Tight hip flexors are a common complaint heard from athletes across all sports. Could it be from sitting in a desk for 8-plus hours a day if they are a student? Absolutely. Is it because they have a weak posterior chain? That’s a likely contributor as well. Maybe they don’t stretch enough? Also probably true. Or maybe it’s their weak anterior core?
The point is that the modern young athlete is at incredibly high risk of having tight hip flexors due to both their lifestyle and common training habits. How do you know if you have tight hip flexors? And if you do, how should you go about fixing them? Read on for your answers.
How Do I Know if I Have Tight Hip Flexors?
The Thomas Test is a simple test used to assess the flexibility of the muscles that flex the hip, most commonly the rectus femoris and iliopsoas muscles. Here is how to perform the Thomas Test on yourself to see if your hip flexors are tight.
- Lie on your back at the very edge of a table with both legs hanging freely off the table.
- Flex your knee and pull it toward your chest, maximally flexing your hip and allowing your other leg to hang freely off the table.
- You lumbar spine should remain flat against the table during the test.
Having someone there to watch or take a picture may to determine a positive or negative test result. If the lower back remains on the table and the down leg remains on the table, then you have a negative test meaning your hip flexors are not a problem. But if your lower back begins to arch or the down leg comes off the table, you, my friend, have tight hip flexors.
This video on the Thomas Test from Upright Health offers a quick how-to:
How Do I Fix My Tight Hip Flexors?
Tight hip flexors need a multi-pronged attack of strengthening and stretching to fix them. Here are three exercises to help you fix your tight hip flexors.
The Smart Hip Flexor Stretch
Most people who perform the hip flexor stretch mean well but are misguided. People will stretch for days, weeks and even months, and wonder why their hips are still tight. I believe that if you haven’t seen some sort of positive gain from a stretch or corrective exercises, you are wasting your time. You would be better off doing something else or maybe you just aren’t doing it right, and that could certainly be the case with the traditional hip flexor stretch.
The above photo shows how most people think you should stretch your hip flexors. The first mistake is lumbar hip extension, leading to anterior pelvic tilt. Then as people “lunge” further into the stretch, they may feel the stretch on the front of the hip, but it may not actually be stretching the tissues that we want. What it may actually be doing is putting stress on the anterior portion of the hip joint. That feeling of a stretch may actually be the hip flexor muscles firing to help provide stability to the hip as you stretch the actual joint itself.
Here is the proper way to stretch your hip flexors
- Assume half-kneeling position.
- Contract your glute on the down leg to create posterior pelvic tilt. At this point you may now feel an adequate stretch on the muscle.
- “Pull your ribs down” or contract your anterior core to further stabilize your pelvis.
- Lunge slightly forward about an inch or two to further increase the intensity of the stretch.
Here’s a photo of how a proper hip flexor stretch should look:
The Dead-Bug Hip Flexor March
Stretching will only attack the tightness of the muscle group. To significantly improve the issue, you must also fix your anterior core strength—an issue that is likely contributing to your tight hip flexors. A weak anterior core can lead to anterior pelvic tilt, causing the hip flexors to become tight as they pull the pelvis anteriorly.
One of my favorite anterior core exercises is the Dead Bug, and adding a miniband into the mix is a great way to integrate anterior core control while strengthening the hip flexors. Adding the miniband places an isometric demand on the hip flexor as you press out against the band with the other leg.
- Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees with a miniband around your feet.
- “Flatten” your back to the ground. You should feel your anterior core contract in this position.
- Slowly press out against the band with one leg while maintaining position of the other leg.
- Return back to start position and repeat.
The Straight-Leg Hip Bridge with Mini-Band March
The anterior core does not act alone in helping to maintain a neutral pelvis. The glutes also help to posteriorly tilt the pelvis.
The Straight-Leg Hip Bridge with Mini-Band March works the entire core in unison. The hip flexors are worked here but in a concentric manner as you actively flex the hip.
- Start this exercise in a supine position with your feet propped up on a bench, small step or even a foam roller.
- Squeeze your glutes while also contracting your anterior core to lift your hips off the floor.
- Maintain a straight alignment of the body.
- Perform Hip Flexor March.