For anyone, whether you are an athlete or not, Hip Flexor strengthening is important to maintain good overall health. Proper strengthening can help prevent a hip flexor injury, and condition your body so you are not at risk of developing hip flexor tendonitis.
When you strengthen your muscles, it requires less effort to do the same amount of work as before, and when you are using a smaller percentage of your strength capacity, there is much less of a chance of a ‘freak’ injury occurring like a hip flexor strain.
The rest of this post will guide you through different hip flexor strengthening exercises and how to make a routine to suit your needs.
These are named as such because when performed correctly, your legs look like they would when you are riding a bicycle. The video below should help you learn this exercise if you are not already familiar with it.
To Perform: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head like you are performing a traditional sit-up. Raise one elbow at the same time as the opposite leg and try to touch your knee with your elbow, simply alternate this motion between sides.
Strengthen Hip Flexors With Resistance Band Work
Resistance bands (or cables) are extremely versatile tools that can be applied to hip flexor strengthening. Using these bands allow you to easily isolate one specific angle of hip flexion if desired and lets you put your hip flexors through their natural full range of motion. You can swing your leg in any direction, front to back, side to side, etc. Try to incorporate multiple directions to get the full benefit of the band for your hip flexor.
Tip: Make sure to swing your leg slowly and in control, try to avoid using momentum as this will take work away from your hip flexor.
To Perform: Attach whatever band or cable you have available to your ankle firmly. Get in a comfortable position while balancing on the foot not attached to the band and perform the desired motion for as many repetitions as you would like.
Leg Raises – Lying Down or Hanging
Leg raises are a body-weight exercise that is extremely difficult. When you first begin doing these you will most likely only be able to do a few repetitions, but keep at it and you will see massive improvement when you use them regularly to strengthen hip flexors.
Lying: Lay flat on your back and lift your legs up slowly. Make sure to keep your gluteus on the ground and your lower back as flat as possible on the ground. Lift them as high as you can go while keeping good form, and then slowly lower them back down to the ground.
Hanging: The difference is your starting position. These are much more difficult and are considered an advanced variation. Start in a hanging position off a bar and slowly lift up your legs by bending at the waist, do not bend your knees. Finish a repetition by lowering your legs again once you have reached your maximum height.
“V” – Ups
This is a great exercise to perform because it engages almost all of your hip flexor muscles, especially the Illiacus.
To Perform: Lie on your back once again to start this exercise. These are similar to lying leg raises except that you will also be lifting the top half of your body. Try to touch your toes to your hands and then slowly lower back down to the initial starting position.
Use Squats To Strengthen Hip Flexors
Squats are well known to most people but typically for leg strengthening purposes. What you need to know is that squats involve the hips a lot when performed correctly, and some of those ‘leg muscles’ are crucial parts of the hip flexor.
To Perform: Slowly descend from a standing position while keeping your lower back straight at all time. Try to use a visual cue of ‘sitting back’ into the squat. Try to go down as far as possible in a controlled movement but if you do not have the flexibility initially that’s ok, just keep at it and you will develop the flexibility after a few sessions. Once you are at the bottom simply stand up by ‘pushing’ forward and up with your hip muscles. If you are training for athletic strength the ascension should be done as explosively as possible.
Learn to do squats with just your body-weight at first and then slowly add weight that reflects what you are trying to accomplish.
Quad Extensions on an Exercise Ball
This is a great exercise not only for you hip flexors but for your core as well. Try to keep a tight core and upper body during this exercise to really work your stabilizing muscles.
To Perform: Position yourself with your calves/top of feet on top of the exercise ball and your hands comfortably in front on the ground. Push your legs up and out, hold the extended position for a second, and then return to the original position.
How to Design a Hip Flexor Strengthening Routine
The next question is how do we know which exercises to use to accomplish our goals? First you must determine what your goal actual is, what do you hope to achieve through hip flexor strengthening? The most common answers are for general well-being, to improve athletic performance, or to prevent injuries and the associated hip flexor pain.
There are 2 basic types of routines that are usually performed to start off with, one concerning endurance and one for strength (Note that strength in this context is in terms of explosiveness and power).
If you are looking to get generally more fit (prevent injuries) or are an endurance runner who wishes to improve their performance, you should look to begin more of an endurance routine. On the contrary, if you are a power athlete (sprinter, American football player, or a hockey player) you will want to use a strength routine to improve the amount of force you can apply while playing and prevent injuries from common movements during training.
Endurance Hip Flexor Strengthening Routine
An endurance routine focuses on higher repetitions at a reduced load with short breaks in-between sets. All of the above hip flexor strengthening exercises can be performed, however, some of them you may not be able to do many repetitions of initially.
Ideally you will be performing hip flexor strengthening 2-3 times per week. In order to keep things fun and keep you motivated it’s nice to have a few different routines.
- Bicycle Sit-ups
- Quad extensions
- Leg Raises
- Resistance Band Work
For each routine perform 3 full cycles with about 30 seconds of rest between each exercise. Aim for 15-20 reps of each exercise; while you may not be able to do at least 15 repetitions initially of some of the exercises, just do as many as you can with good form and try to increase the repetitions the next workout.
Once you can do 20 reps for an exercise make them more difficult if you can. You can add weights (Squats/Leg Raises), a weighted ball (in between feet for V-ups), an unstable surface (like a towel for Quad Extensions) or a resistance band (for Sit-ups or a stronger one for band work).
Strength Hip Flexor Strengthening Routine
Your goal for every exercise is to be as explosive as possible during the concentric phase of the movement (when you lift the weight up), for example, descend slowly and in control during squats and then explode up engaging the hips. Make sure you do this safely and with as much control as possible to minimize the chance of injury.
The exercises are the same as for the endurance routine, but just about everything else is different. The exercises included in the routines are as follows:
- Bicycle Sit-ups
- Quad extensions
- Leg Raises
- Resistance Band Work
You want to have 1-2 sessions a week of strength work, you can add this onto a workout program you already have for the rest of your body parts.
For each exercise you want to aim for 3-6 reps of explosive, high quality movements. Look to add about 5% of the resistance or weight every week to get the muscular adaption you are trying to get. An important note is that these sets are 100% effort, therefore they also require at least 2-4 minutes rest in-between sets. Make sure you are focused when performing any exercise at this intensity or you can make a mistake and potential get hurt.
Hip flexor strengthening can be beneficial for almost anyone regardless of activity level. There are a variety of exercises you can perform which engage the hip flexors, 6 of which are explained in depth above. Create a hip flexor strengthening routine based on what your goals are and follow it with discipline to see results.