Tight hip flexors are not uncommon, in fact a lot of people today have that exact issue and may be unaware of it. It’s important to understand exactly what it means to have tight hip flexors as this can enable you to help your young athletes. They may actually have tight muscles in the hips that need stretching or there could be a need to strengthen the hip flexors or related muscles like the core or glutes.
What Are Hip Flexors?
First, you have to understand what the hip flexors are, what they do, and how you know when they’re tight. The term hip flexors refers to a group of muscles in and around the hips that help move the legs and the trunk together, as when you lift your leg up, bending at the hip.
Muscle Groups in the Hip Flexors
The hip flexor includes:
- The iliopsoas, this is made up of 2 muscles called the psoas and the iliacus
- The Sartorius
- The rectus femoris
- The tensor fasciae latae
Together these muscles produce flexion, the movement and tightening of muscles that allows for flexion of the hip joint. They also help to stabilize the spine.
Strengthening the core is important to supporting the hip flexors, however a variation on exercises besides sit ups may be your best bet when it comes to figuring out a way to strengthen the core.
Recognizing Tight Hip Flexors
The obvious sign, of course, is that these muscles just feel tight. Stretching can feel painful and resistant to movement. But, there are other signs too. Tight hip flexor muscles can impact several other areas of your body, so you might have:
- Lower back pain or tightness, more specifically when standing
- Poor posture and difficulty standing up straight
- Pain in the glutes
If your hip flexors are fine you should be able to fully extend the thigh so its parallel to the floor and bend the knee to 90 degrees without the thigh rising up.If you find these things difficult to perform there is a good chance you have tight hip flexors.
What Causes Hip Tightness?
For most people, the biggest cause of tightness is what we do all day long: sitting for too long is a major culprit in tightening the hip flexors as well as constant tension or pressure on those particular muscles from improper movements or exercise. Some athletes are also more prone to tightness. Runners use the hip flexors, especially the iliopsoas, to lift the leg up with each stride. This repeated shortening of the muscle isn’t compensated for by a lengthening movement.
Core Strength: Having a weak core can also be an issue that contributes to tight hip flexors. Because these muscles are connected to and stabilize the spine, they often take over when the core is not strong. This can lead to tightening and pain. You see this a lot in younger athletes.
Moves that strengthen the hip muscles, glutes, and the core will all be useful in preventing tightness in the hip flexors as well as injuries. These moves can improve strength and provide a good stretch simultaneously:
1. Glute bridges
This move will work your hips, core, and glutes. Lying on your back with knees bent, lift the hips up as high as possible and squeeze the glutes. To make it more difficult, cross one leg over the opposite knee and lift one side at a time. A glute bridge hold with weight is also a good mechanism to try.
2. Pistol squats
This can be used as a tool to really focus on one side at a time. Lower into a typical squat and lift one leg up and back as you rise back up to standing position. Stretch the opposite leg out straight to lengthen hip flexors while also working the glutes.
3. Single Leg Wall Sits
This is a personal favorite because you get a mixture of strength and stretching. To begin you must lean against the wall sideways with one leg off the ground and your knee even with your hip while connecting at 3 points which are your shoulder, hip, and knee. From there to make it more difficult the foot that remains on the ground must be further away from the wall then proceed by holding each side for 30-45 secs.
Having tight hip flexors can cause injuries, pain, and restricted mobility, so it’s worth taking a few minutes per day to stretch them out if you have tightness. Here are some stretches to try, for you or your athletes:
1. Foam Roll
This can be useful in stretching and loosening hip muscles. Get into a forearm plank position on the ground with the roller under the front of one hip. Let the other leg stay out to the side, off the roller. Roll up and down for about 30 seconds, focusing on points that feel especially tight.
2. Butterfly Stretch
Sit on the floor with the bottoms of your feet pressed together. Let the knees fall outward to stretch the hips while adding a slight push on your knees to the ground in increase the stretches effectiveness.
3. Low Lunge
Perform a deep lunge with the right leg forward. Gently let the left knee rest on the ground and straighten that leg as much as possible. Put your palms flat on each side of the right foot, then raise the left arm up above your head and lean to the right. Hold a few seconds and repeat on the other side.
All in all, taking care of this issue before it occurs is the key way to prevention. Knowing the proper techniques and stretches before exercise can prevent any long term injuries as well as acute injuries that can get annoying especially to your young athletes dealing with them.