It’s such a joy watching exercise buffs lift their knees toward their chests and then bend forward from the hips. Many of us aspire to be able to make such moves as it’s a sign of agility and health. But for most, it’s a daunting task because of several factors like age and the lack of exercise. But with some perseverance and strict adherence to a program, we can still make it happen. We will have to focus on a muscle group called the hip flexors to achieve the goal.
The hip flexors are made up of several muscles that include the iliopsoas, which are the outer thigh muscles and the inner thigh muscles. Quite a lot of muscles to work out but it will all be worth it.
For those of people who spend many hours just sitting, especially at work, the hip flexor muscle group will become problematic as muscles are caused to stay in a shortened state. After some period and without relief, the muscles might become tight, and this can cause some problems like hip pain, back pain, and even injury. Physical activities which involve plenty of running and kicking can also put a lot of strain on the hip flexors. Joggers usually are susceptible to injuries of the hip flexors due to the minimal but repetitive movements they do when they are running.
Everybody isn’t exempted from injuring this group of muscles, even the average Joe who doesn’t engage in exercises. A mere daily routine where the muscles are stretched way more than they are used to can cause one to feel pain in his upper groin region, where the pelvis meets the hip.
One will need to involve himself with movements that will make sure his hip flexor muscles will be less tense and more pliable. This will decrease the chances of discomfort and injury. Try including this hip-strengthening and stretching exercises in the daily exercise program:
Extensive Wide Squat
This is a stretch exercise, and its main targets are the hips and the lower back.
Assume a standing position with the feet a bit wider than the hips.
Bend the knees slowly while lowering the hips downward. If the heels aren’t touching the ground, take a towel, roll it up then put it on the heels to serve as support.
Bring the palms together against the heart and press the elbows firmly against the inside of the knees. This should help in opening the hips even more.
Take five breaths, then let go of the hands to the floor. Slowly walk the hands away from the feet. This will further enhance the stretch in the lower back and the hips. Hold that position for about five breaths.
This is a variation of the “Downward Facing Dog pose” in yoga, and its main goal is activating the hips. To make the stretch more effective, bend the knee of the extended leg. This will bring the foot to the buttocks then circle the leg from the hip.
Start with the downward-facing dog pose.
The feet should be hip-width apart, hands shoulder-width apart, the fingers facing forward, and the hips pushed up in the air. The head should be between the arms and facing the lower body.
Lift a leg off the floor then extend it high. Be sure to straighten the knee as much as possible.
Alternate the pointing and flexing movement of the foot. This will vary the stretch.
Hold for about 30-60 seconds. Hold it for as long as possible. Switch the legs halfway through.
Butterfly Stretch While Seated
This is for the hips, inner thighs, and the lower back.
Sit on the floor with the shoulders down, back straight, abs engaged, the knees bent to the sides, and the soles of the feet together in front.
Pull the knees inward. At the same time relaxing the knees to the floor. Don’t push the thighs down to the floor with the hands.
Take a deep breath and hold that for 15-30 seconds.
Stretch to a point where one would feel mild discomfort but never pain. When returning to the starting position, do it slowly and don’t bounce back.
This simple exercise will strengthen the hip muscles, keeping them from becoming tight, and decreasing the chances of injury and discomfort.
Sit with the left knee bent at a 90-degree angle in front, the calf being perpendicular to the body and the sole facing to the right. Keep the left foot in a flexed position.
Let the leg rest on the floor.
Now place the right knee to the right of the body and bend the knee such that the foot faces the other way. Keep the right foot flexed.
Keep the left butt cheek on the floor and try to move the right one as close to the floor as possible. This would be very difficult if the hips are super tight.
Hold for 20-30 seconds. If one can extend to 1-2 minutes, so much the better.
Repeat the cycle on the other side.
Triangle (Extended Version)
One can make use of a yoga block for some assistance on this exercise. That will depend upon the person’s flexibility.
To start, stand on the exercise mat.
Move the legs about 3-feet apart.
Point the left foot in front and the right to side at 90-degrees.
Extend both arms out to the sides then face forward.
Bend from the hips and tilt the body to the right. Use the right leg as support.
Extend the left arm upwards and try reaching for the floor with the right.
Slowly turn the head to the left, focusing on the arm that’s extended.
Hold that pose for a few seconds then release.
Do the stretch again using the other leg.
This is a common yoga pose. It’s effective in opening the hips by focusing on one hip at a time.
First, sit with the left knee bent and the right leg stretched behind.
Pull the left heel towards the right hip. The right hip should always point towards the mat but if it should start to open towards the ceiling, then draw the left foot back in, towards the body.
Hold the position, the left hand resting on the left thigh or the hips. Or walk the hands out in front allowing your body to rest on the left knee.
Hold the position for about 4-5 breaths, breathing into any areas of tension or tightness.
Repeat the pose with the right knee bent.
Lunge, Stretch and Rotate
If one changes the angle of the lunge when exercising the hip flexor, the resulting stretch will add more rotation of the hips and can make him tap into various parts of the hips.
Kneel on the right knee and place the left foot in front with the knee bent.
Then lean forward. This will stretch the right hip towards the floor.
Squeeze the butt. This will squeeze the hip flexor more.
Rotate the torso to the right. If possible, reach for the ground with both hands, keeping the chest lifted. This will deepen the squeeze.
Hold that position for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, if possible.
Change sides then repeat the procedure.
The target areas for this stretch are the hips, inner thighs, and hamstrings.
- From a wide squat position, place the hands on the floor, just in front and inch the feet apart. Make sure to keep the heels wider than the toes. The soles of the feet should always be flat on the ground to protect the knees.
- As the hips are lowered, one can support himself up with his forearms, and then move down to the shoulders. When the shoulders have reached the ground, turn the head to the side and rest the cheek to the ground. This will protect the chin from getting injured.
- Stay in this position for about 5 breaths then walk the feet back together. If this exercise is too much of a stretch to handle, try the seated straddle stretch.
This is an exercise to strengthen the hip flexor muscle group. It can be done anytime and anywhere. To make it easier and simple, use a chair for balance and eliminate the squat requirement.
- Stand straight with the feet shoulder-width away from each other, with the hand clasped in front of the chest.
- Breathe in and squat. Bend from the hips and knees, keep the back straight, the chest high, and the weight in the heels.
- Breathe out and straighten the legs to push up to a standing position. Shift the weight to the right leg while lifting the left leg off to the side with the toes pointing forward.
- Breathe in and return the left leg to the floor, still a hip-distance apart. Bend hips and knees to squat once again.
- Breathe out and straighten the legs to push up to a standing position while shifting weight into the left leg this time. Lift the right leg off to the side with the toes pointing forward. That completes one rep.
- If necessary, hold on to a chair or a wall. Always keep the abs engaged and concentrate on focusing on a point in front. This will aid in balance.
Why Should One Stretch the Hips?
Almost everybody has an issue with tight hips, from the most active people to the ordinary office worker. Exercise is the main factor to prevent tight hips, but it wouldn’t have to be the kind of full workout done in the gym. If possible, so much the better. But those under time constraints can do some exercises that can target the hips and strengthen those forgotten muscles therein.
The group of muscles known as the hip flexors is responsible for nearly all movements we perform. These muscles include those surrounding the upper thighs, inner thighs as well as the pelvic regions. All movements like running, jumping or even simply standing will require the right stabilization and flexion of the hip flexors.
Active people need to have strong hip flexors. Exercise is the best way to maintain the hip flexors condition. The point in doing the exercise is not only to strengthen them but to avoid activities that can weaken them or make them tighter.
Many of us work in offices where we spend most of our hours sitting down in front of a laptop or computer screen. Such plight will shorten and tighten the muscles found in front of the body, and that includes the hip flexors. Such position will also cause the shoulders to curve forward, along with a common posture that’s forward-headed.
A person may want to work out at the gym after hours of sitting in the office. But before starting with any exercise, be sure to stretch out your hip flexors and other muscles. Otherwise, one might be compounding the already bad posture and create other muscle imbalances. Going into training while the muscles are in the wrong position could create further problems.
Hip Exercises Are Important to Keep the Hips Healthy and Flexible
Even athletes who undergo rigorous exercises can still face injuries because of weak hip flexor muscles. Strengthening the stabilizing muscles in the hip flexors which hold the pelvis in line is important, and only the right exercises can make this happen. Without these exercises, the consequence will be the incorrect positioning of one’s hips which will then promote incorrect foot placement while walking or running. This can lead to knee and hip injuries. Consider the function of some muscles in the hip flexor group:
- Quadratus femoris and piriformis are the deep muscles in the hip. They play critical roles in stabilization.
- The iliotibial band is a longitudinal fibrous tissue which runs from the hip to the knee. It’s partly responsible for abducting, extending, and laterally rotating the hip.
- All these muscles are part of the hip flexor which always needs to be strengthened thus avoiding impact injuries to the lower parts of the body. The strengthening will promote proper foot placement. Just imagine a marathon man running in an incorrect form. That should prove disastrous and costly.
Other Benefits of Strengthening Hip Flexors.
There will be an increase in performance if the hip flexor flexibility is strengthened. Athletes who perform hip flexor exercises as part of their routine tend to succeed more not only in performance but also in avoiding injuries.
Strengthening of the muscle group will also improve the individual’s range of motion which is vital against the occurrence of injuries. Consider these simple things that can reduce and relieve you of hip flexor pains
- If you need to sit for long periods of time, allow for short breaks.
- Stand up and move around every hour or so
- It’s essential to warm up properly before any physical activities
- Do stretch exercises at the beginning and the end of every workout.
In doing these, your hips will be so glad you are on their side.