In my practice as an athletic trainer, probably over 60 percent of the complaints I hear from athletes is because of tight hip flexors. Is it because they sit in a desk for 8 hours a day? Probably. Is it because they have a weak posterior chain? Probably. It is because they don’t stretch enough? Could be a reason but I’m going to show you another reason why an athlete and even an active person may experience tight hip flexors.
Attacking The Wrong Thing
The common thought is to make a tight muscle feel better you must stretch it. For the person who sits all day, stretching is needed to reverse some of the effects of the constant shortened state of the muscle. If you want to learn how to properly stretch the hip flexors, here is a article that I wrote on proper stretch of the hip flexors.
In athletes, stretching may provide temporary relief but it won’t fix the problem. It is common for athletes to experience tight hip flexors after a workout that is heavy on running. Were they tight before the workout?? Most of the time no.
Why They Are Actually Tight
Most athletes and active individuals are tight for one reason, weakness. A weak muscle often becomes tense, and increasingly so when they are stress with activities such as running.
The hip flexors may also be tight due to poor core control. If the core musculature isn’t controlling the pelvis as it should, some of the prime movers of the extremities will have to work harder.
The Hip Flexor March is an exercise you can use to both work on core control as well as strengthen the weak muscles causing the “tight” hip flexors.
The Hip Flexor March
The hip flexor march could be the cure to your tight hip flexors. First let’s talk about the basics of the hip flexor march.
The hip flexor march looks like the dead bug, but without the arm action. Before we can go into the cool stuff we must talk about the baseline move that you can perform before doing the “cool” exercises.
Hip Flexor March w/ No Resistance
I am a believer that you must be able to perform exercises in their purest form, or without resistance, before you can begin adding load. Here is how the exercise is performed
- Lie on back with knees and hips bent at 90 degrees.
- “Flatten” back to the ground, you should feel your anterior core contract.
- Slowly slower and straighten one leg all the way out while holding the other leg in position.
- Return leg to starting position and perform on the other side.
- Maintain anterior core control throughout the exercise.
Band-resisted Hip Flexor March
Once you have learned and mastered the movement without resistance it is time to make things harder. Mini-bands are the perfect addition for this exercise. You loop the bands around your feet and assume the same 90/90 position that you did in the beginner version. Now press one leg against the resistance band until it is fully extended. By adding the band to the exercise, the load is now on the leg still in the starting position. You must resist or stabilize the up leg or it too will be forced to move as well.
After a set of this exercise, you should notice an immediate relief in tightness making it great as a pre-workout “corrective” exercise for those who deal with tight hip flexors. The strong contraction of the musculature actually helps relieve the tightness. Check out the following video to see how to perform the exercise.
Bridging Hip Flexor March
Now it is time to make things MOOOORE difficult. By adding in a hip extension element, you stress every part of the core from your abs, to your glutes, to your hip flexors.
The starting position for this exercise begins with your feet on a bench or even propped up on a foam roller. Squeeze your glutes forcefully to extend the hips. Then perform the hip flexor march.
Your entire core from your chest to your knees will be contracted. It looks simple but is no joke.
Standing Hip Flexor March w/ Resistance
Laying on your back eventually becomes obscelete as you get stronger. We eventually have to start moving on the ground. There is nothing more functional than exercises while standing.
This variation not only puts you in a standing position but it also has a balance component as well.
Check the video below for a demonstration.
It is time to change our thinking on “tight” muscles. Sometimes stretching may not be fixing the problem. Strength most of the time will fix a lot of your problems.