Spoiler alert: Stretches like pigeon pose and happy baby won't actually solve the problem. Read on for the routine that actually eases hip flexor pain.

By Rachael Schultz
Updated April 28, 2020
Advertisement
Credit: fizkes/Getty

If you're dealing with hip flexor pain, chances are you know what's causing it: too much SoulCycle or too much time sitting at your desk. Less clear? How to fix it.

Maybe you've tried going for a walk and doing stretches after class, but those probably haven't helped ease the ache very much. That's because the problem isn't actually in your hip flexors—it's in your glutes, says Allison Heffron, D.C., a chiropractor at rehabilitation clinic Physio Logic in Brooklyn, New York. And you don't need to stretch, you need to strengthen—and that's easy enough with the right hip flexor exercises. (Related: 11 Exercises for Strong Hips and Thighs)

What Causes Hip Flexor Pain?

Have you ever felt a sharp pain running from the front of your pelvis down to the very top of your thigh every time you lift your leg? That's what you'd call sore hip flexors. Quick anatomy lesson: Your hip flexors are a group of muscles that attach your pelvis to your femur (the bone in your upper leg) and help it lift and lower (as well as do every micro-movement in between). The largest of the hip flexor muscles are the psoas muscle, which wraps from the back of your spine around across the front of your pelvis to the top of your femur, and the iliac muscle, which connects the top front of your pelvis straight down to the same tendons on the femur as the psoas. (Related: Everything You've Been Wondering About the Anatomy of Your Leg Muscles)

"Typically, hip flexors tighten because they're overactive as a response to something else being underactive—usually your glutes," says Heffron. Thanks to sitting all day and rushing through your squats with improper form, your glutes are never taught to fire properly. Sure, you really feel like you're engaging your glutes during these exercises, but if you're suffering from sore hip flexors, that's a major sign that you're not.

"It's almost as if your glutes are the power switch to turn off the hip flexors. When you're working out or even just walking and you focus on activating the glutes, it inhibits overactivity of the hip flexors. This allows the hip flexors to rest and be less taxed while the glutes do the job they are meant to do," says Heffron.

Think of your hip flexors as the muscles controlling the front half of your leg, and your gluteal muscles (all three of them—max, medi, mini) as the ones controlling the back. When the two are firing and working in sync, all is good. But when one doesn't do its job, the other has to pick up the slack.

You could probably stand to strengthen your core, too. "The hip flexors attach to the front of the spine and cross over the front of the hip, so if your core is inactive, then you will either slouch or hyperextend into your low back, creating more tension in the hip flexors and less activity in the glutes," says Heffron. Same problem, different trigger.

Spin class and cycling are high on the list of offenders for causing hip flexor pain, but it's really all tied to sitting. Whether on the saddle, on an airplane, or at your desk, parking it in a seat most hours of the day puts your hip flexors in a contracted and shortened position while also inhibiting your glutes from activating. Trying to use your hip flexors when they're tight exacerbates the problem (and, therefore, the pain). (Related: Why You Have Lower-Back Pain After Spin Class-Plus How to Fix It)

"By no means does this mean you need to avoid spin or riding your bike," assures Heffron. It just means you need to do a little extra strength work—including some the best hip flexor exercises below—to fight those muscle imbalances.

The Worst Exercises for Hip Flexor Pain

If you're feeling the tightness every time you walk up the stairs or sit down, your instinct has probably been to Google "hip flexor stretches." But pigeon pose and happy baby (two of the most common that will come up from a quick search) don't actually solve the problem. To be fair, they may even make the hip flexor pain worse.

These kinds of moves are called static stretches, which are exercises without any sort of dynamic movement. "Think of stretching a rubber band for a long period of time. As it stays stretched, it starts to lose its elasticity, so when you let go, it won't be as effective or stable," says Heffron. "Similarly, static stretching begins to decrease the elasticity and stability of the muscles."

So should you never static stretch? Well, it's fine to do, say, post-run when your body is super pliable. But most physical therapists and trainers agree that static stretches aren't the best choice when your body isn't already warm—like when you're trying to stretch to relieve pain at night or first thing in the morning. (Related: 5 Stretches You Can Go Ahead and Never Do Again)

You'll also want to avoid any exercises where you're bringing your legs up toward your torso, like starfish crunches or mountain climbers. These shorten the hip flexors, and you want to lengthen to relieve tension.

Strengthening your glutes and core, on the other hand, trains both muscle groups to fire efficiently, taking the pressure off your hip flexors without destabilizing them entirely.

The Best Exercises for Hip Flexor Pain

If your hip flexors are aching, try the simple routine below first thing in the morning after your body is warmed up and flexible, advises Heffron. You should start to see relief after just a week or two (though the longer you do this hip flexor workout and more you progress, the more long-lasting relief you'll experience).

A few notes: You want to go slow and controlled, really squeezing your core and glutes with each move to increase stability. Think "rehabilitation" over "workout." And while you're probably used to doing higher reps or holding a plank for longer than this prescribes, the squeeze-and-release happening here (called isometric contractions) helps build endurance in your muscles and recruits more muscle fibers to aid in stabilization, says Heffron. Translation: Work slow now, and when you're ready, you'll be able to effectively activate those glute and core muscles during fasting movements and more reps. (And if you still have hip flexor pain, try these yoga hip openers as well.)

Glute Bridge

A. Lie on back, feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor, arms straight with palms flat on the floor. Tighten abs—you're aiming to hold this gentle contraction throughout the exercise while still breathing.

B. Keeping shoulders and feet on the ground, squeeze glutes and press hips up toward the ceiling until body forms one line from chest to knees.

C. Pause, then slowly lower yourself back to starting position.

Do 3 sets of 8

Dead Bug

A. Lie on back with arms extended in front of shoulders, pointing toward the ceiling. Bring knees to a 90-degree angle. Tighten abs and press lower back into the floor.

B. Take a deep breath in and, as you exhale, slowly extend left leg toward the floor and bring your right arm overhead.

C. Keeping abs tight, slowly return arm and leg to the starting position.

D. Repeat with opposite arm and leg.

Do 3 sets of 8, each side

Banded Bodyweight Squat

A. Slide a medium-strength looped resistance band over feet and place right above knees.

B. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width, toes turned slightly out. Tighten abs—you're aiming to hold this gentle contraction throughout the exercise while still breathing.

C. Keeping chest and head high, shift weight back into heels, squeeze glutes, and push hips directly back and downward. As you lower hips, continue to press knees outward to keep tension on the resistance band.

D. Once thighs are parallel to the floor, use glutes to rise back up to starting position, continuing to press knees out and engaging core.

E. Pause at the top, then repeat.

Do 3 sets of 8

Forearm Plank

A. Come into a push-up position but on forearms instead of hands. Lower hips so body forms a straight line from shoulders to ankles.

B. Tighten core and squeeze glutes as tight as you can. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds while breathing deeply.

C. Release, pause, and repeat.

Do 3 sets of 8, holding for 15 to 30 seconds each

Comments (11)

Anonymous
September 25, 2020
My name is Chris Henry and I am a former College football player and High School Track Coach. We've dealt with plenty of athletes with hip pointers. I have found this website, product, and info to be very helpful. Please check this out HERE. 
Anonymous
March 16, 2019
Hi, my name is Kate and I would like to share my story. A few years ago, my body was full of cellulite. I used to be disgusted at how much cellulite I had. But, with patience and determination (and a lot of research!), I managed to almost eliminate it. All it took, was the right exercise program and a way to manipulate estrogen metabolism. Read my story here ...==> http://bit.ly/cellulitecured
Anonymous
March 6, 2019
Hi, my name is Antonella and my weight loss journey started when I read Emma's story online. Emma's husband abandoned her for a younger woman. She turned to food for comfort and gained a lot of weight very fast. Luckily she discovered an amazing workout program that allowed her to achieve the best shape of her life. Read her story here >> https://bit.ly/getabikinibody
Anonymous
February 7, 2019
Hi, let me tell you Helen's story. She is in her late 30's and she is a mom of 3 adorable children. She has always struggled with her weight especially after the birth of her third child, 6 years ago. She just stopped taking care of herself. That is one of the main reasons why her marriage fell apart, 3 years ago. Her husband didn't even want to look at her naked for years. He actually told her that he felt betrayed. And the worst part? She also felt that she betrayed herself. She was feeling ashamed, guilty and embarrassed, which made her too weak mentally to be able to lose weight. Continue here >>> https://bit.ly/bodyweightprogram
Anonymous
January 13, 2019
Sit perspiciatis quia in. 💖 Ever heard of the Keto diet? I started using the advice at WWW.KETOCOOKBOOK.ORG and lost 25 pounds of fat in a month! I’ve never lost weight so fast!! The Keto Diet really is amazing because it forces the body to always burn fat for energy — so you lose the fat and keep it off. If you want to lose some weight, I highly recommend using that website :) Check it out! Best of luck to you! 💖
Anonymous
November 12, 2018
If you have a stiff, tight or painful hip then www.HipFlexor.org will unlock your hip flexors and restore movement the way it should be. Unlocking your hip flexors instantly breathes new life, energy, and strength into your body! I experienced immediate results. I've been able to loosen up my hips, decrease back tightness, and even workout harder. With so many people suffering with hip pain out there, this program is a great tool for anybody that wants to reduce pain while improving strength, performance, and overall health. Hip flexibility, mobility and strength is one of the most important things you can do to keep your overall body healthy. The video presentation and visuals in the exercise program give me confidence that I am doing the exercises correctly which for me is key with no personal trainer. The website is very complete in listing the possible causes of tight hip flexors and other factors that can lead to the issue. It has detailed, descriptive information regarding the anatomy of the hip, causes of such injuries, and a very progressive and well-explained exercise and stretching schedule that will assist to re-balance the hip and pelvic region, safely stretch and strengthen the muscle group. Best of luck to you! :)
Anonymous
November 9, 2018
Well... I think This is the best one for all... Just have a look http://bit.ly/urhipflexors
Anonymous
September 12, 2018
Grate article really helpful information, am 35 years old active soccer player, I was desperately trying to find help to fix a chronic pain in my right hip, This issue starts after I fall off from slide tackle playing soccer nothing was helping i even I try yoga with my wife, but some postures was making this pain worse to the point that I was having pain while I was driving, But one day having lunch with coworker she mentions that her dad was having back pain and they try this program https://bit.ly/2x0nVH3 Then I decide to try and little, but the little I notice the change now both my wife and I used this as work out and I even felt more flexible
Anonymous
August 31, 2018
Well, that's a nice post in which they told different exercises for hip flexors. Here I'm gonna show you awesomes Secrets of posture fix, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and more. check it here=> https://bit.ly/2wC6Im7
Anonymous
July 10, 2018
Like unfolding a sheet or unpacking a parcel, opening up the muscles in your hips requires it to be done in the right order. Try to release one muscle before another and you'll add to your tightness. Getting it wrong really can make it worse.It's why so many people give up trying to fix the problem themselves and believe incorrectly that they have to live with the problem. Leading Kinesiologist and Injury Specialist Rick Kaselj, MS is "THE" guy fitness professionals go to when they want to learn about the latest techniques to help their own clients. He's given over 352 live presentations to more than 8,152 health professionals in the US and Canada. For his latest products and latest guides on unlocking your hip flexors vist his website listed below:https://bit.ly/2NDTRrk
Anonymous
April 29, 2018
If you want to know how to lose weight really fast take a minute and read what I did to lose over 10 pounds in two weeks ..... http://bit.ly/2G4Gr6T