If you are an athlete, you need to be focusing on increasing the strength of your hip flexors. The function of the hip flexor is to raise the knee straight upward and flexing the hip.
Hip flexors, also known as Iliopsoas, are a group of muscles used to pull the knee upward. Weak hip flexors can impair coordination and even make walking or going upstairs difficult. There are several exercises you can do to strengthen the hip flexors, but always consult with a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
The hip flexors, which consist of five distinct muscles, are often a neglected muscle group. The hip flexors are a group of muscles in the front of the hip that act to lift the knee and bring the thigh towards the abdomen.
The major muscles making up the hip flexors that we will focus on are the iliacus and the psoas, or the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris is a “two joint muscle” because it crosses both the hip and knee joints.
As a group, the hip flexors have attachments on the lumbar spine, the pelvis, and the femur. In addition to their major function of flexing the hip, their attachment on the spine makes them an important part of the core muscles and spinal stabilizers.
Here are the top 10 best hip flexor exercises:
Hanging Leg Raises
- Vertical crunch, hanging knee raises, captain’s chair hanging leg raises, Roman chair leg raises
- Targets: Hip flexors, abs, obliques
- Equipment: leg raises machine
To perform Hanging Leg Raises:
- Stand in the frame with your arms resting on the arms of the chair. Grab on to the handles of the chair, if it has them.
- Check that your arm position is firm (you need to be able to lift your bodyweight from the floor).
- Inhale as you engage your abdominal muscles to prepare for the leg lift.
- Lift your legs by bending at the knees. Go no higher than your waist.
- With an engaged core, exhale as you lower your legs in a controlled movement until you’re back in the starting position.
- Aim for 8 to 10 raises before resting (one set). Work up to 3 sets of 10 raises.
Hip adduction and abduction machines
People who have access to a gym may be able to find Hip adduction and abduction machines geared towards strengthening the hip flexors. Often seated, these machines focus on squeezing the legs together or pushing them apart.
If focusing on the legs, a person should not skip these machines at the gym, as they can help to strengthen the hip flexors.
Mountain climbers are a type of move that a person does from a plank-like position. Mountain climbers mimic the motion of climbing up rocks, which is where the name comes from.
To perform mountain climbers:
- Start in a regular plank with hands and feet placed shoulder-width apart.
- Keep the hands firmly planted on the ground and pull the right knee up to the chest on the same side of the body.
- Then, return to the starting position and repeat with the left leg.
- Start off with 5 to 10 repetitions and build up to about 20 to 30 over time.
Squats can work the muscles of the legs and engage the core at the same time. Squats have an added advantage of being very flexible, meaning a person can adjust the intensity to fit their changing fitness needs.
To perform a squat:
- Start in a standing position with feet slightly spread apart and arms to the side.
- Bend the knees and push the buttocks toward the back.
- Drop down until the legs are roughly parallel to the floor, keeping knees in line with the feet.
- Keep the abs tight and bring the arms up to chest level.
- Repeat 10 to 30 times depending on fitness level.
- As strength grows, people can add can jumps or weights for an extra challenge.
Dynamic stretching (stretching while in motion), is the most efficient way to lengthen and strengthen the hip flexor muscles.
An exercise that you can do that will engage the core and all of the lower extremity muscles while focusing on the hip flexors is called the Single Leg Split Squat.
Remember that the rectus femoris crosses the hip and knee joint. This exercise involves both the hip and knee joint, making it an appropriate exercise to train the rectus femoris as well as the iliacus.
Lying Scissor Kicks
This workout can be done on the floor or on a workout bench. Start scissor kicks by lying flat on your back and placing your hands under your buttocks with your palms facing the floor.
With your legs starting together, vertically raise your right leg so the heel of your foot is about 18 inches off the ground. If you’re on the floor, raise your left heel about 2 inches off the ground.
Keep your knees slightly bent during the exercise. In the same motion as scissors, simultaneously change positions so your right leg lowers toward the ground and your left leg vertically raises. Continue to move your legs in a scissor-like motion. To increase the intensity of the exercise, use ankle weights.
Seated Leg Raises
If you’re using an exercise machine for seated leg raises, sit with your back firmly against the seat and place the padded lever over your ankles on the top portion of your feet. Grasp the side grips to keep your buttocks on the seat, but do not use the side grips to assist you during the workout.
Contract your hip flexors to raise the lever up and then lower the lever using slow and controlled motions. This exercise can also be done sitting on the edge of a bench holding a dumbbell between your feet. Grasp the sides of the bench to keep your buttocks from moving off the bench as you extend your knees to raise the dumbbell.
Lunges are an effective workout for your hip flexors. Start lunges by standing with your feet and your abdominal muscles contracted to stabilize your spine during the workout. Step forward about 24 inches with your right leg making sure your heel lands on the floor first and then shift your body weight to the remainder of your right foot.
Simultaneously bend your knees until your left knee moves about 2 inches from the floor and your left thigh is parallel to the floor. To return to your standing position, push off the ground with your right leg by contracting your thigh and buttocks muscles until you’re standing. The intensity of this exercise can be increased by using a barbell or dumbbells.
Target Body Parts: abs, upper back, lower back, hip flexor, glutes, quadriceps
Lay down on your back on a mat or a towel on a flat surface. Keep your back firmly pressed down against the floor and push your palms down into the floor, by your hips to help stabilize your core.
Then with your legs straight and together, lift them up off the floor and bring them up above your head. As your feet reach up above your head, pick your hips up by pushing your hands into the floor and contracting your abs, this will enable you to push your legs up even higher towards the ceiling or sky.
Take care with this one if you have a history of back pain or issues, especially in your mid and upper back.
Standing Cable Hip Flexion
standing cable hip flexion is a alternative and exercise machine exercise that primarily targets the hip flexors and to a lesser degree also targets the groin and quads.
- Take the cable machine handle and place it on the lowest notch.
- Wrap the handle around your left leg and stand on your right leg.
- Lift your knee up to your waist. As you lift your knee upwards bend your leg.
- Lower your foot back down but don’t let it touch the ground.
- Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions and then switch legs.