7 Important Hip Flexor Stretches For Mobility

hip flexor stretches

hip flexor stretchesIf you have a desk job, a long commute, or even just sit around watching too much TV, then chances are you have mobility issues through the hips. You might not even realize it because the hips don’t always feel tight.

However, if you have trouble squatting all the way down or experience lower back and leg pain, then your hip flexors are probably tight. Below are 7 hip flexor stretches you can do to improve mobility and stay healthy.

What the Hip Flexors are and why You Should Stretch Them

Before diving into the actual hip flexor stretches themselves, it would behoove you to know what muscles comprise the hip flexors as well as why their mobility is important. The hip flexor group is made up of various muscles including:

  • The ilopsoas (muscles of the inner hip)
  • Tectus femoris and sartorius (muscles of the thigh)
  • Tensor fasciae latae (glutes)
  • Adductors longus and brevis; pectineus; gracilis (muscles of the inner thigh)

Most people spend too much time sitting, driving, or otherwise being sedentary, which causes these muscles to get tight. If they’re tight for too long, they can actually shorten. This can specifically contribute to and cause lower back pain as most of these muscles attach to the lumbar spine. When they get tight, they pull on the lower spine, causing discomfort.

If your hip flexors are tight, chances are your hamstrings are, too. When they’re both too tight for too long, they can actually cause the pelvis to tilt forward, called anterior pelvic tilt. Not only can this cause more lower back pain due to changing the natural curvature of the spine, but it can end up being a chronic condition that continues to exacerbate itself.

Having tight hip flexors, quadriceps, and/or hamstrings can also lead to poor posture in general. This can affect how you stand/walk, as your knees can be pulled out of alignment or your legs can rotate outward. If you legs don’t scissor in a straight line as you walk, or if you look straight down when you stand, and your toes point outward instead of straight ahead, you likely have hip flexor issues.

Deep Squat Hold

Probably the most basic of all hip flexor stretches, this is the perfect place to start if you need to improve your hip mobility. Here’s how to perform a deep squat hold:

  • Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart
  • Rotate your feet a little so that your toes and knees are pointing slightly outward
  • Keeping your weight back on your heels, squat down as low as you can, keeping your torso fairly upright
  • Put your arms between your legs, elbows on the inside of each knee, and palms together
  • Gently push your knees wider with your elbows if need be
  • Hold this position for up to one minute

Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, ilopsoas

Butterfly Stretch

Like the deep squat hold and other hip flexor stretches, you may feel this more in the groin and inner thigh than you do the hip flexor. That’s ok, though – use it to improve mobility throughout all associated muscle groups. Here’s how to perform a butterfly stretch:

  • Sit flat on the ground with your torso upright
  • Place the bottoms of your feet facing each other with your knees pointed outward
  • Bring your heels as close to your groin as you can, keeping your knees pressed out flat toward the ground as possible
  • Feel free to start with your feet further away from you and knees flatter, bringing your feet closer to you as reduced flexibility makes you keep your knees higher
  • hold each incremental position for 10-30 seconds

Muscles worked: adductors, ilopsoas

Traveling Butterfly

Unlike other hip flexor stretches that are static holds, the traveling butterfly is a dynamic variation of the aforementioned butterfly stretch. In this variation, you’ll actually be performing “reps” as you transition from one end of the stretch to the other, and back again. Here’s how to perform a traveling butterfly:

  • Sit flat on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you
  • Place your hands firmly on the ground just forward of your hips
  • Keeping your heels planted on the ground and together, rotate your legs such that your toes and knees are pointing outward
  • Lift your hips slightly off the ground, bend at the knees and ankles, and pull your hips toward your heels, attempting to get into full butterfly stretch position
  • Once you’re as far into a butterfly stretch as you can pull yourself into, return back to the starting position
  • Your hands should stay planted on the ground the entire time
  • Movement back and forward should be continuous and look almost as if your hips were traveling forward and back on a rowing machine, only with your toes and knees pointing outward as possible
  • Repeat for 10-30 reps

Muscles worked: hamstrings, glutes, adductors, ilopsoas

Frog Stretch

This move can really open up the hips. However, because it uses your bodyweight to further the stretch, be sure to be careful that you don’t push too hard, too soon. Here’s how to perform the frog stretch:

  • Get on your hands and knees with arms and thighs vertical
  • Keeping your feet behind you and the balls of your feet on the ground, start to spread your knees out wide
  • Rock back and forth gently in that position, almost as if you were trying to do squats off your knees
  • Repeat for 30-60 seconds

Muscles worked: glutes, adductors, ilopsoas

Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

One of the best hip flexor stretches you can do is from the half kneeling position. Instead of opening the hips, this will allow you to scissors the hips, providing a different type of stretch to the area. Here’s how to perform a half kneeling hip flexor stretch:

  • Lunge your left foot forward, coming down such that your right/rear knee is on the floor (you may want to put it on a yoga mat or folded up towel for comfort)
  • Your left lower leg and right thigh should both be vertical
  • Keeping your torso upright, start to slightly come forward and down with the hips, scissoring them in the direction of your left heel
  • This will cause your right thigh to lean forward into the stretch, but you want to keep your left lower leg still vertical (this is why your hips move toward your front heel)
  • Keep going until you feel a good stretch
  • Hold for up to one minute
  • Switch legs to repeat on the other side
  • For a harder variation and to stretch the hip flexor even more, grab the back foot and pull it up to your glute (this will also cause a significant stretch in the quadriceps)

Muscles worked: quadriceps, glutes, ilopsoas

Bridges

This is one of the more simple hip flexor stretches, but one that should still be incorporated. Not only will bridging give you a chance to lengthen the hip flexor, but strengthen it at the same time. Here’s how to perform a bridge:

  • Lie flat on the floor, arms out to your sides forming a 45-degree angle with your torso, feet flat and only a few inches away from your butt, knees bent
  • Keeping your shoulders flat on the floor and knees together, contract the glutes to bridge your lower back off the floor
  • Drive upward with the hips to bridge your torso as much as possible
  • Hold for up to a minute
  • Keep your feet flat at first, but increase the contraction later by coming up on your toes

Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, ilopsoas

Seated Straddle Stretch

Most people have done this stretch during sports practices or grade school PE class. However, as beneficial as it is, it’s also one of the hip flexor stretches most often incorrectly performed. Here’s how to perform a seated straddle stretch:

  • Sit flat on the floor with your legs spread apart (they don’t have to be too far apart – 45 degrees out either direction from your forward facing center line is good)
  • “Wiggle” your butt side-to-side a little to get comfortable and planted firmly into the ground
  • Start to bend forward at the waist, bringing your torso toward the ground
  • Make sure that your legs rest on your hamstrings/calves – do not let them rotate inward (i.e. – your toes should point upward the entire time)
  • As you lean forward keep your head titled slightly up and your shoulders back so as to keep natural curvature of the spine – you want to only be bending at the waist, not rounding the thoracic spine
  • Hold for up to a minute

Muscles worked: hamstrings, glutes, adductors, ilopsoas

If you’re lacking in mobility, give these hip flexor stretches a shot. You don’t have to do them all every day, but try to do at least one or two daily. Then set aside a little bit of time once or twice per week to run through them all a couple times each. Do this and you’ll find your mobility improving quite quickly.