Tight hip flexors? You are not alone. It seems like most humans can relate - largely due to us spending hours a day sitting. Our sedative behavior forces our hip flexor muscles to shorten, and even worse, might be the root of our chronic back pain.
Before we jump into the best stretches for your hip flexors, it’s essential to realize that there are four major muscles in charge of hip flexion. Most people think of the iliopsoas as the only hip flexor muscle.
Not only is this false, but the iliopsoas is such a deeply embedded muscle that is nearly impossible to release with stretching alone. If your focus has been solely on this muscle, you most likely feel as though you aren’t making much progress.
Fear not! This line up of stretches targets all four major hip flexing muscles:
- Tensor fascia latae
- Rectus femoris
And okay, we are just going to come clean right away. Not all of these are actually considered stretches, but we promise they all provide the potential for huge release of those angry hips flexors.
Perform each for at least 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes. Be sure to breathe slowly and deeply for the best results!
The iliopsoas attaches from your lumbar spine and moves through your pelvis to reattach at your femur or thigh bone. Because the bulk of it resides so deep in your pelvis, it can be a very challenging muscle to stretch, but these are our top 2 ways to release your iliopsoas.
#1: Foot Elevated Release
Okay, so this first one is not necessarily a stretch. It is a passive release for your iliopsoas muscles and can be done using a couch, chair, bench, or bed. Remember how we said your iliopsoas is a stubborn sucker? This passive release is a great solution to tight hip flexors.
Lie on your back and try to elevate your feet, so your knees are roughly at a 90-degree angle. This position, as long as you can be completely relaxed, allows your iliopsoas to “turn off.”
Stay for no less than 30 seconds, but 2 minutes is ideal for those muscles to let go fully!
#2: Knee to Chest Stretch (with hips elevated)
This stretch can be done without a foam roller (or bolster) under your hips, but the elevation of your hips deepens the stretch - a lot.
Lie on your back and slide a foam roller or bolster under your hips, if available. Draw one knee towards your chest and hold it in place by wrapping your hands around your thigh or shin.
Extend your other leg until you feel a stretch down the front of your hip. The straight leg is the side you are stretching. You can play around with how extended you have your knee - your foot may or may not touch the ground.
Hold for at least 30 seconds each side, up to 2 minutes.
Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
This muscle is technically in the category of glute muscles, but aids in hip flexion as well. You can locate it by placing your fingers on your hip bone (bony protrusion at the front of your hips) and move your fingers about 45 degrees out, towards the sides of your hips. There’s about a 4-inch long piece of muscle that you can really get into manually or with a foam roller, unlike the iliopsoas.
#3: Low Lunge w/ Lateral Reach
Lunges are typically the go-to stretch for hip flexors. While they aren’t a bad option, this variation is a game-changer. The magic ingredient? Start firing up that peach!
Set yourself up in a low lunge, with your back knee on the ground, and both knees at 90 degrees. Your hips should be stacked directly over your bottom knee. Do not shift forward. Now, fire up your cheeks, specifically the glutes on the dropped knee side.
By engaging your booty, you instantly lengthen the front of your hip (aka your hip flexors!). If you do not engage your glutes and simply shift forward into the stretch, your hip flexors will not get the lovin’ they need or deserve.
From here, reach your dropped knee sidearm up by your ear and move slowly into a lateral stretch towards the opposite side. Squeeze your glutes the entire time and breathe.
Enjoy this for 30 seconds each side, up to 2 minutes.
#4: 90-90 Manual Release
This position will come up later in the “adductor” section, so feel free to do them both back to back. Again, this is not a typical stretch, but it most certainly will help you release tension in your TFL by manually digging in with your elbow, fist, or fingers. Sounds fun, right?
Set up both of your legs at 90 degrees, as shown in the picture. For this release, you will be focusing on the TFL of your back leg. Locate your TFL (45 degrees out from your hip bone) and go to town. Using your finger, fist, or elbow, and massage with as much pressure as feels right. You will know when you’ve found it - it will likely be more tender than you thought!
# 5: TFL Foam Roll
The foam roller is basically a cheap (wo)man’s massage. It provides a quick and easy way to release tension in our muscles (like stretching does) and can provide a drastic reduction in pain and discomfort.
You still remember where your TFL is, right? Lay on the foam roller with your TFL resting directly onto the roller. From here, you may stay put, relax, and breathe. You may also slowly roll up and down the length of your TFL (about 4 inches).
Spend at least 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes on each side.
This muscle is technically one of your quadricep muscles, yet it is the only one that crosses your hip joint - and aids in hip flexion. There are numerous quad stretches out there, but these two will show significant results.
#6: Foot Elevated Lunge
Same rules apply to this stretch as they did for the “Low Lunge w/ Lateral Reach” - aka buns of steel.
Set up in a low lunge position like you did for stretch #3, but this time have a wall or low bench set up behind you. Your back foot will rest on the wall or bench, while you maintain the alignment of your hips stacked above your bottom knee.
Squeeze your glutes, specifically on the same side as your lifted foot. This may be a deep enough stretch right here. If it is too much and you can’t keep your glutes engaged, move your whole set up forward a few inches. If you need more, scoot your lunge set up closer to the bench/wall.
While squeezing your cheeks, try to shift your weight back and start to draw your hips towards your lifted heel. Only go as far as you can while engaging your glutes and without adding tension elsewhere!
Stay for 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes.
#7: RF Foam Roll
Your Rectus Femoris runs from your hip to your knee, and that is precisely the space you will roll with this one. Place the foam roller under your thighs. Use your upper body to help push and pull yourself forward and back, moving from hip to knee.
You may also do one leg at a time (cross the other leg over on top of “working” leg). This will make the pressure increase on your muscles, and therefore allow you to get deeper into the tissues.
Spend at least 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes.
The adductor muscles (longus, brevis, and magnus) are located along your inner thigh and are the 4th of our hip flexor muscles. If you have ever felt like you pulled or strained your groin, it’s probably your adductors that are screaming at you. These muscles are commonly forgotten when it comes to stretching hip flexors, but not anymore!
#8: ½ Kneeling Side Lunge
Start on hands and knees with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Extend one leg straight out to the side as pictured.
You may feel a stretch down your inner thigh already here. If so, great! Stay and breathe. If you want more, slowly rock your hips back towards your heels, without rounding your spine. No hunchbacks.
Spend at least 30 seconds on this stretch, up to 2 minutes.
#9: Bound Angle
Start seated with the soles of your feet together. It is not important how close you get your heels to your hips. Play around with where you place your feet. You may get a deeper adductor stretch with your feet further out or in than pictured.
Stay seated tall if the stretch is sufficient. To go deeper, you may rock your torso forward and even rest your elbows on your thighs to assist the stretch further.
Spend at least 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes here.
#10: 90-90 Stretch
You’ve been here before (in #4) — resume position.
Once you are set up, simply hang out and breathe. The adductor stretch is occurring on the inner thigh of your back leg. Your hip on this side may not be touching the ground. This is okay, but as you breathe into this stretch, picture it lowering closer to the ground - aka try to keep your weight between legs and sides even.
Spend at least 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes per side.
#11: Adductor Foam Roll
Your adductors run from your pubic bone to your knee, and that is exactly the space you will roll with this one. Place the foam roller under your inner thigh, as shown in the picture. Use your upper body to help rock yourself side to side, moving the length of these muscles.
If there is a spot along your adductors that feels especially tight, you may stop and try to relax into the foam roller.
Spend at least 30 seconds per side, up to 2 minutes.
The 11 Best “Stretches” for Tight Hip Flexors (Summary)
While this master list does not consist of only stretches, we are confident that each of these will help rid you of the tight hip flexor epidemic dominating us all.
Don’t forget that your hip flexors consist of four major muscles - all that can be released, stretched, and foam rolled. These 11 stretches will help your hips stay loose:
- Foot Elevated Release
- Knee to Chest Stretch (with hips elevated)
- Low Lunge w/ Lateral Reach
- 90-90 Manual Release
- TFL Foam Roll
- Foot Elevated Lunge
- RF Foam Roll
- ½ Kneeling Side Lunge
- Bound Angle
- 90-90 Stretch
- Adductor Foam Roll
Happy hips await!
P.S. If this info is speaking to your soul and you want to know more secrets to reduce other aches and tension in your body, check out our program - 7 days to unlock tension and increase mobility from head to toe. Also, in need of a new foam roller? The IntelliRoll Textured High Density Foam Roller is the creme de la creme.