5 Best Hip Flexor Stretches


Unrecognizable woman stretching hips.

(Getty Images)

If you’re like most people and spend most of your day sitting, there’s a good chance you have tight hip flexors. These critical muscles, which link our torso to our legs, are integral for daily movement and good posture.

Yet, by spending long hours behind a desk, on the couch or in the car, many people’s hip flexors are suffering the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.

Causes of Tight Hip Flexors

The hip flexors are a group of muscles along the front of your upper thighs. They consist of five muscles – the psoas major, iliacus, pectineus, rectus femoris and sartorius – that work together to flex the hip and lift your thigh when you walk, run or stand.

“They are also an important part of trunk stability, core strength and hip stability,” says Trevor Delaney, a certified primary spine practitioner and physical therapy program director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Rehab Institute. 

When you spend a lot of time sitting, the hip flexor muscles tend to shorten and tighten up.

However, it’s not only people with desk jobs who are prone to developing tight hip flexors. Over time, hip flexor tightness can also affect athletes who are involved in sports and physical activities that require repetitive hip flexion or hip stabilization – such as cycling, running or soccer. In these cases, the muscles tighten to try to protect the hip joint, explains Fabio Comana, a faculty member in exercise physiology at San Diego State University and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Best Hip Flexor Stretches

Relieve discomfort and boost flexibility in your hip flexors with the following stretches.

Half-kneeling lunge

Demonstration of a half knee lunge hip flexor stretch.

(U.S. News/Shanley Chien)

  1. Kneel on the floor and bring your right leg out in front so that your right foot is flat on the floor and your right thigh is parallel to the floor.
  2. Place your hands on the floor on either side of your foot. When you feel stable, place your hands on your hips or on your right knee for support as you straighten your back in the upright position.
  3. Keep your left knee and shin on the floor and slowly slide them back until you feel a gentle stretch in the front of your left hip. Keep your torso long as you do this without leaning forward.
  4. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  5. For a deeper stretch, reach your left arm overhead and slightly toward the right as you drive your hips forward.
  6. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Alternate these half-kneeling lunges for a total of four reps on each side. 

Prone hip extension

Demonstration of a prone hip extension stretch.

(U.S. News/Shanley Chien)

  1. Lie chest down on the floor with your legs straight. Cross your arms and place them under your head for support, with your head turned to either side.
  2. Bend the right knee in a 90-degree angle until the sole of the right foot is facing the ceiling. If you have particularly tight hip flexors, your hip may shift and lift off the ground, but it’s important to make sure both hips stay squared to the floor to get the most out of the stretch.
  3. Lift the front of the right thigh off the floor a few inches. (If your back arches, it may help to place a small pillow or towel under your waist for support.)
  4. Slowly lower your right thigh back down to the floor.
  5. Do this 5 to 10 times.
  6. Repeat on the other leg. 

Thomas test stretch

Demonstration of the Thomas Test stretch.

(U.S. News/Josh Welling)

  1. Lie on your back on a bed or table with your head and neck supported and your legs hanging off the end.
  2. Bend your left knee toward your chest and hug it with both arms.
  3. Let your right leg hang off the bed or table while keeping your back flat on the bed or table. “The weight of your leg and gravity will lead to a stretch of the right hip flexors,” explains Peter Ronai, a clinical professor of exercise science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Pigeon pose

Demonstration of the Pigeon Pose.

(U.S. News/Josh Welling)

  1. Start in a pushup position with your hands and the balls of your feet on the floor, and your shoulders over your wrists.
  2. Lift your right foot and bring it forward, placing your right bent knee at a 90-degree angle on the floor so it’s next to your right hand and your right foot is near your left hand. (Precisely where your knee and toes are positioned will depend on your flexibility.)
  3. Stretch the left leg behind you as far as you can, while keeping your hips squared toward the floor.
  4. Lower yourself onto your forearms, keeping your head and neck in line with your spine. (If that’s too intense, you can stay on your hands.)
  5. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  6. Switch sides.

Bridge

Demonstration of the Bridge hip flexor stretch.

(U.S. News/Shanley Chien)

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your arms along the sides of your body, with your palms on the floor.
  2. With your heels and hands pressing into the floor, lift your hips toward the ceiling as high as you can without arching your back. (The goal is to have your knees, hips and shoulders in a straight line.)
  3. Hold this high position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your hips to the floor.
  4. Repeat this 5 to 10 times.

Potential Complications From Tight Hip Flexors

“Tight hip flexors alter the alignment of the skeleton, making you less stable and compromising mobility,” Comana says. “You’re not able to move as efficiently, which leads to wear and tear on other segments and increases the risk of acute or overuse injury.”

To prevent these potential complications, it’s important to regularly give your tight hip flexors some relief.

Tips to Avoid Future Hip Flexor Tightness

Giving your hip flexors the TLC they need (and deserve) is critical for many aspects of your physical health and wellness.

In fact, a 2021 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that even a single session of hip flexor stretching in healthy adults led to immediate improvements in their standing postural alignment.

But stretching only when you feel tightness is a short-term solution. It’s important to take care of your hips regularly for long-term hip health.

Here are some strategies for preventing tight hip flexors in the future:

  • Sit less. Given that sitting too much is one of the primary causes of hip flexor tightness, you can prevent this in the future by changing your habits – namely, by sitting less. If you tend to spend a lot of time sitting at your desk, set a reminder on your phone to take breaks from your chair by standing or walking around for a few minutes.
  • Create an ergonomic workspace. “Get a standing workstation, which will help with your posture too,” Comana says. “Start by aiming to spend 5% more of your day in a standing position.” Then, you can build up from there.
  • Stretch more. To keep your hips limber, do hip flexor stretches at least once a day and focus on maintaining good posture when you’re standing throughout the day. Research shows that regularly doing hip muscle stretches can relieve low back pain and instability and improve physical functionality in people with low back pain, while also improving hip muscle flexibility.
  • Warm up before working out. Giving yourself time to properly warm up before working out or doing any strenuous physical activity helps prime the body for movement. It increases blood flow to the muscles, making it easier for them to contract and stretch, and reduces the risk of strains, injuries and tightness throughout the body.

Taking these steps is worth the effort for your overall health and well-being, especially as we age.

“The trick is to get optimal length back in those hip flexors to maintain functionality as you get older,” Ronai says.

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