Hip flexors are a group of muscles around the upper thighs, inner thighs and in the pelvic area. Hip flexors control all major movements like running, walking, jumping, hiking, skating, skiing and many other sports. Even when we just stand, our hip flexors come into play to stabilize and make us stand.
Muscles Part of the Hip Flexors
· Psoas- Muscles connected from the spine to the legs.
· Rectus Femoris Muscle- One of the four quadriceps muscles connected from the pelvis to the patellar tendon of the knee.
· Pectineus Muscle- A flat quadrangular muscle at the top of the inner thigh (groin muscle).
· Sartorius Muscle- A long thin muscle from the top of the thigh, the pelvis to the knee. It is the longest muscle of the body and it helps flex the knee and leg.
· Adductors- Three powerful muscles attached to the thigh. These muscles are attached along the femur (thighbone). Their primary action is adduction of the thigh, as in squeezing the thighs together; they also help with rotation and flexion of the hips.
As a runner, if we have weak hips, it can increase the chances of injury. If we often sit for hours, we end up shortening and tightening these muscles, which will weaken the hip flexors. If you plan on running or training after sitting for hours, make sure you perform some dynamic stretches to release the hip flexors tension, otherwise some training stress will affect the already tight hip muscles, which can increase the risk of injury. If you feel hip flexor pain after a run, those are signs of very tight hip muscles.
Why Runners Need to Strengthen their Hip Flexors
The hip plays the most important role in moving forward by flexing and contacting our thighs and knees. If our hips are not strong, we increase the risk of an improper alignment of hips, which will increase the risk of hip and knee injury. Even IT Band pain syndromes are signs of weak hips, which can also cause plantar fasciitis, shin splints and Achilles tendonitis issues. If we strengthen our hips, we will minimize the chances of these injuries over time.
How to Test your Hip Flexors
Hip flexors help to stabilize our body, to find out if we have weak hip flexors, we can try these two exercises:
· Balance Test- Stand on a single leg and curl your toes. Perform for 2 mins on each side. If you can hold and stay balanced that means your hips are strong.
· Pistol Squat- If you can perform a single leg squat 5-8 reps, your hips are strong.
Side Effects of Weak Hip Flexors
· Imbalance on the impact in the spine which causes soreness in the lower back.
· Weak abdominal muscles, which will affect the core and abdominal exercises.
· Weak hamstrings.
· Tightness in the lower back.
· Tightness in the hip flexors.
Weak hip flexors can cause back pain, if there is an imbalance in the hip flexors it will gradually develop some trigger points causing back pain. Some runners can have strong hips but still tight hips. Tight hips can be weak but also, strong. Weakness and tightness doesn’t go hand in hand. To test your hip flexor strength will confirm if your hips need strengthening and stretching or only stretching to release the tightness.
Exercises to Strengthen the Hip Flexors
Side Leg Raises
1. Lie down straight on one side with your legs on top of each other.
2. Lift your leg up to 45 degrees, and hold it for 5-10 secs.
3. 15-20 reps each side.
1. Get on all fours tabletop on the ground.
2. Lift your left arm and right leg parallel to the ground.
3. Point the heel towards the back to engage the entire leg.
4. Hold for 5-10 secs on each side.
5. 15-20 reps each side.
Reverse Lunge with Knee Lift
1. Stand with feet hip width apart.
2. Extend your right leg back and lower into a lunge.
3. Using your glutes and core, pull the extended leg to your chest.
4. Return to standing position.
5. 15-20 reps on each side.
Single Leg Bridge
1. Lie on your back with both legs bent 90 degrees.
2. Hands on the side of the body palms down.
3. Using your glutes perform a single leg raise.
4. Lift your hips as much as possible with your upper back on the ground.
5. Hold for 5-10 secs each rep.
6. 5-10 reps each side.
1. Get on all fours tabletop on the ground.
2. Lift and extend your right leg, keeping your hands on the ground.
3. Keep the knee slightly bent, kick upwards, with your sole facing the sky.
4. 15-20 reps each side.
Strengthening the hip muscles is very important, but we have to increase the flexibility and mobility as well. For runners with tight hip flexors, it can affect the back tightness and create a bad posture. We need to stretch our hip flexors daily, and especially after a run or a training session.
Basic Hip Flexor Stretch:
· Stand in a lunge position with your right foot forward.
· Lower your left knee to the ground and push your hips forward.
· Reach up with your left arm towards the right.
· Hold for 30-45 secs on each side, until you feel some release of the hip muscles.
Hip flexors are one of the most important muscles in our body. They maintain the mobility, stability and strength of other muscles. For runners, these are the main muscles to strengthen and stretch to avoid common injuries.
Good Strengthening, Good Stretching, Great Running Form!