Muscle Group of the Week: Hip Flexors

by Dec 4, 2023

Hip flexors, as the name clearly suggests, are the muscles responsible for hip flexion.  We’ve talked about at least one hip flexor muscle in a previous blog – the rectus femoris, the most superficial quadriceps muscle, is a hip flexor muscle.  We also have the sartorius, which is the longest muscle in the body, crossing from the hip to the knee joint.  The pectineus, a short muscle extending from the pubic bone to below the greater trochanter of the femur, is an adductor muscle that also flexes the hip.

Anatomical highlight of the sartorius muscle in the legs

Sartorius

The rectus femoris already had its moment in this series, and the sartorius and pectineus will get theirs too!  But in this section, we’re going to focus on the prime movers for hip flexion: the iliacus and the psoas.

 

What Do They Do?anatomical highlight of the hip flexors showing the middle of the body only

Together, the iliacus and psoas are known as the iliopsoas.  It is a large compound muscle situated inside the pelvic bowl, and its components are responsible for:

Psoas

  • Flexion of thigh and trunk
  • Lateral flexion of trunk
  • Lateral rotation of thigh

Iliacus

  • Flexion of thigh and trunk

Because the iliopsoas muscle connects the spine to the lower limbs, it plays a major role in body posture and core stability.  It also assists with basic activities of daily living, maintaining an erect spine while sitting and initiating hip’s swing during a walk.  Any sport involving running or kicking engages the iliopsoas.

 

Making it Strong

You want to keep those hip flexors strong if you want to stand up straight and perform your best.  Here are some easy equipment-free exercises you can do at home!

woman in an orange top and black leggings doing mountain climbers on a green yoga mat

Mountain Climbers

woman doing a bridge on a pink yoga mat

Bridges

woman doing squats outside in charcoal leggings and a black sports top

Squats

Other hip engaging muscles we’ve discussed will benefit from these exercises too!  The bridges will strengthen the hip flexors along with your glutes, and the mountain climbers will work the hamstrings.  And don’t forget that squats primarily target the quads!

 

The Best Stretches

You’ve executed the hip flexor workouts perfectly and the muscles are all warmed up!  The next step is stretching those muscles while they’re warm and pliable.  Improve your hip flexibility with these easy stretches!

woman doing knee to chest stretch on the floor

Knee to Chest

woman doing lunging hip flexor stretch outside

Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

woman wearing a black workout top and red leggings doing a straight leg raise laying down outside

Straight Leg Raise

Keeping it Happy

psoas massage with hands on stomach

Second to the subscapularis, a trigger point-ridden rotator cuff muscle hidden deep inside the armpit, the psoas is considered the most painful muscle to have massaged.  Don’t let that discourage you from receiving a psoas massage, though.  Once you get that hypercontracted hip flexor loosened, you’ll walk with ease and be on the way to improved posture.

Just be sure to communicate with your chiropractor, physical therapist, or massage therapist if the massage becomes too uncomfortable.  If you catch yourself guarding or holding your breath when your belly is touched, the pressure is too deep and the therapist needs to ease up.  Discomfort is normal, considering how ignored this tucked-away muscle is when it comes to receiving bodywork.  It’s likely been tight for a long time!  But actual pain during a massage is counterproductive.  If the muscle can’t relax, the knots won’t release.

chiropractor working on patients psoas and hip flexors

After receiving a psoas massage, it’s important to strengthen the muscles that have been overstretched by the tight hip flexors.  The hamstrings and gluteal muscles are the antagonists of the iliopsoas.  Ask your therapist to perform assisted stretches targeting both muscle groups post-massage.

 

Now You Know!

Make sure every muscle in that pelvic bowl is in alignment!  Your posture, stability, and lower body mobility depend on it.

Next time we’ll talk about your biceps brachii, more commonly known as just the biceps.

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.

Resources

DeMatas, Dr. Kristina . “10 Best Hip Flexor Exercises for Strength and Mobility.” Sporty Doctor, 20 July 2023, sportydoctor.com/hip-flexor-exercises/. Accessed 17 Oct. 2023.

Kelly, Erin, and Travis Edwards, PT, MPT. “Hip Flexor Exercises: Strengthen and Stretch.” Healthline, 2015, www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/hip-flexor-exercises.

Kenhub. “Iliopsoas Muscle.” Kenhub, Kenhub, 9 July 2012, www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/iliopsoas-muscle.

Physiopedia. “Hip Flexors.” Physiopedia, 2022, www.physio-pedia.com/Hip_Flexors.

Photo Credit

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