From the Himalayas, to the Great White North, the hip flexors are probably the most often cited by humans everywhere as being their most tight muscle. The hamstrings may give it a good run for its money, but the two are often related and we’ll explore why.
Once someone labels their hips as being tight, and can’t get into a squat without warming up, they will often embark on this crusade of hip openers and mobility drills to wrench it open. A lot of trainers will prescribe 20 minutes daily of stretches, foam rolling, and 90-90 stretches in an effort to loosen and free the hips to allow for comfort and range of motion.
Here’s what will most likely happen…
You will do these hip mobility drills.
Workout, feel pretty good.
The next day, tight again.
Hip mobility drills.
Workout, feel 1% better than last time.
But what happens when you break that cycle? When you don’t foam roll one workout, what do you think will happen?
It ain’t going to feel so hot.
Let’s explore why that is.
Foam rolling, and to an extent mobility drills/stretching, is based on the premise of autogenic inhibition; which is basically saying that rolling out will have an inhibitory effect on the neural receptors in your muscles, causing them to relax.
And that’s true, for about 15-20 minutes. All you’re really doing with that is putting a temporary band-aid over a larger root issue.
A tight hip flexor is, more than often, stemming from a weak hip flexor.
The solution is to train and strengthen those muscles to teach them how to contract, and in turn, how to lengthen, under load which in the long term will give you more freedom and range of motion.
!!DISCLAIMER!! Stretching and foam rolling is in no way harmful and can have a positive effect in a lot of ways, just understand what it’s going to do for you and the limitations it might have in effectively managing pain/discomfort.
Below are a few hip flexor exercises that you can incorporate to either work the hip flexor isometrically, or take it through a contractile range of motion.
SINGLE LEG 90 HOLD W/ ISOMETRIC HIP FLEXION
Focus on keeping the hip and knee flexed at 90 degrees, with the ankle flexed and the stance leg locked out.
3 SETS ~ 20 SECONDS/SIDE
LYING SINGLE LEG BANDED HIP FLEXION
Pull to where the knee and hip are again at 90 degrees, pausing at the top, then using a 3 second count on the negative.
3 SETS ~ 8-10/SIDE
Here we are taking the quad and hip flexor in its shortest position due to knee extension and hip flexion, so range of motion will be limited which is totally fine. The goal isn’t to see how high you can go, the goal is to get a contraction in the targeted muscles.
3 SETS ~ 10/SIDE
Oh and back to the hamstrings…by strengthening your hip flexors, it stands to reason that it will take some load off of the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings).