Tightness and weakness of the hip flexors can cause lower back pain, hip pain, and injury. Hip flexor exercises, including yoga poses, can help strengthen and relieve tension.
While not everyone can have hips as agile as Shakira’s, we can all benefit from stretching and strengthening the muscles that support these ball-and-socket joints.
Our hips aren’t just responsible for the rocking dance moves we bust out on occasion. They’re a vital joint for runners, bikers, and nonathletes alike, because they are essential for mobility and movement.
Sitting for much of the day, as most of us do, contributes to tight hip flexors. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with weakness in the hip muscles — not just the hip flexors but also the muscles that oppose them, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and abductors (
Tightness and weakness of the hip flexors can cause lower back pain, hip pain, and injury (2,
And hip problems don’t stop there. Research has found that hip replacement and hip arthroscopy — a procedure doctors use to diagnose joint issues — are on the rise in the United States (
The hip flexors are a group of muscles responsible for flexing the hip, or bringing the leg upward toward the body. The primary hip flexors are the psoas major and the iliacus, which, collectively, are often called the iliopsoas.
The psoas originates from the lower six vertebrae of your spine. The iliacus originates from the inside bowl of your pelvis. They meet and insert on the top of the femur, or upper leg bone (
The iliopsoas works to stabilize the trunk during activities such as lifting, pushing, and pulling. The iliopsoas also draws the knees toward the chest. An example of this is swinging your leg forward when running and when performing kicking movements in sports such as soccer (7).
To help you avoid busting your body when you’re busting a move — or when you’re simply walking down the street — here are 8 great hip flexor exercises and stretches to keep you strong and flexible and maximize your hip mobility.
An important note
In many people who sit all day, the hip flexors are not only weak but also very tight, causing the pelvis to tilt. Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, abductors, and adductors is important to balance out hip mobility and the positioning of the pelvis.
Hip flexor strengthening exercises may worsen the hip tension that some people already experience. Working with a physical therapist or certified personal trainer who can assess your body’s unique needs is always a good idea.
Try these stretches to loosen your hip flexors and joints. They’re meant to increase the range of motion the joint can move through. These stretches are great to perform after a workout, when your body is warmed up.
1. Half kneeling hip flexor stretch
This simple move will stretch the iliopsoas/hip flexors on the rear leg and the glutes on the front leg. You can perform this with a folded towel under your knee or on a yoga mat.
- Kneel on the floor with your left foot flat in front of you and your right knee on the floor behind you.
- Keep your trunk tall during this exercise. You can keep your hands on your left knee for balance.
- Gently slide your right knee back until you feel a small stretch in the front of your hip.
- Squeeze your right glute like you are pushing forward, bringing your trunk and hips toward your left foot. Tuck your hips slightly, creating a pelvic tilt.
- Take a deep breath and hold this pose for 10–30 seconds.
2. Knee to chest stretch
- Lie on your back with your legs extended on the floor. Slowly bend one knee toward your chest.
- Keeping your back flat, pull your knee as close to your chest as is possible without discomfort.
- Stretch your straight leg out as far as possible and squeeze your glute.
- Return to the starting position and repeat with your opposite leg.
- If you do not feel a stretch, try performing this stretch on a bench with your lower leg hanging off.
3. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon, a popular yoga pose, is an advanced move. Do it only if you feel comfortable with the pose. Feel free to modify it by doing a figure four stretch while lying down or sitting in a chair.
- Start in a plank position.
- Lift your left foot off the floor and slide it forward so your knee is on the floor next to your left hand and your foot is near your right hand. Exactly where your knee and toes fall will depend on your flexibility.
- Slide your right leg back as far as you can while keeping your hips square. Lower yourself to the floor and onto your elbows, bringing your upper body down as far as possible.
- Hold the stretch without letting your chest fall. Once you feel like you’ve gotten a good stretch, switch sides.
This exercise strengthens the gluteal muscles but can also help lengthen the hip flexors.
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet on the floor, hip-distance apart. Try to position your feet so your fingers can touch your heels.
- While squeezing your glutes, press into your heels and lift your hips off the floor toward the ceiling. You should feel this in your glutes and hamstrings, not your lower back.
- Hold the position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position, then repeat several times. Don’t forget to breathe!
Try these exercises to strengthen your hip flexors.
Lunges work the lead glute and quad muscles (including the rectus femoris, which is also a hip flexor). They also stretch the hip flexors on the rear leg, which have to lengthen, depending on how far you step forward.
- From a standing position, look straight ahead and take a generous step forward with your right foot. Keep your trunk upright throughout the movement.
- Bend your extended knee and transfer your weight onto your right leg. Continue to lower yourself slowly into the lunge until your left knee hovers just above, or softly touches, the floor. Your right knee should be directly above your right ankle.
- Step back into a standing position. Repeat with your left leg in front.
6. Floor-sliding mountain climbers
Grab some sliding discs, paper plates, or even hand towels — basically, anything that slides. Get ready to climb!
- Position yourself on a wood floor or another smooth surface.
- Place the sliders under the balls of your feet while in a pushup position.
- Pull your right leg toward your chest, alternating with your left leg as you would for standard mountain climbers.
- Go slowly at first, then pick up the pace.
7. Straight-leg raise
This exercise works the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris. The abdominal muscles pitch in to stabilize the trunk as the leg lifts.
- Lie on your back with one knee bent. Extend the opposite leg, keeping the knee straight.
- Tighten your abdominals as you lift the leg up so the thigh is in line with the opposite bent knee.
- Hold for a count of 2, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat.
8. Psoas hold
This move strengthens the deep hip flexor muscle known as the psoas, which can increase stride length and reduce injury. A win-win situation!
- From a standing position, bend your right knee and lift your upper leg up to the sky.
- Balance on your left foot while keeping your right knee and thigh at hip level for about 30 seconds.
- Lower your right leg slowly, then repeat with your left leg.
- Remember to keep your trunk tall during the entire movement. If you head bobs forward or your trunk is rounding, don’t lift your leg as high.
Now that you’re armed with these stretching and strengthening moves, practice them on a regular basis. Remember, keeping your hips mobile and strong can help you stay injury-free and off the operating table!