Strengthening The Hip Flexors
Hip flexors are a group of muscles that help you move your leg and knee up towards your body. Believe it or not, they play a role in every sport, and tight hip flexors can be a big inhibitor of ability. The hip flexor consists of the iliopsoas muscle group, which makes the hip flex, the sartorius muscle, which aids in flexion and rotation, and the rectus femoris, which is part of the quadriceps. In order to maintain excellent running form and avoid injury, it’s important to exercise and stretch the hip flexor so all these muscles engage in accordance. Here are a few of CoachUp's favorite stretches and exercises for stretching and strengthening the hip flexor.
The kneeling hip flexor stretch is one of the best stretches a runner can do. First, kneel down on just one knee. If you have your right knee on the ground, you will be stretching your right hip flexor. Keep the front knee above your ankle so that it's at a 90 degree angle. Push your pelvis forward, keep your torso tall, lean into the stretch, and activate the glute that's being stretched by lightly clenching it. Hold this stretch for thirty seconds and then repeat with the other leg. Perform this stretch in a dynamic fashion before competition by executing the steps above during walking lunges, holding each one for no more than three seconds.
Leg raises are a good exercise for strengthening your hip flexor, so begin by lying flat on your back. Then, keep your legs together and raise them up off the ground. Bring them as far back towards your head as possible while keeping your back on the ground and then slowly lower them again. Do reps of ten or more, depending on your ability level, over the course of three sets. This exercise activates the hip flexors simultaneously and improves strength -- for such a simple stretch, it can benefit you so much!
Find a wall or railing, really anyway that you can put your hands up against in a fixed position is perfect. While standing on one leg, swing the other leg back and forth horizontally along the wall while keeping your torso as still as possible. Try to kick up as high as you can on both ends of the swing. Kick 15-20 times each way then repeat with the other leg -- this will activate your glutes, groin, and hip flexors, giving them all a nice stretch at once.
Then, last but not least, you've got bridges, which is another crucial strengthening exercise for runners. Lie on your back, keeping the bottoms of your feet on the ground with your knees bent. Keep your arms at your sides on the ground, then lift your hips up so that your body forms a straight line from your knees to your head. Hold this position for a couple seconds, rest, and repeat.
(Related: Read about the importance of foam rolling often here.)
Stretching and strengthening the hip flexors is extremely important for runners because it helps prevent injury while also increasing performance. Loose hip flexors and muscles allow you to perform to the best of your ability, so make sure you're taking the time to properly prepare yourself before your next practice, race, or match. These exercises won't be the end-all-be-all in terms of keeping you safe and healthy, but the longer and more consistently you do these, the stronger your body will become as a unit. So, get out there and forget about the personal records or laps and give your hip flexors the attention it deserves.