Maximizing Power for Runners and Lifters: Maintaining and Increasing Flexibility in the Hip Flexors

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by STEPHANIE RING

Maximizing Power for Runners and Lifters: Maintaining and Increasing Flexibility in the Hip Flexors

When we talk about the role of the hip flexors in squatting technique and running power, we can begin the conversation in terms of flexibility. Tightness in the hip flexors can:

  • prevent full extension as you come out of the squat;
  • can pull on the pelvis as you lower down to prevent your back from staying upright; and/or
  • decrease your full power potential during your run stride if you can’t fully extend the hips as the striking foot leaves the ground behind you.

Hip Flexor Anatomy 101

Now that you know where the target muscles are located, be focused and deliberate in your stretching to increase efficacy of each stretch.
Without getting too anatomical, the hip flexors consist of 3 main muscles — Iliacus, Psoas Major and Rectus Femoris. The Iliopsoas (more commonly referred to as the hip flexors) flex the hip joint as well as stabilize the low back. The Rectus Femoris (top most quad muscle), along with some other muscles we won’t get into today, assist with that hip flexion. For all the tactile learners out there, try standing up straight and lifting your knee up so that it is parallel with your hip. Now find the hip crease and press down — you should feel a tense muscle which is most likely the Illacus. Now from here, straighten your leg while keeping it as high as you can. Feel for the muscle on the very top of your thigh; that is the Rectus Femoris. If you found it difficult to find these muscles on your own body, here is where we get a little more precise with the anatomy so that you can see where exactly these muscles are in relation to your hip joint.

Iliacus: Inserts into inner side of hipbone, joins with the psoas major, and originates in the inner flat surface of the hipbone.

Psoas Major: Originates in the lumbar spine (specifically T12-L5), joins with the Iliacus, and inserts into the inner side of the hipbone.

Psoas Major

Rectus Femoris: One of the quadriceps muscles, the Rectus Femoris originates at the wing of the ilium (i.e. the upper lateral parts of the pelvis) and attaches to the patella tendon (knee cap).

Rectus Femoris

If you are squatting heavy, semi-heavy at high reps, or running consistently each week, then keeping the hip flexors relaxed and flexible must be part of your training program.

Even if you are starting from a place of great flexibility, remember that every squat and every stride is a concentric contraction of this group of muscles, meaning they shorten each time they are used. If you don’t stretch the muscles to regain the length you started with, they will continue to shorten, which may cause issue with your squat form or power output during your runs over time. This is why we stretch.
The sequences of stretches below increase gradually in their intensity and should be approached in this order to minimize over-stretching and maximize flexibility. Now that you know where the target muscles are located, be focused and deliberate in your stretching to increase efficacy of each stretch.

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