Keeping the hip joint healthy is important for longevity and a pain-free life. With convenience and lifestyle factors (a lot of sitting), the hip joint tends to suffer from both tightness and weakness. Here are a couple of tests to determine if your hips are tight of weak and when you should stretch versus when you should strengthen.
Stretch and strengthen the hip flexors: Why?
Your hips may not be tight, they are probably weak.
“Tightness” generally means there is a weakness somewhere that needs to be addressed. This weakness can lead to low back pain, hip or knee pain, and even changes in gait and posture over time. So while we do want to stretch the hips, we also want to strengthen them. Yes, there is a component of flexibility involved in mobility work, but what matters most is that you have the strength and control to own the range of motion you are training.
Having strong and mobile hips is important. This will prevent back pain down the line and allow you to lift heavy on a consistent basis so you can continually make progress.
What are the hip flexors?
The hip flexors are responsible for flexing the hip, and are primarily made up of the psoas major and the iliacus. The rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius also aid in hip flexion.
What causes tight or weak hip flexors?
Typical causes for tight or weak hip flexors are lack of movement (specifically resistance training), and sitting for extended periods regularly.
How to test hip flexor strength
How do you know if you have weak hip flexors? Try this test.
Straddle Leg Lift
- Sit up tall and spread your legs out at an angle keeping the knees locked out.
Press your palms into the floor in front of you and lean forward as you try to lift your feet off the floor.
Do not lean back as this will aid you in lifting your legs, but rather lean forward and attempt to compress your hip flexor to lift the legs off the ground.
How to test for tight hip flexors
The Thomas Test is a standard test used to test hip flexor tightness. While lying on a table, allow your legs to hang freely but ensure your glutes rest on the surface. Pull one knee to your chest and see if you can perform full hip flexion in that leg while keeping your opposite leg hanging toward the ground and extended at the hip. If the opposite hip flexes and raises your leg up or is painful, your hip flexors are most likely tight.
How do you stretch and strengthen your hip flexors?
So, after identifying tightness, weakness, or both, how do we stretch and strengthen the hip flexors?
Well, mobility is movement through a range of motion and that requires stability first. When you consider the stability needs to move through a full and healthy range of motion, you discover that mobility is strength work. If you incorporate the movements below into your routine, you will get the most bang for your buck as far as hip mobility goes.
Loaded Lunge Stretch
Set up in a half kneeling position with your back foot on the wall.
The closer your knee is to the wall, the more challenging this stretch will be.
Grab a light weight and hold it overhead.
While sending your hips forward, contract the glute as you stretch the hip flexor.
Keep the chest upright and the weight lifted overhead with your locked out arm.
From a quadruped position, lift one leg out and to the side with the knee bent.
Be sure to lift the leg high enough that the thigh is parallel to the floor.
While maintaining this position, straighten the lifted leg as fully as you can with a flexed foot.
Be sure the knee does not drop during this portion of the exercise.
Continue to do repetitions and hold for time on the last rep.
Hip Compression Lifts
Seated on the floor, lean forward and place palms on the floor outside the legs.
Lift one foot off the floor while contracting the quads with a locked knee.
Think about pulling the hip flexors into the belly button/spine as you lift.
Give these exercises a try and see how your hips feel. Remember to stretch and strengthen the hip as sitting keeps the hip flexors in a constant flexed position, but it’s passively flexed which can lead to both tightness and weakness.
Looking for a program to help you stretch and strengthen your hips? Check out our strength & mobility program, Bend, Don’t Break. For $20 a month, you can get 5 days/week of workouts that focus on joint health, mobility, and strength.