Whether you're new to running or have just recorded your personal best time in an ultramarathon, you’ll be familiar with the unique twinge you get from tight hip flexors. If you don't know what a hip flexor is, they'll make themselves known anyway.
The group of muscles that help you flex and pull your legs toward your body, the hip flexors are a common point of strain for joggers of all ability levels.
Maintaining flexibility throughout your hip flexors will improve your speed, help you run for longer periods, and make exercise less painful, so it's important to keep them loose and limber. We consulted with Missouri-based functional fitness expert and army ranger Eric Ng to learn the best stretches for this key muscle group. “I always stretch before and after a run, whether I'm doing seven miles for endurance, Tabata intervals, or a fun run 5k for charity,” he says. “You should, too.”
Hip bridges may not look like much when you see someone else perform them, but they'll make all the difference for your form and ability. Hip bridges target the hamstrings and glute muscles, as well as the hip flexors. “Not only does it loosen both sides at once, it's a good way to ‘accidentally’ stretch your hip flexors while strengthening those muscles.” says Ng. Talk about a two-for-one!
- Lie down on the ground with your feet planted close to your glutes and your palms on the ground.
- Lift your hips off the ground and push them as far toward the ceiling as you can.
- Contract your abs and glutes to maximize your range and stretch your hip flexors further.
- Hold this for as long as you can.
When the stretching feeling begins to diminish, see if you can push yourself a little further toward the ceiling. Hold this for about thirty seconds to a minute.
Downward Facing Frog
This move should be familiar to anyone who does yoga on rest days.
- Begin in the “child’s pose,” with your shins flat on the ground and knees hip-width apart.
- Sit back on your heels and fold your torso forward, placing your palms down on the ground in front of you.
- Align your shoulders, knees, and hips before continuing deeply. If you feel pain, stop here!
- If you can go further, breathe out and walk your knees as far away from each other as you can. When you feel like you can't go out any more, relax into the stretch and breathe.
- Get deeper by pushing your chin down toward your chest and walking your hands away from your body. Hold this for about about 30 seconds, but stay longer if it feels good.
“The deep lunge is my favorite because it elongates the whole leg and works on your balance and stability in addition to stretching your hip flexors,” says Ng.
- Start by stepping your right leg as far forward as you can and lunge forward, keeping your left leg straight.
- Push your hips as far forward as you can and hold for thirty seconds.
- Step back and switch legs.
Make sure your knee doesn't track over your toes as you perform this one! If you need a little support, you can rest your hands on the small of your back to help keep your balance.
Stretching is an important part of any exercise plan, so don't skimp on it! Stretches shouldn't be an afterthought if you're serious about improving your running ability. Make it a priority to loosen your muscles before and after each workout, even if it's just for a few minutes. They’re a great way to ensure you're limber before you get into the toughest part of your run, and they help prevent the injuries that can sideline you!