Firstly, let’s talk about some relevant anatomy. There’s two major hip flexor muscles; the Psoas and Iliacus. The Psoas Major muscle originates from the outer surfaces of T12-L5 (lower back) and the Iliacus originates from the Iliac Fossa (inner surface of the pelvis). Both muscles unite at the level of the inguinal ligament (roughly in front of your hip) and then attach to the Lesser Trochanter of the femur.
Image: Iliopsoas Anatomy
As the two muscles have a common insertion site they are often grouped together and referred to as Iliopsoas. The Iliopsoas plays a significant role in flexing the hip, which in almost all sports is crucial – think of the action of running and cycling. Weak hip flexors = weak hip flexion. I’ll get to this soon.
Both Psoas and Iliacus flex the hip and eccentrically control extension of the hip, however the Psoas has another role, also assisting in the control of movement and stability of the lower back.
There’s a cliché I often use in the clinic, and that’s “weak muscles get tight”. Whilst long periods of sitting (or cycling) get blamed for tightening up the hip flexors, and that can be true, lack of strength in the hip flexor group can contribute to tightness as well. People who strengthen up weak hip flexors can improve both hip and lower back flexibility without the need for much muscle stretching.
So, let’s look at two great exercises to help strengthen Iliopsoas.
A great exercise to train the hip flexors in a lengthened position, which will help improve flexibility as well as challenge spinal, pelvic and hip stability.
Image: Reverse Nordic
Begin in a kneeling position on a soft surface. Slowing lean backwards moving only from your knees until you feel activity in your hip flexor and quad region. Ensure your spine, pelvis and hips remain in a neutral position.
To start: 3 x 30 secs isometric holds
Progression: 3 x 12 (3 secs down, 3 secs up)
Pro: 3 x 15 with 5kg+ plate weight on front of chest
Hip Flexion Pull
Ok, this one is tough! But awesome if you can do it well. Often in sports – cycling and running in particular, one hip is flexing whilst the other is doing the opposite. This hip flexion pull exercise trains that movement pattern, simultaneously working hip flexion strength on one side, and hip extension on the other, whilst also challenging pelvic and lower back stability. Plenty of bang for buck.
Image: Hip Flexion Pull
Begin lying on your back with one leg on a swiss ball. Fix a resistance band to a post and have the other end around your ankle so that when you move your knee towards your chest it will tighten the band. Push your ankle into the swiss ball to activate your hamstrings and glutes. With these posterior muscles active bring your other knee towards your chest keeping your toes up.
To start: 3 x 8 (both sides), arms wide, light resistance
Progression: 3 x 12 (both sides), arms wide, moderate resistance
Pro: 3 x 15 (both sides), arms crossed over chest, moderate-heavy resistance
Appropriate training of the hip flexors will ensure optimal hip stability, control and loading, as well as ensuring sufficient capacity to function effectively without developing significant tightness in this muscle group.
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