Are you a runner with tight or weak hip flexors? Or both?
Strong, stable and active hip flexors generally lead to better running mechanics and in turn, better performances. So how can we ensure that our hip flexors are doing their job and we get the most out of our training/racing. First we need to understand what our hip flexors are and how they help us run…
There are five muscles involved in flexing your hip. These include your TFL, rectus femoris, Sartorius, psoas and iliacus. The first three allow you to lift your knee up to hip level, but not beyond. The ones that are significant for athletes, in particular; runners, are the psoas and the iliacus. These two muscles allow you to lift your knee above your hip, and are really important for efficient running.
Running has become a popular activity amongst Irish adults. And why wouldn’t it? It is inexpensive and it can be done anywhere at any time; making it a common activity to fit around your work day. A problem arises when people go out for their daily run after spending a prolonged period sitting at their desk. After spending the day being sedentary, people’s hip flexors (psoas & iliacus) often become shortened and inactive. Because the psoas muscle is attached to the spine, if this muscle is shortened or inactive, it can cause some problems such as back pain. In addition to this, if people go out after work without stretching or activating their glutes and hip flexors, there is a greater risk of heavy legged running as use of the psoas and iliacus muscles is restricted. Instead the smaller muscles are doing the work: the TFL, rectus femoris and Sartorius (the quad based muscles). This can then lead to tightness in these muscles due to overuse.
So how do we avoid letting this happen? Stretching can give you temporary relief. However, the best solution would be to stretch and activate your hip flexors before activity so you’re more efficient in your movement and lighter on your feet.
First of all we need to find out whether your hip flexors are tight or weak.
Try this simple test:
Step 1: Find a high box or ledge.
Step 2: Lift your foot and place it on top of the box/ledge. Ensure that the box/ledge is high enough so that when you put your foot on it, your knee is higher than your hip. Stand tall and place your hands behind your head and pull your shoulders back.
Step 3: From this position, try to lift the leg off the box/ledge and hold this position for 10 seconds. If this is difficult, the chances are you have weak and inactivate hip flexors. This test is also a good strengthening exercise for your hip flexor.
Another way to stretch and activate your hip flexor, is by using mini-bands.
Step 1: Lie down on your back, place the mini band around your feet (as shown) and lift your knees so that your legs are at a right angle.
Step 2: Keeping the band around your feet, press your right foot out straight and place your heel on the ground, while holding your left knee static.
Step 3: Return to the starting position.
Step 4: Repeat on the opposite side.
Remember, just stretching your hip flexors isn’t enough. You need to find out whether your hip flexors are working/activated. If you find that they are not activated, try incorporating these exercises into your training plan. I recommend doing these exercises twice per week.
Blog by Peter Mathews NMT CPT – Physical Therapist, Exercise & Running Specialist at Dublin Sports Clinic.