5 Best Hip Flexor Stretches

(Getty Images)

If you’re like most people and spend most of your day sitting, there’s a good chance you have tight hip flexors. These critical muscles, which connect our torso to our legs, are integral to everyday movement and good posture.

However, spending long hours at a desk, on the couch or in the car, many people suffer from the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.

Causes of tight hip flexors

The hip flexors are a group of muscles along the front of the upper leg. They are made up of five muscles – the psoas major, iliacus, pectineus, rectus femoris and sartorius – which work together to bend the hip and lift the thigh when you walk, run or stand.

“They’re also an important part of trunk stability, core strength and hip stability,” says Trevor Delaney, a board-certified primary spine practitioner and director of the physical therapy program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Institute.

When you spend a lot of time sitting, the hip flexor muscles shorten and tighten.

However, desk workers aren’t the only ones prone to developing tight hip flexors. Over time, hip flexor tightness can also affect athletes who engage in sports and physical activities that require repetitive hip flexion or hip stabilization – such as cycling, running or soccer. In those cases, the muscles tighten to try to protect the hip joint, explains Fabio Comana, a professor of exercise physiology at San Diego State University and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Best hip flexor stretch

Relieve discomfort and increase hip flexor flexibility with the following stretches.

Half-kneeling lunge

Demonstration of stretching the hip flexors to half the knee.

(US News/Shanley Chien)

  1. Kneel on the floor and extend your right leg forward so that your right foot is flat on the floor and your right thigh is parallel to the floor.
  2. Place your hands on the floor on either side of your feet. When you feel stable, place your hands on your hips or right knee for support as you straighten your back in an upright position.
  3. Keep your left knee and shin on the floor and slowly pull them back until you feel a slight stretch in the front of your left hip. Keep your torso tall while doing this without leaning forward.
  4. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  5. For a deeper stretch, extend your left arm overhead and slightly to the right while pushing your hips forward.
  6. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Alternate these half-kneeling lunges for a total of four reps on each side.

Prone hip extension

Prone hip extension demonstration.

(US News/Shanley Chien)

  1. Lie on your chest on the floor with your legs straight. Cross your arms and place them under your head for support, with your head turned to either side.
  2. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle until the sole of your right foot is facing the ceiling. If you have particularly tight hip flexors, your hip can move and lift off the ground, but it’s important to make sure both hips stay square to the floor to get the most out of the stretch.
  3. Lift the front of your right thigh off the floor a few inches. (If your back bends, it may help to place a small pillow or towel under your waist for support.)
  4. Slowly lower your right thigh back to the floor.
  5. Do this 5 to 10 times.
  6. Repeat on the other leg.

Thomas stretching test

Thomas Test stretching demonstration.

(US News/Josh Welling)

  1. Lie on your back on a bed or table with your head and neck supported and your legs hanging off the end.
  2. Bend your left knee towards your chest and hug it with both arms.
  3. Let your right leg hang off the bed or table while keeping your back flat on the bed or table. “The weight of your leg and gravity will cause the right hip flexors to stretch,” explains Peter Ronai, clinical professor of exercise science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Pigeon pose

Pigeon Pose Demonstration.

(US News/Josh Welling)

  1. Start in a push-up position with your hands and balls of your feet on the floor and your shoulders over your wrists.
  2. Lift your right leg and extend it forward, placing your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle to the floor so that it is next to your right arm and your right leg close to your left arm. (Exactly where your knees and toes are positioned will depend on your flexibility.)
  3. Extend your left leg behind you as far as you can while keeping your hips square to the floor.
  4. Lower yourself onto your forearms, keeping your head and neck in line with your spine. (If that’s too intense, you can stay on hand.)
  5. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  6. Change sides.

Bridge

Demonstration of bridge hip flexor stretching.

(US News/Shanley Chien)

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your arms by your sides, palms flat on the floor.
  2. With your heels and hands pressed into the floor, lift your hips toward the ceiling as high as possible without arching your back. (The goal is to keep your knees, hips, and shoulders in a straight line.)
  3. Hold this high position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your hips to the floor.
  4. Repeat this 5 to 10 times.

Potential complications from tight hip flexors

“Tight hip flexors change skeletal alignment, making you less stable and compromising mobility,” says Comana. “You can’t move as efficiently, which leads to wear and tear on other segments and increases the risk of acute injury or overuse injury.”

To prevent these potential complications, it’s important to regularly give tight hip flexors some relief.

Tips to avoid future hip flexor strain

Giving your hip flexors the TLC they need (and deserve) is critical to many aspects of your physical health and well-being.

In fact, a Study from 2021 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that even a single session of hip flexor stretching in healthy adults led to an immediate improvement in their standing posture.

But stretching only when you feel tight is a short-term solution. It is important to take care of your hips regularly for long-term hip health.

Here are some strategies to prevent tight hip flexors in the future:

  • Sit less. Given that too much sitting is one of the primary causes of hip flexor tightness, you can prevent it in the future by changing your habits – that is, sitting less. If you tend to spend a lot of time sitting at your desk, set a reminder on your phone to take a break from your chair by standing or walking for a few minutes.
  • Create an ergonomic workspace. “Get a standing workstation, which will also help with posture,” says Comana. “Start by aiming to spend 5% more of your day standing.” Then, you can build from there.
  • Stretch more. To keep your hips flexible, do hip flexor stretches at least once a day and focus on maintaining good posture when standing throughout the day. Research shows that regular hip stretching can relieve low back pain and instability and improve physical functionality in people with low back pain, while also improving hip flexibility.
  • Warm up before exercising. Giving yourself time to warm up properly before exercising or any strenuous physical activity helps prepare your body for movement. It increases blood flow to the muscles, facilitating their contraction and stretching, and reduces the risk of strain, injury and tightness throughout the body.

Taking these steps is worthwhile for your overall health and well-being, especially as we age.

“The trick is to restore optimal length in those hip flexors to maintain functionality as you age,” says Ronai.

Leave a Comment