A Physical Therapist Shares His Methods for Fixing Tight Hip Flexors

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One of the most analyzed muscles in the fitness universe are those three muscles on your upper thigh, the hip flexors. Are they weak, or are they tight? There is much confusion about them, and a lot of blame gets laid on them regarding performance in and out of the gym. With a Physical Therapist’s help, we will clear up some misconceptions. With Dr. Bo Babenko, PT, DPT, we’ll learn the differences between weak and tight hip flexors and what to do if they are an issue.

First, a little geeky anatomy and benefits of training the hip flexors.

The Anatomy of Hip Flexor Muscles

The hip flexor muscles are one of the connectors between the upper and lower body. It crosses the hip joint from your lower spine to your inner thigh and is one of your body’s primary lower back stabilizers and hip flexors. The three muscles that make up the hip flexors are the iliacus, the psoas major, and the psoas minor.

Psoas Major And Minor: are long, thick spindle muscles originating from the thoracic and lumbar area from T12-L4 lateral of the lumbar spine and inserts on the femur via the iliopsoas tendon. Its actions are hip and trunk flexion, and it assists in lateral thigh rotation.

Iliacus: is a triangular-shaped muscle originating from the iliac fossa and the lateral aspect of the sacrum. It inserts at the lesser trochanter of the femur (leg bone), and its muscle fibers merge with lateral fibers of the psoas major to form the iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscle. Its primary functions are hip and trunk flexion.

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Benefits of Hip Flexors Exercises

You don’t often think or feel your hip flexors working, but expect these three benefits—without thinking about them—when they are fully operational.

Improved Hip Mobility

Strengthening and mobilizing your hip flexors will allow you to access your hip’s full range of motion to enhance all parts of your leg exercises, leading to improved hip extension and juicier glute gains.

Increased Speed

If your hip flexors are short or weak, it will affect your ability to achieve powerful hip extension. Basically, it can slow you down. The stronger and more mobile your hip flexors muscles are, the better your ability to drive off the ground faster.

Possible Reduction In Low Back Pain

The hip flexor muscles are a primary back stabilizer and a connector between the lower and upper body. A tight and weak hip flexor can pull the lower back into further lordosis (increased curve), causing anterior pelvic tilt and making you more prone to lower-back issues.

Signs of a Tight Hip Flexor

“The hip joint area is tricky; we always want to clear the adjoining areas. The groin, hip joint, and lower back all should be ruled out when there is pain in the front of the hip. The most common complaint with hip flexors is usually pain as you bring your leg up off the ground like a high knee. This can be limiting your lunges, squats, and even running.

One would also know if they have difficulty or overarching lumbar spines when entering a lunge position, especially with an upright torso,” explains Babenko.

3 Exercises To To Relieve a Tight Hip Flexor

“We need to ensure the length of the muscle is an issue before programming any exercise. A true “tightness” restriction would be tested in a “Thomas position” (clinically speaking, this is when you lay on your back and have one leg hang down—if your thigh bone does not drop below parallel to the floor, we call that a tight hip flexor).

We can further differentiate the hip flexor from the quad by adding or removing the knee bend.

Hip flexors can often be weak, which can easily be tested with manual muscle testing. When I work with clients, a simple 60-second single-leg balance where the up leg has a 90-degree knee bend works.

For addressing the hip flexor tightness, I have found a lot of success with folks spending some time “smashing their quads and hip flexors, even into the belly,” says Babenko.

Here are three Physical therapist-approved exercises for truly tight hip flexors.

Quad Smash

Gut Smash

Couch Stretch

A SPECIAL NOTE FROM THE DOCTOR

For The Girls: “ Even if you are not feeling any symptoms, please go find a “pelvic health PT” to check out the health of your pelvic floor, as this could contribute to many areas around the hip, like the hip flexors.

Never having a pelvic floor exam from a qualified professional is like never going to the dentist for your teeth! I believe this is a hugely under-served area that not enough women know about,” explains Babenko.

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