How to Strengthen Your Hip Flexors — Plus, 5 Exercises to Try

Strengthening your hip flexors can help keep you pain-free and boost your performance. Try these moves to reap the benefits.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Hip Flexors
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If you spend your days with your booty planted in a chair — at your desk, in your driver's seat, at the dinner table, and on your couch — there’s a good chance your hip flexors feel as tight as a rubber band that's stretched to its max. 

But the standard Rx of stretching your hip flexors may not actually be the key to long-term relief. In fact, strengthening your hip flexors may do a better job of preventing tension and keeping your body functioning at its best over time, according to experts. 

Ahead, physical therapists explain the benefits of swapping your stretching routine for strengthening. Plus, they share tips on how to strengthen your hip flexors and five simple exercises you can incorporate into your training program without having to overhaul it.

The Benefits of Strengthening Your Hip Flexors

ICYDK, the hip flexors are a bundle of muscles (including the iliacus, psoas major, and rectus femoris, among others) that’s main role is to, well, flex your hip, bringing your knee close to your chest, says Victoria Sekely, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist in New York City. “You need to be able to do that motion in order to get one foot in front of the other,” she says. “It’s important for pretty much daily life.” And, like all muscles, hip flexors play an important role in stabilizing your joints, she adds. 

It’s long been thought that sitting for prolonged periods of time puts your hip flexors in a shortened position, leading to tension and discomfort, and stretching the muscles was the best way to counteract that effect, says Sekely. But in recent years, experts have found that sitting throughout the day may not shorten your hip flexors to a serious or permanent degree, she says. (A major injury or the development of scar tissue would need to take place for that, she explains.) “Why that tightness is occurring is actually because the hip flexors are not strong enough to create stability,” adds Sekely. “Stretching does feel good — it gets you in a different position and your body likes to move. But you can’t ignore that the hip flexors are muscles, and in order to improve your musculature and ultimately make a difference [in tightness], you need to strengthen them.”

Discomfort isn’t the only side effect of weak hip flexors. If you’re neglecting your hip flexors but regularly training your glutes — which play a role in hip extension — you’ll likely develop a muscle imbalance between your anterior and posterior chains (aka the muscles along the front and backside of your body, respectively), says Sekely. It may seem like NBD, but significant muscle imbalances can lead to compensated movement patterns that ultimately increase your risk of injury, as Shape previously reported.

What’s more, a muscle imbalance between the front and back of your pelvic musculature can cause your pelvis to develop an anterior tilt, which can increase the pressure on your lower back, says  Bethany Cook, P.T., D.P.T., S.C.S., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist and the founder and owner of Be Free MIAMI. “Strengthening your hip flexors is also going to improve your postural stability and stabilization during movement,” says Cook. “And if you’re somebody who competes or is in recreational sports that involve power — whether it's running, sprinting, jumping, or kicking — [strong hip flexors] are going to your increase performance.” Translation: Keeping your hip flexors strong is the key to staying pain- and injury-free and helping you move more effectively. 

Best Tips for Training Your Hip Flexors

Generally speaking, most people can benefit from strengthening their hip flexors, as they’re largely overlooked and undertrained, says Sekely. The good news: The exercises aren’t complicated or difficult to incorporate into your routine. And any move that involves bringing your knee up to your chest will get the job done, she says. 

Since the hip flexors are also interrelated with your spine-stabilizing core muscles (the psoas major, for example, attaches to the lumbar spine ), many of the exercises that strengthen them are also considered classic core movies, such as the V sit, dead bug, and leg lift, she explains. In turn, you’ll get even more bang for your buck by mixing them into your workouts. When deciding which hip flexor strength exercises to perform, opt for moves that are specific to your sport or goal. Runners, for instance, will want to choose hip flexor exercises that are performed in a standing position (think: standing marches), says Sekely. (Psst, this standing abs workout also has moves that target your hip flexors.)  

Where to place strength exercises for your hip flexors within your workout also depends on your activity of choice. If you’re going for a run or are about to play a rec soccer game, you might incorporate the exercises into your warm-up routine, says Cook. Or, you can incorporate the moves into a circuit on a lower-body strength-building day, alternating between squats, box jumps, and banded marches, she suggests. 

The 5 Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Hip Flexors

Ready to give your hip flexors the time and attention they deserve? Practice the following hip flexor exercises, demonstrated by Cook, one to three times a week, sticking with just two to three sets of six to eight reps, according to the experts. Weave them into your pre-cardio warm-up routine or build them into your lower-body workout of the day to score their benefits. 

As with any other strength-building routine, progressive overload is necessary, and you’ll want to increase the resistance (such as by adding weight or using a resistance band or cable column) over time, says Sekely. If you can easily power through your reps, that’s a sign to amp up the load, she adds.

Standing March

This standing exercise to strengthen your hip flexors is ideal for folks looking to improve their performance in sports or while running. If you don't have a light kettlebell, you can also loop a mini band around your foot to increase the resistance. Since this move also challenges your balance, feel free to hold onto a wall if needed, says Cook.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips, and a kettlebell handle looped through left foot (optional). Draw shoulders down and back and engage core.

B. Keeping left foot flexed and core engaged, drive left knee up toward chest, lifting it as far as mobility allows.

C. With control, slowly lower left foot back to the floor.

Hip Bridge March

This two-in-one exercise not only strengthens your glutes and hamstrings, thanks to the bridge position, but it also trains your hip flexors with the added march.

A. Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent, feet placed flat and hip-width apart, and arms at sides, palms facedown.

B. Keeping core engaged and tailbone tucked, exhale and slowly push through both heels to lift hips off the floor. Lift hips up as high as possible without allowing the lower back to arch. Allow toes to lift off the floor.

C. Keeping core and glutes engaged, back flat, right foot flexed, and right leg bent at a 90-degree angle, drive right knee up toward chest, lifting it as far as mobility allows.

D. Pause, then with control, slowly lower right foot back to the floor. Repeat on left side.

Weighted Hip Bridge March

If the bodyweight hip bridge march isn't challenging enough, up the difficulty by performing the move with a lightweight kettlebell attached to your foot, says Cook.

A. Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent, feet hip-width apart, a kettlebell handle looped through left foot, and arms at sides, palms facedown. Right foot is flat on the floor and left foot is resting on the kettlebell, the handle pointed toward the ceiling.

B. Keeping core engaged and tailbone tucked, exhale and slowly push through both heels to lift hips off the floor. Lift hips up as high as possible without allowing the lower back to arch.

C. Keeping core and glutes engaged, back flat, left foot flexed, and left leg bent at a 90-degree angle, drive left knee up toward chest, lifting it as far as mobility allows.

D. Pause, then with control, slowly lower left foot back to the floor.

Hip Hover

In addition to strengthening your hip flexors, this exercise will surely give your tight hamstrings a feel-good stretch.

A. Sit on the floor with back resting against a wall, legs fully extended in front of body, feet hip-width apart, and hands at sides, fingertips touching the floor. Place a yoga block a few inches to the right of right foot.

B. Engage core and contract quadriceps by pressing backs of knees into the floor.

C. Keeping back flat against the wall, quads engaged, and right foot flexed, lift right foot up a few inches off the ground, then move it over the top of the yoga block and down to the floor on the right side of the block.

D. Tap right heel to the floor, then reverse the movement to return right foot to the left side of the block.

Half-Kneeling Lift-Off 

Half-kneeling exercises such as this lift-off move focus on the end range of hip flexion, a portion of the movement where most people tend to experience the most weakness, says Cook.

A. Start in a half-kneeling position on the floor facing a wall, with right knee bent at a 90-degree angle and resting on the ground directly below right hip, top of right foot flat on the floor. Left knee is bent at a 90-degree angle in line with left hip, left foot flat on the ground. Place both hands on the wall at shoulder height.

B. Draw shoulders down and back and engage core. Keeping left foot flexed, drive left knee up toward chest, lifting it as far as mobility allows.

C. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Then, with control, slowly lower left foot back to the floor.

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