The wonderfully sexy world of hip flexors

We’re not super big into technical discussions here at WeRunandRide. But we do believe in basic instinctual lessons that can help those who run, ride and swim to be healthy and keep active.

hip-pain-hip-flexorWhich is why it’s time to talk about your hip flexors. This illustration shows the precise point where a group of muscles and tendons convene in the area known as your “hip flexors”  to make it possible for you to run.

Your “hip flexors” are actually a group of muscles that work together to help you lift your legs while running and doing other activities. They also help propel your legs during the kick in swimming. In cycling, they provide an oppositional tension in the pedaling motion. To put it simply, your hip flexors are the crux of forward motion in many respects.

You can do the series of exercises listed here, or which all happen to benefit other parts of your hip and glute region as well. The more you strengthen this support system, the less likelihood of injury you will have.

Smart runners, for example, know that tight hamstrings can lead to knee injuries. It seems counterintuitive to think that when something is not working on the back of your leg, it can be the front of the leg that gets injured. But it makes sense. Muscle imbalance leads to oppositional strain. This is biomechanics at work.

In the same way, weak hip flexors can lead to lower back pain. It is no coincidence that people who sit in office chairs for long periods of time often have tight hip flexors. That’s because the position of your body while sitting in a chair puts your hip flexors in an almost permanently kinked condition. When you go to straighten them out, or use them to run long distances, the unnaturally tight condition of that muscle group can lead to problems.

The best exercise I’ve used to isolate the hip flexors is a simple one that you can do at home. Take an mid-size exercise ball and lie flat on your back. Hold the ball in your hands and swing the legs up above you while swinging your arms down to place the ball between your ankles. Repeat this exercise 20 times and you’ll feel your hip flexors start to tire at 10-15 repeats. Go slowly if necessary, and be careful to train, not strain the region.

You can also do bent knee versions of the same exercise. Both work on your core strength at the same time.

If you’re a swimmer, putting fins on your feet and kicking from the hip with full leg motion can strengthen the hip flexors as well.

Hip Flexor Illustration.pngThink about the many runners you see out on the road. How many actually appear to engage in a fluid stride, one that moves freely from the hips rather than scuffling along. You can see the difference in hip flexion between the fluid stride of the gal versus the tighter stride of her father. Granted, they are in a slightly different phase of the running stride. But age is no friend to our hip flexion capacity. That’s the point.

Flexibility works

So to maintain this youthful vigor and fluidity in the running stride takes some work. The gym is a perfect place to engage in hip flexor exercises. Use the groin machine in which you place pads on the inside of the knees and pull them together to strengthen you groin and hip flexors. Lunges with 20 lb weights in each hand will help as well.

And for God’s sake, go out and do some speed work. Runners are so damn concerned about efficiency they often fall into these shuffling strides and wonder why they never get any faster or always get injured. You can’t increase your hip flexor range of motion doing 10- minute miles. It just isn’t going to. So even if your race pace goal is 1o minute miles, and that’s okey, you need to do some sprints on the track where you force your hip flexors into action. Loosen up. Run fast. Get up on your toes. Sprint, goddamnit!

High hurdles.jpgThink about the comparative hip flexibility of high hurdlers in track. They can run with their legs extended horizontally and snap them through all the way into the next stride. Their hip flexors are exceptionally loose and strong at the same time.

Doing so-called “hurdle stretches” in which you perch on the ground with one leg bent back so the heel nearly touches your butt used to be common practice for the running community. Some physical therapists and trainers do not recommend them. But in 40 years of running, I have seen no ill effects on the knees or any other part of the body from doing hurdle stretches. I also competed in the steeplechase which involved hurdling no less than 35 barriers and 7 water jumps over 3000 meters. I also competed in the 400 hurdles, running under 60 seconds while jumping those 13 (I think) intermediate hurdles on the way. By the last hurdle, your hip flexors are definitely tired in that race, along with every other inch of your body. Pure hell.

Hip flexor cross training

While we did not do specific hip flexor training over the winter months or during indoor track, my own training program included playing plenty of basketball. Hours and hours of basketball in fact. That sport really helps your hip and groin strength. Tennis works just as well, and cross-country skiing in winter.

One of the other exercises that really works the hip flexors is to find one of those pieces of gym equipment where you place your arms perpendicular to the body on pads and lift your knees to your chest. That’s a killer exercise for groin and hip flexor improvement.

Sexy hip flexors

Swimmer.7What we’re saying here is that having really strong hip flexors is a very sexy thing when it comes to how well you run, ride and swim. There’s always something about watching really fluid looking athletes that is visually pleasing. Think of those sexy male swimmers in the Olympic pool. Slick as seals and just as fluid, you might say.

And also, how about those track girls running in those tiny shorts? You can see the hip flexors and butt muscles going to work to make speed happen. All the strength and grace you could ask for is composed in their strides.

The world moves on a woman’s hips

Years ago one of the songs on the Talking Heads album Remain In Light contained some interesting lyrics about the foundational aspect of a woman’s hips. The words seemed to imply that the female form around the hips has played an important role in the history of the human race. From procreation to delivery there is mystique in the feminine form, but sometimes its just the motion that seems to make the world go round.

A woman's hipsThe world moves on a woman’s hips
The world moves and it swivels and bops
The world moves on a woman’s hips
The world moves and it bounces and hops
A world of light…she’s gonna open our eyes up
A world of light…she’s gonna open our eyes up
She’s gonna hold/it move/it hold it/move it hold/it move it hold/
it move it
A world of light…she’s gonna open out eyes up

See, hip flexibility really is a really functional yet sexy thing in this world for both men and women. It not only gets us where we want to go, it helps us look good going there.

Advertisements

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
This entry was posted in running, swimming, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The wonderfully sexy world of hip flexors

  1. Reblogged this on Robinson's Strength and Endurance Coaching and commented:
    Here is a great blog on how to improve your hip flexors and why, no if you are a single sport athlete or multi-sport athlete. For more great blogs like this follow his blog.

    • Thanks so much for the reblog, Wayne! I’ll try to return the favor~!

      • You are welcome, it is a great article. My son missed the last half of cross country season last year do to hip flexor injury. He was 13 years old and thought dad did not know anything. Took him to see a sport specialist after the season was over (two weeks before swim started) and him on a stretching route.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s