Perhaps the most overlooked muscles in your body are your hip flexors. There are a few of them, but the most important ones are the iliacus and the psoas (collectively known as the iliopsoas). These muscles connect your lower back and pelvis to the upper part of your femur and allow you to raise your knee up toward your body (think climbing stairs, doing high knees or box jumps, or even running or walking).
So, are these little guys really that important? A resounding yes!
10 Bucks Say Your Hip Flexors are Tight
Chances are, your hip flexors are probably tight and tense (we’ll get to why in a second). Without addressing this issue, you may be putting yourself at risk for injury or pain, especially in the low back and sacroiliac joint.
This is because some of your hip flexors attach to the bones in your lower spine. If the muscles are tight, they’re going to pull your lower back forward, which can really mess up the normal alignment of your spine and pelvis. Aside from causing pain, any abnormal shortening of the muscles can also limit your range of motion (e.g., prevent you from being able to squat to full depth without rounding or over-arching your back).
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Having tight hip flexors can even hold yourself back in your chosen sport. Why? Because your hips are one of the key force generators within your body. If you want explosive power, fast speed, and rock solid core stability, you need mobile and strong hips. Period.
But why do these muscles get so darn tight, anyway?
One word: chairs.
Sitting too much leaves our hip flexors in a shortened position for prolonged periods. Over time, this will lead to muscle shortening and tightness (in addition to tightening of the hip capsule itself). We also tend to hold stress in our hips (as any yogi will tell you).
Fortunately, if you’re one of those people who have super tight hips that really struggles in the range-of-motion department, there are plenty of things you can do to loosen up the tension and tightness in this area.
3 Ways to Loosen Up Those Hip Flexors
1) Supine Hip Flexor Stretch
Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Place a towel roll or foam roller underneath your lower back for support. Keeping your right knee close to your chest, slowly release your left leg until it’s straight. It may or may not touch the floor, depending on how tight your hips are. Hold for 2 minutes, then switch legs.
2) Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Get in a lunge-like position with your left knee on the floor behind you and your right foot on the floor in front of you with your right knee directly over the foot. Tucking your butt and keeping your back still, slowly lean forward on your right leg until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip. Hold for 2 minutes, then switch. (This video shows this and the previous stretch, along with another spicy one that you can do lying on your stomach).
3) Hip Flexor “Smash”
Hold a lacrosse ball on the front of your right or left lower abdomen (your iliopsoas lie beneath your abs). Lie on your stomach and roll around on the ball for about 2 minutes. Hint: spend more time in areas where the tension and discomfort is greatest (warning: this doesn’t feel great). For a variation that involves lying on your back, check out this video (the stretch begins around the 2:45-minute mark).
Shakira was right: your hips don’t lie. Whenever there is a functional problem with your hip joints, somehow they’ll let you know about it. So, whether you’re an athlete or not, it’s worth it for your health to maximize the mobility of your hip flexors.
Got a favorite iliopsoas or hip flexor stretch? Let us know about it in the comments!