‘Hip Flexors’ refers to a group of muscles that flex (or bend) your hip.
There's no formally defined muscle group, because so many muscles contribue to hip movement, so exactly which muscles are classed as "the hip flexors" varies depending on where you look, but a common set of Hip Flexors are:
- Rectus Femoris
You might notice that they all cross over the hip, attaching the pelvis or spine to the leg, so when they contract your thigh moves up towards your torso (or your torso moves down towards your spine).
This occurs daily, when we walk, run, sit, squat… and is an almost unavoidable movement pattern in any form of training!
Hip flexors can be a big problem in our new age of sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and sitting on sofas – our hips are almost constantly in a state of flexion! While this is a normal and natural movement, prolonged periods of flexion without stretching can cause these muscles to tighten and shorten over time, reducing their power output, affecting your standing posture, and even causing back and hip pain.
We’ll go through the best way to strength (and strengthen!) your hip flexors below, but first let’s look at the muscles in more detail!
The Psoas is the only muscle that joins your spine to your leg! The Iliacus and Psoas merge as they join the thigh bone so you might sometimes see this pair of muscles referred to as the iliopsoas.
As one of the hip flexors, its main job is to flex the hip, but it also plays a part in lateral flexion (side stretching) of your torso and stabilising your lumbar spine.
You can easily see how this muscle can lead to back pain, if it is shortened through prolonged periods of sitting without release it can apply pressure directly to the lower back! But remember when trying to solve any chronic pain you should never just target one muscle, instead look at how all the muscles in the area are moving.
The second half of the Iliopsoas muscle! This an important hip flexor muscle as hip flexion is its only function. Some would class only the iliopsoas as your hip flexors, as together they are considered the strongest hip flexing muscles.
If you look at where it is placed on your body, you can see exactly where you want to feel the stretch in the Couch Stretch (below) and why only stretching your quad may not lead to much progress!
This long muscle is one of the four Quadriceps muscles but is the only one of the four that attaches to the hip!
It runs down your thigh and attaches again at your knee, so it not only plays a part in flexing the hip, but also extending your knee which is incredibly useful in actions such as kicking a ball where you need hip flexion & knee extension together.
This small muscle is more often classed as an adductor (muscles which move your thigh inwards), but it’s also a useful hip flexor.
Though it’s a bit hard to see in the image, the pectineus muscle originates on the front of your pelvis (anteriorly) and inserts on the back on the femur (posteriorly), this front-to-back-cross over makes it a powerful primary mover!
The Sartorius is the longest muscle in your body! It runs from your pelvis all the way down across your knee to your tibia (thigh bone), meaning it has lots of functions including hip flexion, thigh abduction, thigh external rotation, knee flexion & lower leg internal rotation.
When you look at muscles like this it becomes easy to see how issues at the hip can cause issues at your knee!
Our Favourite Hip Flexor Exercises
Hip Flexor Stretch As mentioned earlier, tight hip flexors are a really common issue, and it can lead to hip back, back pain, anterior pelvic tilt, and just general lowered performance!
So, to counter that, here’s an easy stretch you can do!
Couch stretch is especially useful when you combine it with Glute Bridges: your glutes extend your hip, so as you create new range of motion at the front, adding strength to the back helps it stick!
A nice circuit for getting your hip flexors lengthened is:
3x 30s Couch Stretch per Side 20x Unweighted Glute Bridges (or 10x Weighted Glute Bridges)
Hip Flexor Strength
Sitting doesn’t only cause tight hip flexors, but also weak hip flexors! In this video we go through a quick test to see if your hip flexors are weak, plus how to work on them using a resistance band!
Or, if you really fancy hitting your hips where it hurts, Compressions are an awesome/horrible way of building strength, give them a go: