Athletes, dancers, and martial artists know the value of strong, flexible hip flexors. The muscles responsible for hip flexion -- including the rectus femoris muscle of the quad group and the iliopsoas -- help drive the leg upward to the front. When they're strong, those same muscles help stabilize the pelvis and prevent certain knee, ankle and foot injuries. High-impact exercise might be great for building flexor strength but the constant pounding can seriously overload your joints. Give your joints a break and take advantage of low- or no-impact hip exercises. Your flexors will get a thorough workout without the added stress.
Warm up your hip flexors with several minutes of light, low-impact cardio activity. Take a brisk walk around the block or hop on an elliptical for seven to 10 minutes. Follow your general warm-up with a dynamic hip flexor stretch -- such as traveling lunges -- involving smooth, continuous, repetitive movement. A set of 12 to 15 lunges is sufficient to stimulate your flexors and prepare them for activity. Add a torso twist for greater challenge.
Use compound exercises to target various muscle groups, including the hip flexors, at once. There's no shortage of good multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises to choose from. If you're a loyalist, stick with the one or two exercises you most adore. For more variety, alternate between a a dozen or so options, including standard squats, forward lunges, jack knives and bicycles. Add a physio ball to the mix and crank out a few sets of physio ball knee crunches or wall squats. Grab an exercise step or other sturdy platform and work your hips with forward-facing or lateral step-ups.
Use lying leg raises to isolate the hip flexors and target them more specifically. Lie on your back with your right leg extended in front of you on the floor. Bend your left knee and place the sole of the foot on the floor. With your arms extended at your sides, tighten your abs and raise your right leg toward the ceiling, taking two counts to bring it perpendicular to the floor. Hold briefly and then lower the leg to the floor, taking two counts on the return. Repeat 10 to 15 times before switching legs. Add an ankle weight for greater intensity. Variations include raising both legs simultaneously or alternating legs.
Bring a resistance band into the picture. Anchor one end of the band to a point behind you and tie the other end around your right ankle. Facing away from the anchored end of the band, stand with your feet together. The band should be taut. Keeping your right leg relatively straight, draw the foot directly forward for a count of two. Pause briefly and then return the foot for a count of two. Keep your abs tight and your back straight during both phases of the exercise. Repeat 10 to 15 times before switching to your left leg.
Ease into a static flexor stretch following every strength or cardio workout to prevent tightening in front of the hips. Stand facing a sturdy object, such as a low wall or bench, at a distance of 18 to 24 inches. With the sole of your left foot on the surface of the object, bend your left knee and hinge forward at your right ankle. You should feel a light stretch along the front of your right hip. Hold the position for up 30 seconds, hinging farther forward if the feeling of tension subsides. Repeat two to four times and then switch to your left leg.
Items you will need
- Physio ball
- Step or small platform
- Ankle weight
- Resistance band
- If you're an athlete, combine general hip flexion training with sport-specific exercises for best results.
- If you've injured your hip in the past, speak with your doctor, physical therapist or trainer about the advisability of particular hip exercises. Pushing yourself too hard, too soon after an injury can delay recovery or result in permanent damage.
- Omitting stretches from your workout can lead to excessive tightening of the hip flexors, which is a risk factor for low back pain.
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