If you sit at a desk all day (and let’s face it, isn’t that most of us?), chances are your hip flexors scream at you every now and then. Spending a lot of time sitting—whether it’s at a desk, in a car or even on the couch—puts your hip flexors in a compressed position, causing them to shorten and tighten up.
On the flip side, certain athletes are prone to tight hip flexors—particularly runners and bikers, who repeatedly use the hip flexors to lift their legs, which shortens the hip flexor muscles, says Kimberly Baptiste-Mbadiwe, a physical therapist at the HSS Orthopedic Physical Therapy Center.
To add to that, if certain muscles are weak, including the core, glutes, or piriformis (a deep gluteal muscle that helps external rotation of the hip), it forces the hip flexors to take over some of the job of stabilizing the spine and pelvis, leading the already overworked hip flexors to stiffen.
Your hip flexors are a group of muscles along the front of your upper thigh. They include the iliacus, psoas major, rectus femoris and sartorius.
The iliacus and psoas major are the primary hip flexors, which work together to flex and stabilize your hip and pull your thigh and torso together when you walk, run, sit or stand. The rectus femoris helps with hip flexion and knee extension, while the sartorius helps flex and externally rotate the hip and flex the knee.
Since the hips connect the lower back to the legs, tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can impact several other areas of your body. Signs of tight hip flexors include pain or discomfort in the front of your hip that typically gets worse with prolonged sitting or repetitive hip-flexion movements like running and cycling.
Glute bridges, planks, crunches and clamshells can help keep your glutes, core and piriformis strong, which will help improve strength and mobility in the hips.
To keep your hip flexors supple, make sure to get up and move more throughout the day. “I recommend changing position every 30 to 45 minutes—or even sooner if needed—to avoid tightness,” says Kimberly Baptiste-Mbadiwe, a physical therapist at HSS. “Stand up, walk around, or perform a quick stretch, if necessary.”
Here are four stretches you can sprinkle into your day to help increase flexibility and mobility in the hip flexors. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds on each side, and repeat for three sets total, at least twice a day.