The hip flexors, a group of muscles in the upper thigh and pelvic region, help you perform essential motions such as raising your knees upward. As you focus on toning your arms or getting that perfectly defined stomach, don't neglect this essential muscle group; strong hip flexors lead to increased flexibility and help stave off lower-back pain, as well-stretched flexors aid in decompressing the spine.
While crunches have generally replaced situps as the go-to ab-toning exercise, traditional situps focus on working the hip flexors, and performing situps in the decline position intensifies this focus. To perform this exercise, secure your feet under the padded bar on a bench sloped at about 30 degrees in the decline position. Lie supine on the bench with your arms crossed over your chest. Sit upright until your elbows touch your mid-thigh, driving the motion with your hips. While this exercise targets the iliopsoas, it also works the abs and essential hip flexor muscles such as recutus femoris, sartorius, pectineus and adductors. For added challenge, hold a weight plate under your arms during decline situps.
Lying Leg Raises
You can perform a lying leg raise – an exercise that engages the iliopsoas, sartorius, pectineus and adductors – on either a bench or the ground with no additional equipment. With your back flat on the ground or bench, your legs extended and your hands palms-down under your lower buttocks, raise your knees toward your chest so your upper thighs contact your stomach. Fully extend your legs to enter the starting position and repeat. The lying leg raise also employs the rectus abdominis, obliques and quadriceps as stabilizers, or muscles that help your body maintain a certain posture.
Hanging Leg Raise
If you have access to a pullup bar, you can intensify your leg raises with a hanging variation, which engages the same muscles as the lying version. Start by hanging from a bar with an overhand grip, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms and back straight, flex your hips to bring your knees as high as you can toward your chest. Return to the starting position by extending your legs completely and repeat.
Turn to scissor kicks for a hip flexor exercise that requires nothing but your own body. In addition to working all of the key muscles of the hip flexor, this exercise also engages the rectus abdominis, obliques and quadriceps. To begin, lie flat on the ground on your back with your hands palms down under your lower buttocks, as though starting a lying leg raise. Raise one leg just a few inches off the floor and the other leg about 2 or 3 feet off the floor, keeping both knees straight. Simultaneously alternate leg positions with a steady, rhythmic motion. This low-impact exercise serves as an ideal warm-up for more hip-flexor intensive exercises, such as decline situps or hanging leg raises.
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