Improving Hip Flexor Mobility and Strength

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As an exercise and strength community, we place a lot of emphasis on developing our overall strength, cardiovascular capacity, and general fitness. While we place a lot of emphasis on developing our "show" muscles, we often overlook our joints, tendons, and "go" muscles. One muscle group that tends to get overlooked a lot in the strength community is the hip flexors. Even in the athletic community where there is more of a need for work on the hip flexors, they muscles still tend to get overlooked. As a matter of fact there is not a lot of info out there about direct hip flexor work. Today we are going to take a closer look at the hip flexors. We will learn more about the hip flexor anatomy, their importance, individual hip flexor state, and how to stretch and strengthen them.

The Hip Flexors-

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that flex the thigh bone onto the pelvis. To put it in simpler terms, the hip flexors help control pulling the knee upward. The same function is responsible for the movement of the abdomen towards the thigh (for example, a sit-up.)
The three major muscles of the hip flexor are considered the Psoas major, Psoas minor, and the lliacus muscle. Together they are better known as a group called the iliopsoas or inner thigh muscles. Hip flexor muscles are also very important in other task of the hips such as:

         Knee extensor: (straightening of the knee)

         Knee flexor: (bending of the knee)

         Hip abductor: ( moving the hip outwards from the body)

         Hip adductor: ( moving the hip inwards toward the body)

         Hip lateral rotator: ( Rotating the hip away from the body)

         Hip medial rotator: ( Rotating the hip around towards the body)

         Spine lateral flexor and anti-rotator: (rotating and bending away)

         Spine flexor: (bending)


Importance of the Hip Flexors-

Hip flexors are very important because like stated earlier they play a major role in everyday hip mobility. Simple everyday activities like walking, running, fighting a band of crazy ninjas in a dark alley or climbing a flight of stairs all involve the hip flexors. With a muscle group that is so involved in everyday activity, it seems pretty important that we take care of them. The better the overall hip mobility, the more athletic ability you will have in general. Now let us look at the importance of the hip flexors in four different types of fitness groups.

The Athlete-

Out of all our groups this is probably the one where hip flexor strength and mobility is the most crucial. Sprinters for example can create longer strides and higher knee lifts with stronger more flexible hip flexors. Soccer players are another example for the benefits of strong and mobile hip flexors. Not only do they use their hip flexors for tons of sprinting but kicking a soccer ball involves knee extension along with hip flexion at the same time.


The Powerlifter-

Hip flexor power and mobility is of the up most importance during squatting. Most lifters overlook the importance of the hip flexors because they really are not a prime mover during the squat. The prime mover in the squat is actually the hip extensor. This does not mean the hip flexors are any less important though.

Hip flexors have two very important jobs when it comes to squatting. The first job is making sure the glutes fire properly. If a person’s hip flexors are too tight they don’t allow for a full lockout of the hips, making it so the glutes can not work to their optimum capacity. The second job is making sure the pelvis does not rotate forward. If your pelvis rotates forward your torso will also rotate forward, causing a forward lean when you squat. If your hip flexors are too tight, it becomes harder to keep this erect torso the deeper you descend into a squat. The deeper you squat the more the hip flexors become involved. If your hip flexors are inflexible and cannot fully extend your glutes do less firing and the lower back does most of the work, this inflexibility of the hip flexors can easily lead to injury because the wrong muscles end up doing most of the work.


Hip Flexor Squat Test-

Anyone who does not believe hip flexors play a role in squatting should try this test.

 This is really good for people who seem to have trouble hitting parallel on their squats.

          Set up a barbell for squatting.

         Use a weight you would use for a light warm up of ten reps

         Place the barbell on your back and do your warm up for only fiver reps.

         Re-rack the bar and then do 10 high knee lifts for each leg. Try and touch your chest with each knee lift or lift your knee as high as you can.

         Un-rack the barbell again and then do another five rep warm up with the barbell.

What you should notice from this simple test is how your torso stands upright as compared to the warm up before the knee lifts. Another thing to look for is depth you can achieve after the knee lifts as compared to before. It should be much easier to achieve a lower depth with a more upright torso.

The Bodybuilder-

Bodybuilders differ from other athletes and powerlifters because they are not concerned with the functional aspect of the hip flexors per say. Bodybuilders are however very concerned with building the muscles around the hip flexors though. Many of the exercises bodybuilders use to build some of their muscles heavily involve hip flexor strength and mobility. Deadlifts, Squats, Lunges, and Leg Raisers are just a few of the many bodybuilder exercises that hit the hip flexors to some degree.


 The Figure Competitor-

Much of the same rules for the bodybuilder can be applied to the Figure competitor.  Hip flexors would be a little more important to her training however. One of the criterias of the figure competitor is a set of strong shapely looking glutes. This means figure competitors would place more direct emphasis on targeted glute training. Like we discussed earlier to get the most from your glute training, you need hip flexors that are strong and mobile and don’t inhibit glute firing.


The Fighter-

The fighter is right up there with the athlete when it come to a need of hip flexor strength and mobility. Fighters are constantly changing positions and levels which require a ton of hip flexor mobility. Any fighter that uses a lot of kicks and knees not only has to have mobile hip flexors but also strong hip flexors. If your trying to knee someone in the face and your hip flexor strength is not that strong, you limit the effectiveness of your strike.


Assessing the State of Your Hip Flexors-

One thing that seems fairly common when talking about the hip flexors is most people don’t care about them until they have a problem with them. The two main problems that seem to occur with people and their hip flexors are either they are a.) Tight and inflexible or b.) Not very strong or durable.

Tight hip flexors are probably the more common of the two problems. Sitting for long periods of time can be a major contributor to this problem. When a person sits for long periods of time the hip flexors eventually begin to shorten. This eventually leads to lack of range of motion and tightness in the hip flexors. Tightness in the hip flexors can bring on a whole host of new problems. Hip flexor tightness can lead to the glutes not working properly, tight hamstrings, hamstring tightness and pulls, lower back problems, pelvic tilting, and various knee problems.

Weak hip flexors tend not to be as common as tight hip flexors or maybe weak hip flexors are more of a case of people not knowing they are weak.  Hip flexor strains and pulls seem to be more and more common everyday. A lot of people seem to attribute this to simply tight hip flexors. Now while tight hip flexors can lead to shortening of the muscles. Strains and pulls are becoming more common even in people who regularly stretch their hip flexors. Muscle strains and pulls are also usually an indication of a muscle or group of muscles not having the endurance they should.

Here are two great tests for your hip flexors. The first test is used to test the mobility of your hip flexor. The second test is used to determine the strength of your hip flexors.


Hip Flexor Mobility Test


1.      Lie on your bed on your back with your legs and feet dangling off the edge of the bed 

2. Pull Your knee into your chest so one leg is curled up like a ball. 

Slowly lower one leg until a stretch is felt in that leg or the thigh comfortably rests on the bed with calf and foot dangling off edge.  Repeat with opposite side.



 If you could get your thigh all the way to the bed’s surface without feeling any sort of stretch, your psoas is not too tight on the side of the leg that was lowering. 

 If your thigh stops part way to the surface of the bed and you feel a stretching sensation in your abdominals or on the front of your upper thigh, your psoas is too tight on the side where you feel the stretch, and you should commit to regularly stretching the psoas muscle on that side until you can pass this test. 

Hip Flexor Strength Test


Stand upright with your back to a wall, feet together, heels three inches from the wall, back of head touching the wall


Lift one of your thighs as high as it will go until it is above horizontal (at the least)

Hold this position for 30 seconds


If you could hold your thigh above horizontal the whole time, your psoas is not too weak. Just because your psoas isn't weak doesn't mean you can't benefit from strengthening you psoas and your hip flexors more generally, however.


 If your thigh drops below horizontal before 30 seconds has passed, the psoas on the side of the thigh that was raised is weaker than optimal, and you should consider strengthening it.

Exercises For the Hip Flexors-

Here are some exercises you can do to help stretch and strengthen the hip flexors.’

Stretching Exercises-

These exercises would be good if you have tight hip flexors and hip flexor mobility needs to be worked on.


Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel on your right knee, cushioning your kneecap with a folded towel.

Place your left foot in front of you, bending your knee and placing your left hand on your left leg for stability.

Place your right hand on your right hip to avoid bending at the waist. Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tight.

Lean forward, shifting more body weight onto your front leg. You'll feel a stretch in your right thigh.

Hold for about 30 seconds.

Switch legs and repeat.


Lying Hip Flexor Stretch

This one is exactly like the Hip Flexor Mobility Test except instead of using it as a test you’re using it for stretching purposes.

Hold for about 10-15 seconds.

Switch legs and repeat.


Overhead Lunges

This is possibly the best exercise you can do for opening up your hip flexors. It is basically a normal lunge, but you hold a medicine ball, barbell, or a light plate above your head. Out stretch your arms, keep them straight, directly above your head, and complete the lunges. You have something that is called the fascia; it’s basically a sheath that runs over your muscles. Your fascia is a big issue in hip flexor tightness, and often when that is loosened, the muscle is too. Holding something above your head whilst lunging stretches this fascia out, and you get the added hip flexor stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds. Alternate legs and repeat.


Strengthening Exercises-

These exercises will work well if you need to build muscle strength and endurance in the hip flexors.


Hip Flexor Curls

These are tremendous for building up the hip flexor strength.  The picture below shows them being done on an actual hip flexor machine but those are really rare to find. Since hip flexor machines are so rare you can instead do them on a lying hamstring curl machine. To do them lay down on a hamstring curl machine the opposite of how you would normally lay. Instead of lying on your stomach facing up, you want to get on the machine lying on your back. Set the weight pin to a pretty light weight. Hook one of your feet under the leg curl attachment and curl your leg up till it is up around your chest level. Do 10-15 repetitions. Alternate legs and repeat.

If you do not have a hamstring curl machine around, you can get some therapy bands and anchor them to a sturdy support and perform them that way.


Here is a video of them being done on a lying hamstring curl machine.

Overhead Squat

Performing a squat while holding a bar overhead, opens up your hip area,  This does a great job for promoting  hip flexor range of motion. When most people attempt to squat with tight hip flexors, the lower they get, the more they will want to bend forward. If you picture the hip flexors, they attach from the upper thigh, onto the lower back, if these are tight, as you try to get lower, your hip flexors will pull you forward. By holding the bar above your head, you have to stay up straight, basically lengthening your hip flexors during a dynamic movement.  The weight of the overhead bar also is great for building hip flexor strength.


Barbell Step Ups

Barbell Step Ups do an excellent job at strengthening the hip flexors. Barbell step ups also help strengthen the hip flexors by placing the load put upon you in a more upright position. The key for getting the most out of your barbell step ups is to use a step height that places your leg close to a 90 degree position when you lift your leg up. The higher you step the more you use your hip flexors. The key is not to step so high that you loose your form when you step up. If you have to lean forward on your step up then your step is probably too high. Do 10-15 repetitions. Alternate legs and repeat.


Weighted Knee Ups

This is a pretty good one for isolating the hip flexor muscles. It can be used with a smith machine, tension bands, or ankle weights.  The good thing about these is you won’t need a ton of weight to get a great effect from them. The knee that you’re lifting will be the knee that pushes the weight up.  In a slow controlled motion, you want to lift your working leg up as high as you can and then back down again. The key with these is to not swing or jerk the weight up but move in a controlled motion. Do 10-15 repetitions. Alternate legs and repeat.


The hip flexors are one of the most important muscle groups when it comes to the body and performance. No matter what type of physical activity a person prescribes to, the hip flexors will play a role in their performance and mobility. Unfortunately the hip flexors tend to get overlooked very often.  Because the hip flexors are often overlooked, people often suffer from tight or weak hip flexors. This can lead to a variety of problems from limited mobility to various muscle and joint problems. People should regularly test their hip flexor mobility and strength and if either is lacking, perform stretches or exercises to fix the problems. That often overlooked muscle group could be the difference between you and a more mobile and stronger you!

*Disclaimer- This information in this article is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always consult a physician before you begin any new exercise program, start, stop, or change anything that has been previously prescribed...

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All articles on this site are authored or co-authored by Jarueba Taylor. They are the copy written  property of Taylored Nutrition.