First off, what is the hip flexor? The hip flexor is a group of muscles that allows you to pull your knee in towards your body and bend at the waist. The hip flexors include the Psoas Major and Iliacus. The Rectus Femoris does play a part in hip flexion, but is the weakest of the three and doesn’t give much assistance to the two big guys.
Your hips may feel very tight especially in the front of your body running down your quad. Due to America becoming so advanced over the years, we now spend most of our day sitting at work and school. Now why exactly does sitting for extended periods of time tighten up your hips and hip flexor? Remember, a body in motion will stay in motion, but a body at rest won’t be able to move very easily once it tries to get back up. Ever heard of frozen shoulder? Sometimes after injury a shoulder might be tender and stiff, causing one to baby that arm and stop using it for most tasks, but this is turn can lead to that shoulder completely freezing up with no range of motion. Not moving is the last thing we want to do. Same goes for your hips, even just sitting down for a few hours during the day can change the structure of your body. Think about the position your body is in while you are seated. Your knees are drawn up and there is a crease near your hips. That crease is where your hip flexors are drawn closer together. Stand up and your hip flexors are stretched out.
Now think about being in that position day after day after day. Us hard-working Americans spend about a third of our day sitting. The question is, what will happen to our bodies after doing this long term? The answer is our anterior chain (all the muscles running up and down the front of our bodies) will become shortened, causing our bodies to almost “crunch” forward. You know that adorable elderly man you see at the store that is hunched forward? His body didn’t get that way just because he reached his 80s. His body is shaped that way due to repetitive movements which can include being seated.
Now that we know the problem, let’s talk about a solution. You even hear your personal trainer or coach tell you to get up throughout the day and just move? That’s not just to get in your extra steps throughout the day. It’s also to keep your body stretched out, keep your blood flowing, and keep you from getting those aches and pains in your hips and shoulders that can come from being seated for so long. After all, coming in for a workout or session after sitting all day doesn’t feel good and it takes the body longer to warm up. So recap, number one solution is to stand up and move during the day!
Number two, exercise. No surprise, but getting your body moving through all ranges of motion (think side to side, forward and backward, and rotational) will help stretch your body out and just make you feel better in general. Ever notice how most people who workout consistently have better poster? That’s no accident. Number three, is to stretch! Adding in hip-opening stretches throughout the day and after your workout can help relieve that tight hip-flexor pain you might be getting. Here are a few example stretches to try:
#1: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
For this stretch, you may need a soft pad under your knee. Get in a split stance making sure your forward knee is starting at a 90* angle. From this position, squeeze your glutes and tuck your pelvis under. Then, start to lean forward. Hold this for about 15 seconds, then reach your arm (whichever one is on the same side as your support leg on the floor) up overhead and lean over to the opposite side. Hold here for about 15 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
#2: Pigeon Stretch
The pigeon stretch may not be suitable for everyone. If you have knees issues, the reclined pigeon pose (shown in third photo) is better on your knees and will still open up your hips.
For the pigeon stretch, cross one leg up and place your foot where your front pants pocket would be on the opposite leg. Keep your back leg stretched out straight and drive your hips into the floor. If you are able to, straighten your arms in front of you, keep your neck outstretched and chest up. Hold each position for about 15 seconds (or 30 seconds if you are keeping your arms bent on the ground) then switch legs.
#3: World’s Greatest Stretch
The World’s Greatest Stretch can be used in your warm up as well because it is a dynamic (moving) stretch and you only hold each position for a couple of seconds. To start, lunge one leg forward, plant your front foot and bring both hands to the inside of that planted foot. Keep your back leg as straight as you can while bringing your chest up and hips down. Keep the hand that is closest to your planted foot on the ground while rotating the other hand towards the ceiling and opening up your chest, all the while keeping that back leg straight and hips down.