The hip flexor is infamous for being difficult to stretch, easy to injure, and nearly impossible to heal. Most people have tight hip flexors in their genetics, which cause them to have drastically less flexible legs, hips and torsos. For the rest of the world, sitting is one of the worst things you can do for a tight hip flexor. Sitting for long periods of time, on a day-to-day basis (desk jobs, I’m looking at you), causes your hip flexors to not only tighten, but to actually shorten. So whether or not you’ve injured your hip flexor, stretching it is good and preventative practice, and you’ll notice the results immediately. Hip flexors control the tension necessary for pivoting forwards and backwards and side to side. Being flexible in the hips will improve your posture, make you a better athlete (and dancer) and help you get the most out of your workouts (especially those involving leg and abdominal exercises). Stretch out your hip flexors, then take your elasticity to the next level with these yoga sequences for strength and flexibility.
Ok, the last thing you want to do is injure your hip flexor when you’re trying to strengthen it. That would be painfully ironic. So avoid tears by warming up with a few of these easy exercises:
- Lunges (Overhead and Reverse)
- Leg Swings
- High Knees
- Leg Lifts
A little yoga never hurt anyone (in fact, I think it only ever helped). The pigeon pose is a yoga classic, and it’s great for stretching hip flexors. Begin by bending with a straight back and placing your hands palm down on the floor; then lower yourself to your knees. Step with one leg forward until it is between your hands. Make a right angle with that leg, so that it rests on its side and your shin is parallel with your chest (which should be facing straight forward). You want to keep your hips straight and your back straight and arched. You can alleviate some of your weight by pushing down on the floor with your hands. Drop the other leg slowly so that it stretches out straight behind you; this is when you will begin to feel your hip flexor stretch. Move slowly and always maintain balance, and like I said, use your hands to alleviate some of your body weight. Breathe slowly and ideally hold the pose for at least two minutes.
Variation on the Lunge
This is essentially a lunge with emphasis on the hip flexor. Start with a straight back and lunge forward with one foot. Bend until both legs are at right angles; the knee in front should be level with your hips, the knee in back should be anchored by a thigh that is in perfect line with your back and neck (the knee should be touching the floor). Rotate your pelvis forward until you begin to feel tension in the hip of your forward foot. Now, raise the opposite arm of the forward foot overhead, angling it at almost a right angle in the direction of the forward foot. You should feel considerable tension now. Hold for at least one minute, extending the arm further to add tension as desired. Return to standing and repeat for the opposite side.
This will help strengthen your core, too. But there’s a better and more fun way to build your core: hoop fitness with 5X world record athlete Betty Hoops.
This might take you back to grade school, but even the hip flexor aficionado can delight in this simple yet satisfying maneuver. First, take a seat. As usual, keep your back arrow-straight. Bring your feet together and toward your pelvis. Your legs will bend beyond forty-five degrees and, when your soles touch, form a diamond (your knees will not be touching the floor; they should be elevated so as to resemble butterfly wings). Hold your ankles with your hands and allow your thighs to relax. Try to match your elbows to your knees simply by relaxing; but if you can lower your knees further without pain or force, by all means, go for it. Relieve your hip flexors by raising your knees so that they are in line with your shoulders. Hold for several seconds before lowering back to elbow height.
If you liked sitting down for the Butterfly, you’ll love the Hip Swing, which requires you to lie on your side. To begin, lie on one side and prop yourself up with your corresponding elbow. Your hips should form a line perpendicular to the floor. Raise the top leg so that it angles gently upward from the hip. You do not need to raise it as high as possible; level with the ground is just as ideal. Point your toe, keep your abs tight, and sweep your leg forward as far as you can while keeping it (and your back) straight. Slowly reverse the movement and sweep the leg behind you as far as possible (squeezing your buttocks will win you extra inches). Always maintain balance and control. Switch legs before the stretch begins to feel like an exercise. You do not want to over-burden the hip flexor.
Standing Hip Flexor
This is more of an exercise than a stretch, but it’s both gentle and strengthening, and probably the best way to bolster the delicate muscle. For this you will need resistance bands. Begin by attaching one end of the band just above one foot and the other end to a secure bench. Face straight away from where you have anchored the band. Keeping your leg and back straight, lift/push it forward gently to a two count, then release it in the same manner. You do not need to hold your leg forward, and you do not need to strain yourself; a little resistance goes a long way.
And the same is true of yoga. You only need a few poses to reap the rewards, and you can pick and choose at will (and learn proper technique and posture) with yoga poses decoded.