How to Really Fix Tight Hip Flexors

Beyond Stretching & Mobility Exercises

Tight Hip Flexors

Tight Hip Flexors? You Need More Than Stretching

People are always asking me for different stretches to help them fix their tight hip flexors. When I ask them to describe the problem, they usually say...

"I have constant pain and tightness in the front of my hips during and after my workouts. I stretch constantly, and it feels good, but as soon as I stop stretching, it goes right back to being tight."

This is a common mistake. People are spending most of their time stretching their hip flexors and doing hip mobility exercises while completely disregarding the strengthening of these muscles.

Squats, lunges, and lateral squat variations can fire up your hip flexors if they are already pissed off. Over time, it can get bad enough to limit your squat depth, reps, or weight. Running, sprinting, and biking can also cause your hip flexors to become tighter and more irritated due to the active and repeated hip flexion involved (knee to chest).

Combine these activities with sitting for long periods and you have a recipe that creates short and weak hip flexors. At this stage, your hip flexors are hanging on for dear life, and all you want to do is stretch them or pull on them to get relief. That alone isn't going to solve the problem.

The 4 Important Hip Flexor Muscles

Rectus Femoris: It's the only muscle of the quads that crosses the hip, which is the reason why it acts as a hip flexor. It functions alongside the iliopsoas to flex the hip, especially when the knee is flexed.

Pectineus: Helps to produce 45-degrees of hip flexion and then becomes an adductor, bringing the thigh toward the midline.

Iliacus and Psoas Major: Together, they're called the "iliopsoas," the strongest hip flexors of the body.

How To Fix Hip Flexor Tightness and Pain

Chronic tightness is often related to muscles that aren't strong enough to do what they're asked to do. This causes muscles and tendons to assume a shortened, tightened, and protected state.

Very few people are doing regular and directed strengthening or loading of the hip flexors because they fear this is the opposite of what they need. Instead, they spend their time stretching, doing hip mobility exercises, and foam rolling.

Stay calm, I'm not saying you shouldn't stretch, mobilize, or foam roll your hips. I'm saying you're missing a major solution to the problem by ignoring direct strengthening of the hip flexor muscles.

How many times do you actively lift your knee toward your chest? Every step you take! These muscles need to be strong to be healthy and happy.

In addition to helping you resolve chronic tightness and pain in the front of your hips, strengthening your hip flexors will help you perform better in your lower-body lifts. Your squats, lateral squats, lunges, and step-ups will all become better as you gain strength in your hip flexors. All of those lifts require high-performing quadriceps and hip flexors.

Let's cover five key strengthening exercises to help you to fix your hip flexor issues. They will help you get rid of anterior hip pain and help you perform better in several key lower-body lifts.

Due to the different origins and insertion points of the hip flexor muscles, it's important to challenge the targeted muscles at different trunk and spine orientations. You'll see a variety of trunk and spine angles/orientations below.

The Exercises

1. Floor Quad Lift with Hover


  • Use a 4-6" yoga block or other object.
  • Use your hands on the ground behind you to provide support.
  • Keep your knee completely locked out.
  • Move your leg as far away from your midline as you can with a straight knee.
  • Use in your warm-up, recovery, between sets of bigger lifts, or on off days.
  • Shoot for 2-4 sets of 10-30 seconds.

2. Mini-Band Dip-Supported Sprinter


  • Use a bench or 18" box.
  • Keep your hips in a tabletop flat position.
  • Use in your warm-up, recovery, between sets of bigger lifts, or on off days.
  • Shoot for 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

3. Slider Long Reverse Lunge


  • Keep your back leg straight as you reach into the long reverse lunge. Avoid arching through your low back.
  • Imagine digging a ditch in the sand with your toe as you drag the moving foot back to the starting position.
  • Use in your warm-up, recovery, between sets of bigger lifts, or on off days.
  • Shoot for 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

4. Plate Tall Kneel Fallback


There's evidence to support this exercise and the ability it has to pump up your rectus femoris. (1)

  • Avoid arching through your low back.
  • Start with your toes dug in behind you and progress to laces down.
  • Resist any hip bend; only bend at the knees.
  • Do this in your warm-up or as a complement to a more intense superset that includes heavy grip work.
  • Try it with grip-intensive upper body work because your quads will be smoked.
  • Shoot for 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps.

5. Kettlebell Standing Sprinter Iso


  • Bring your knee to hip height on the kettlebell side.
  • Keep your knee locked on the stance leg.
  • Avoid falling backward or arching through your low back as you hold.
  • Do this as a warm-up, cool down, or complement within a superset as you recover from other more intense exercises.
  • Shoot for 1-3 holds of 8-20 seconds per set.

How to Programming Them

Begin by incorporating the exercises into your workout in place of any lifts you've had to eliminate or stop doing due to pain. About 2-4 weeks later, shift these exercises to your warm-ups. Keeping these in your warm-up or adding them as an active recovery mini-workout will help maintain the progress they help you to make.

I recommend adding lateral hips (abductors) exercises, regular doses of hip mobility exercises, dynamic stretching, and soft tissue mobilization for a comprehensive approach.

Working through some discomfort is appropriate, but avoid pushing past 5/10 discomfort while you do the exercise.

This is not medical advice.

Reference

  1. Alonso-Fernandez, "Changes in rectus femoris architecture induced by the reverse nordic hamstring exercises," The Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness, 2019.