The True Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexor stretch has become a very popular stretch in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so considering how many people live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt.  However, this seems to be one of those stretches that I see a lot of people either performing incorrectly or too aggressively.  I talked about this in a recent Inner Circle webinar on 5 common stretches we probably shouldn’t be using, but I wanted to expand on the hip flexor stretch as I feel this is pretty important.

I’ve started teaching what I call the “true hip flexor stretch.”  I call it the true hip flexor stretch as I want you to truly work on stretching the hip flexor and not just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.  When performing, most people say they never felt a stretch like that before, hence the name “true hip flexor stretch.”

 

True Hip Flexor Stretch

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Key Points

  • There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch.  When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching your hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris.
  • Keep it a one joint stretch.  Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee.  This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch.  They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
  • Stay tall.  Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip.  Most people are too tight for this, trust me.  You’ll end up stretch out the anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
  • Make sure you incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt.  Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt.  This will give your the “true” stretch we are looking for.  Many people wont even need to lean in a little, they’ll feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
  • If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder.  Many people have a hard time turing on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it is key.
  • Guide your hips with your hands.  I usually start this stretch with your hands on your hips so I can teach you to feel posterior pelvic tilt.  Place your fingers in the front and thumbs in the back and cue them to posterior tilt and make their thumbs move down.

true hip flexor stretch

  • Progress to add core engagement.  Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement.  You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground.  Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.

 

I use this for people that really present in an anterior pelvic tilt, or with people that appear to have too loose of an anterior hip capsule.  This works great for people with low back pain, hip pain, and postural and biomechanical issues related to too much of an anterior pelvic tilt.  Give the true hip flexor stretch a try and let me know what you think.

 

 

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2 Responses to “The True Hip Flexor Stretch”

  1. Good points on isolating the single joint hip flexors and avoiding compensations. I am curious about your perspective (and others) on why this is less likely to stress the anterior capsule? I tend to add trunk side ending before finalizing the stretch to bias the psoas. The stretch you have outlined seems like an iliacus and ant. capsule biased stretch. Thoughts? If I really want to protect the anterior capsule, I’ll also add a slight amount of hip internal rotation.

  2. I appreciate the key points section.
    In response to previous comments: the posterior pelvic tilt with concommitant lumbar flexion without trunk flexion (“staying tall”) should address both iliacus and psoas major, although I agree that a contralateral SB may add to a psoas stretch (Warfel) if lumbar spine is cleared.
    Anterior capsule stretch is minimized with the hip in neutral and pelvic in PPT rather than the anterior glide arthokinematics with hip extension that occurs in a “lunge” position (Kaltenborn).
    Gluteal contraction (especially if is a position of active insufficiency) must be monitored as some patients use hamstrings to perform PPT and a hamstring contraction can cause anterior shear at the hip joint(Sahrmann).
    Femoral IR position may decrease the stretch to the anterior capsule but could bias the stretch to TFL.

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