Have you ever felt discomfort in your hip flexors but stretching doesn’t seem to help? It’s common to confuse weak hip flexors for tight hip flexors; however, many people actually experience both. Sedentary lifestyles that include lots of sitting leave the hip flexors in a constant state of contraction, causing tightness. Also, due to a lack of exercise the hip flexor complex is weak in many cases.

What exactly are “hip flexors” anyway?

As trainers, when we use the term hip flexors, we’re referring to any of the soft tissues that work to flex the hip joint. It’s a group of five muscles, their main function is to flex the leg and knee towards the upper body, think of standing up straight and raising one knee towards the chest. Chronic pain and postural distortions are common with de-conditioned hip flexors because of their attachments.

The hip flexor complex attaches at the spine, pelvis and femur, therefore a disruption creates imbalance all over the body and inhibits normal movement patterns. In addition, the psoas major (one of the hip flexors) is one of only two muscles that connects the upper and lower body. These attachments affect the body’s ability to stand up straight, flex the trunk laterally, and even get up from the ground.

The hip flexors are vital for normal movement patterns and it’s important to determine if yours are functioning correctly. It’s a complex area of the body both in terms of “tasks” performed, and anatomy required. So it’s not surprising that is often a trouble spot for people. Read on to learn more about determining if it could be tight or weak hip flexors that are contributing to your difficulties.

How can I check what might be wrong?

There are a few major signs of poor hip flexor health. For example, tight hip flexors tilt the pelvis anteriorly (forward, as if a bowl is spilling) which causes an unnatural curve of the spine called hyperlordosis. Another job of the hip flexors is helping stabilize the lower back, so a weakness in these muscles compromises core strength and alignment in the body. Other symptoms include low back pain especially after sitting, weak abdominals, and of course discomfort in the hips.

Even if you don’t experience any of these symptoms it’s important to find out if you have proper hip flexor health since not everyone will show these signs.

There are two easy tests for hip flexor strength and flexibility, they can be performed anywhere without equipment.

Thomas test

  • Start by sitting on the edge of a bench or table with feet flat on the floor
  • Lay back hugging the knees to the chest
  • Slowly release one knee and return towards the starting position with the bottom of the foot flat on the floor
  • In order to pass, the foot must be able to reach the floor while keeping the other knee hugged into the chest, make sure to test both sides

Hip flexor strength test

  • Start by standing with feet shoulder width, raise one knee up and hug into the chest
  • Release hands from knee and use the hip flexors to hold the knee in the same position
  • Passing this test requires that the knee doesn’t fall when the hands release, a minimum of a 10 second hold demonstrates proper strength
  • If balance is an issue hold onto something with one hand and hug the knee with the free hand
  • Test both sides

Tips for better hip flexor health

People who sit long periods of time for work or school should get up and move around every half hour allowing the hip flexors to relax. Modern day lifestyles include long periods of sitting, and the more breaks we can give our body the better.

From a training standpoint it’s important to include anterior and posterior chain exercises, training both the front and back sides of the body provides balance and proper muscle length. Failing to follow a comprehensive training program that acknowledges muscle imbalances can force the body to compensate and fall out of alignment.

For every quad heavy exercise like squats and lunges, include compound movements for the hamstrings and glutes like kettlebell swings and Romanian deadlifts. Ask your personal trainer about testing the flexibility, mobility and strength of your hip flexors. Based on your test results and fitness level, your trainer is likely already building your programing to improve the health of your hip flexors. Need help getting on the right track? Our team at Hyatt Training can help!

Hyatt Strength + Wellness is a collective of certified, enthusiastic and innovative independent personal trainers in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about our personal trainers or to set up a free consultation to see how they could help you, email us at Go@HyattTraining.com. To read more exercise-related posts like this one, follow this link.