There are two main muscles we will concern ourselves with today: the psoas and the rectus femoris. The psoas muscle connects the low back directly to the hip. This hip flexor muscle starts attached to not only every bone in the low back, but to the discs as well. Then the fibers of this muscle cross the pelvis and are joined by fibers from another hip flexor called the iliacus to become the iliopsoas. The combined tendon then attaches on to a big bump on the femur, the biggest leg bone. There are some minor anatomical variants, but this one is the most common.
The other main hip flexor we will address is called the rectus femoris. Not only is this awesome muscle a hip flexor, but it’s also part of the quadriceps group. It attaches to a bump on the bone just above the hip socket and then runs down the thigh and joins the patellar tendon
How To improve hip flexor tightness
In general, most of us know how to stretch our hips. Stretching is great and can provide some short-term relief, but we should always follow stretching up with some kind of resistance exercise or a control drill to help make the changes last a little longer. By following a stretch up with an exercise, we can tell our brain “hey look! We made some changes we want to last a little longer. Figure out how to use the new range of motion!” Here is my suggestion for a quick hip routine to help loosen you up. If you have any pain with any of these movements, please stop and consult a healthcare provider.
When to use this routine:
AFTER A LONG CAR RIDE
AFTER SITTING FOR AN HOUR OR TWO
AS PART OF A MORNING STRETCHING ROUTINE
THE COUCH STRETCH
This stretch is a staple in most fitness circles for good reason. It’s called the couch stretch for a reason! This stretch requires minimal to no equipment other than a bench, chair, or wall, and maybe a pad. This stretch targets both the muscles we discussed earlier - the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris. Watch the video below for a full explanation of the couch stretch!
ACTIVE LEG LOWERING ON THE DOOR
This stretch doesn’t directly target either of the hip flexors, but I does work well to help inhibit hamstring tightness, which in turn may help the hip flexors relax as the brain tries to balance out the hip. Bonus points: this one feels real nice when done correctly. Try touching your toes before and after this stretch!
There are many different variations on the lunge. Yoga has the right idea with the various warrior poses. When we stretch out, we need to figure out how to control the new range of motion. With the hip flexors, lunge variations can be a great way to take the hip through a large and controlled ROM. In the video below I demonstrate several different techniques to do this. Get creative!
This one is so much harder than it looks. Use a light resistance band (or maybe no band at all) to start with and build up from there. Make sure your core is braced while you pull your knee to your chest actively. The core activation is key, so pay close attention to that part!
Hip flexor tightness can contribute to low back pain and stiffness. When we stretch out any part of our body, it is important to also do some motor control and strength drills as well. Try the exercises outlines above to relieve some of your pain!