Tight, bunched-up hip flexors do more than hinder your forward splits. They can cause some pretty nasty postural problems, which often trigger serious low back pain. Even if you're active before and after work, if you spend a good chunk of every weekday sitting, the fronts of your hips -- including your iliacus and psoas muscles -- are probably tighter than they should be. Counteract the effects of all that sitting with regular stretching. Stretch your hip flexors from a comfortable lying position so you can worry less about maintaining your balance and more about getting a safe, effective stretch.
Do five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity to increase circulation, warm up your muscles and joints to reduce your risk of injury. Walk, march or jog in place while pumping your arms. When you start to sweat, switch to low-intensity dynamic stretching, such as low leg swings to the front and back, to loosen up your hip flexors and prepare them for a more intense, sustained stretch. Take it easy and keep the movement smooth and rhythmical.
Lie on your back lengthwise across a sturdy tabletop. Shift your buttocks almost to the end of the table so your knees and thighs extend off the surface and your lower legs dangle freely. Pressing your lower back into the table, grasp your left knee with both hands and gently pull it toward your chest. Relax, breathe and let gravity pull your right leg toward the floor, opening up the front of the right hip. When you feel light tension along the front of the right hip and thigh, hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Relax briefly and repeat up to four times before switching to your left leg.
Lie on your left side on an exercise mat or plush towel. Your head, shoulders and hips should be in alignment with your ankles and your right hip stacked over your left. Prop yourself up on your left elbow and rest your head in your left hand. Bend your right knee and take hold of your right ankle with your right hand, pulling it toward your right buttock. Tighten the buttock and push your right hip forward, causing the muscles in front of the right thigh and hip to relax. When you feel light tension along the front of the right hip, hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds if you can do so comfortably. Repeat up to four times before switching to the right side and repeating the stretch for the opposite leg.
Roll over for a stomach-lying variation. Lying face down on your exercise mat or towel, rest your forehead, chin or left cheek on the back of your left hand. Reach behind you with your right hand and take hold of your right ankle, drawing it toward your right buttock. If you have trouble reaching your foot, loop a resistance band around the instep and grasp the ends of the band with both hands. Gently pull the ankle or the ends of the band forward, raising the right knee and hip slightly off the floor. When you feel a light stretch along the front of your right hip, hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Relax briefly and repeat the stretch up to four times before switching to your left foot.
- If you don't own or have access to a resistance band, use a belt, scarf, jump rope or old necktie to assist with the exercises.
- Breathe easily and normally to facilitate the stretches. Holding your breath can lead to tightening and straining the muscles you're attempting to stretch.
- If you've injured your hip in the past, speak to a doctor, physical therapist or professional trainer about the advisability of specific hip exercises.
- If you feel pinching, numbness or pain in your hip or knee when you stretch, stop immediately to prevent serious injury. Hip stretches might be mildly uncomfortable, but outright pain is a sign that you're pushing too hard, too fast.
- Never force the stretch, which can cause your muscles to resist and tighten up. Move into the stretch slowly and hold your position, avoiding movement elsewhere in the body.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.