relief last.