The human body is truly amazing, with every part intricately connected. Did you know that if you find yourself slouching, it could be a sign of weak hip flexor muscles? Time to stand up tall and do some hip mobility exercises!
What Are Hip Flexors?
Hip flexors are a group of muscles that connect the lower back to the hips, inner thighs/groin and tops of the thigh bone. They help stabilize the lower spine, keeping you aligned and upright. You also rely on these muscles for everyday activities such as walking and balance. Every time you lift your knee to walk or run, or to stand from a seated position, you are using your hip flexor muscles.
Importance of Hip Mobility and Range of Motion
We want our hip muscles to be lengthened and flexible, so that we can enjoy a full range of motion. Unfortunately, many of us have shortened hip muscles due in large part to spending most of our day sitting down. When we sit, the hip flexor muscles are in a shortened position. Over time and without adequate stretch breaks, the muscles get used to staying in that shortened position.
That leads to imbalances between the hip flexors working to propel you forward, and the muscles that want to keep you upright and stable. Long term, sitting too long can lead to falling, since you’re short-changing the muscles that help keep you balanced.
Hip mobility is extra important as we get older. One study found that people ages 55-85 saw a decrease in hip and shoulder joint mobility by six degrees per decade.
How Do I Know if My Hip Flexors Are Weak?
If you have a hard time walking, you may have weak hip flexor muscles. That’s because it’s hard to lift the leg or bend the knee. Over time, weakened hip muscles can cause pain and make it difficult to get around, further limiting your mobility. The good news is underused hip flexor muscles can be strengthened with some stretches and hip mobility exercises.
Three Easy Hip Mobility Exercises
A physical therapist can help pinpoint weaknesses in the muscles and prescribe hip mobility exercises tailored to you, but there are some easy and effective stretches that are good for pretty much everyone. Most of them you can do without any equipment at all.
Standing Hip Circles
These are great to warm up your hips and encourage range of motion. No hula hoops required!
- Start by standing tall, with feet pointed straight ahead and about shoulder width apart.
- Put your hands on your hips and press forward without arching your back. Try to keep your upper body stable and just move your hips.
- Shift your hips to the right, then to the back, then to the left. Make one complete circle.
- Repeat the circle a few times in the same direction. Then switch, moving your hips first to the left, then back and around. Do the same number of circles in that direction.
Your glutes (posterior muscles) get strengthened as well in these hip mobility exercises.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Starting from the small of your back, slowly roll your hips upward until you feel a stretch. Try not to arch your back. You’re aiming for a straight line – like a bridge – from your knees to your shoulders. (Don’t worry if you can’t get totally straight, at least the first few times you try this exercise.)
- Hold the stretch for a moment or two, then slowly roll back down.
- If you want a challenge, hold the bridge and slowly lift up one foot, then rest it back on the floor and lift the other. Try not to let your waist dip when your lift your foot.
Opening and closing your legs like a clam helps lubricate the hip joint and promote mobility.
- Lie down on one side with your knees bent, one on top of the other. You can rest your head on your lower arm or use a towel as a pillow. If you need, place your top arm in front of you to help keep you supported on your side.
- Continue to face forward, but lift your top knee up to the ceiling, keeping your ankles together.
- Pause, then lower it back to meet the other knee on the floor.
- Repeat a few times, then flip over to the other side and do the same number of exercises on that side.
If you’re concerned about your hip flexor strength or interested in learning more about hip mobility exercises, talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist.