All too often, we have pain in various parts of our bodies, and the culprit is not always evident. Are you having pain in your hamstring, knee, IT (iliotibial) band or Achilles? If you are having pain in these areas, weakness in your hip flexors may be the cause. The hip flexors are a group of muscles in the pelvic region and upper thighs that help drive up the knees and keep the pelvis and thighs aligned when running, kicking and sprinting. In fact, our hip flexors give us the ability to sit! The muscles that make up the hip flexors are collectively known as the soas (iliopsoas) or inner hip muscles. Flexion is a joint movement that decreases the angle between the bones that converge at the joint and is typically initiated by a muscle contraction. A muscle that flexes that joint is called a flexor.
That makes the hip flexors pretty important for our day to day functions, whether an athlete or not. However, if you are a runner or athlete, weak hip flexors can contribute to slower run times, improper form, and, according to a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, a host of lower-leg running injuries. What happens is that the body will try to compensate for the weakness by distributing the impact elsewhere such as in the IT band that runs along the side of the hip. This throws the body out of balance, and this added impact is what causes injuries, but by keeping the hip flexors strong, these injuries can be prevented.
The American Journal of Sports Medicine reported a study that was conducted on the patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly referred to as runner’s knee, and its association with hip weakness. The study concluded that improvements in hip flexion strength combined with increased IT band and soas flexibility were associated with excellent results in patients with runner’s knee.
Check out these great exercises for fitness enthusiasts, runners and athletes of all types. If performed three times or more a week, these exercises can significantly improve the strength of your hip flexors and ultimately improve your fitness, regardless of what your fitness level is.
Reverse Lunge with Knee Drive
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step backward with your right foot and lower into a lunge until your left knee is at a 90-degree angle. Make sure your knee does not extend past your toes. Push through your left heel to stand, driving your right knee up until it is parallel to the floor. Immediately lower back into a lunge. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side.
While standing on your right leg, lift your left knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Hold for 10 seconds while keeping your abs tight. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side. If at first keeping your balance is too challenging, lightly hold on to a chair.
Seated Hip Flexion
Sit with good posture in a chair or on a bench. Raise your right knee up toward your chest. Do not allow your thigh to roll in or out. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly lower your knee to start. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side.
Standing Hip Flex
While standing on your left leg, raise your right knee as high as you can, then repeat with your left leg after you return your right foot to the floor. Quickly continue alternating legs for 30 to 60 seconds. Do two to three sets.
Standing Knee Drive
Loop a resistance band around a sturdy object. Stand facing away from that object with the band around your right ankle. Drive your right knee up until it is parallel to the floor. Keep abdominals tight. Slowly lower your knee back down. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side.
Lateral Leg Raise
Lie on one side. Shoulder on the ground. Hands extended in front of you. Slowly raise your leg. Hold for 2-3 seconds and return to start. Repeat 10 times on each leg for 3 sets.