Do you feel tension in the front of your hips when you stand up, do yoga, run, or workout? To get rid of it you probably try every hip flexor stretch you can find on Google, which feels good for a moment, until you’re forced to sit back in that chair for hours and hours. Sound familiar?
If you’re experiencing tightness in your hip flexors, this guide is here to help you understand the causes and the exercises you can do now, to reduce the tightness and make it a thing of the past. As a bonus, we’ll get those glutes working as well.
WHAT ARE HIP FLEXORS?
Hip flexors (a.k.a. psoas major), are the muscles that bring the femur (thigh bone) up towards your chest. The muscle originates on T-12 through L4 vertebra of the lower back and inserts at the bottom of the femur head.
Any time you’re propelling yourself forward (walking, cycling, running, etc.), your trusty hip flexors partner with your glutes to make it all happen.
WHAT CAUSES TIGHT HIP FLEXORS?
Tight hip flexors are caused by two simple things: 1.) lack of movement and 2.) lack of strength in the tissue. It doesn’t matter how much you crank on them via stretching, if you don’t actually strengthen them, specifically when they’re in the lengthened position, they’ll never loosen up. This is the piece most are missing and why you aren’t getting results.
SYMPTOMS OF TIGHT HIP FLEXORS
The major symptom of the tight hip flexors is mild to severe discomfort or tightness right at the top of your hip. The worst of it usually sets in when standing after being seated for an extended period of time, like at your desk or in a car.
A nasty consequence of tight hip flexors is low back pain. The main hip flexor, the psoas, connects on the vertebra of the lower back and then makes it's way through the body to insert on the front of the hip.
So, if this muscle is tight, the lower back will be forced into excessive extension (think of the butt out position), which will place way too much stress back there. This is an important piece of anatomy to understand and is another reason why it’s so crucial to actually know how to stretch this area properly, otherwise, you’re not actually hitting the hip flexors.
WHY YOUR HIP FLEXORS WON'T UNLOCK
When it comes to relieving tight hip flexors, there are two missing pieces that are holding you back:
Not flexing the lower back when trying to stretch tight hip flexors. Remember when I said how the psoas connects to the lower back? If you don’t tuck your tailbone when trying to stretch this area, you’re missing the most important muscle, the poses.
Only stretching and not strengthening this tissue. I like to think of tight tissue as a warning sign from the nervous system (the part of the body that controls everything) that something is not quite right down there. Usually it’s a cry for help that the tissue is weak and wants to be stronger.
HOW TO UNLOCK TIGHT HIPS FLEXORS
If you've been paying attention, you know that we have to make sure we’re stretching the right way, and we need to get stronger in the posts muscle if we want the tightness to go away permanently. The best way to accomplish this is by using a 1/2 kneeling lunge position with a tucked tailbone to achieve the proper stretch.
After holding this stretch for a little while, we’ll then start performing isometric contractions (contractions where nothing moves). Isometrics allow us to get stronger in this specific range of motion. Don’t worry I have an amazing video below that will go over every small detail to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
HIP EXTENSION PAILS AND RAILS
In the video below, I’ll go over Hip Extension PAILs and RAILs. PAILs and RAILs is just a fancy way of saying isometrics at your end range of motion. Use the following protocol for each leg, 2-3 times per week:
Hold stretch for 2 minutes (remember to really tuck the pelvis underneath you).
Maintaining this position, perform both isometrics for 20 seconds each, for 2 rounds at a 5 out of 10 intensity. After a few weeks you increase the intensity.
Sink back into the original stretch for another 2 minutes.
You technically don’t need any equipment for this, but if you do have chair or even a sturdy foam roller it helps with balance.
BONUS EXERCISE TO UNLOCK TIGHT HIP FLEXORS
Now as a bonus, I’m giving you guys another great exercise with Hip Extension Passive Range Holds. This will help attack those tight hip flexors utilizing the glutes. Your glutes are the main driver for hip extension, therefore, if we get them stronger, the hip flexors will relax even further. Double win!
Start with 3 rounds of 10 seconds for each leg. You have to keep your tailbone tucked just like you did for the first exercise. If you don’t feel your glute and the top of your hamstrings going crazy during these, you’re not tucked enough. No equipment is needed for this.
Tight hip flexors are no fun, especially when you’ve tried everything to get them to loosen up. By following the recommended exercises and tips above, you will be able to reduce tightness in the hip flexor area and improve your range of motion and mobility.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
If you found today's coaching helpful and want the full system to unlock tight, sticky hips…including those hip flexors… then I’d definitely recommend checking out the Healthy Hips 10 Day Challenge where you get step-by-step instruction on what to do and when. Hope to see you inside!
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ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified