Hip Flexor Strengthening
The Importance Of Hip Flexor Strengthening
Hip flexor strengthening is one of those things an athlete in training often overlooks, which is somewhat of a shame because by doing so the likelihood of injury to the hip flexor can be significantly reduced. Hip flexor strengthening is not only useful in preventing injury but, since the hip flexor is the muscle (actually a group of muscles) which allow the knee to be lifted; stronger hip flexors will make a person a more powerful and faster runner.
Before getting into various ways to strengthen these muscles, let's look more closely at the muscles themselves. As noted, the hip flexor is a group of muscles and hip flexors would be a more accurate term, but in the athletic world the terms hip flexor and hip flexors are used interchangeably. The hip flexors for each leg consist of 10 different muscles, with 5 of them playing a dominant role.
Primary Hip Flexor Muscles - Three muscles, the psoas major, psoas minor, and illiacus, combine to form what is called the ilipsoas, whose primary function is to raise and lower the spine and the trunk from a supine or lying position. Needless to say, this is a fairly powerful muscle group. It is a muscle group brought into play when we do sit-ups. Another muscle, the rectus femoris, is one of the muscles in the quadriceps group that provides the leverage to flex the leg at the hip. Another of the quadriceps muscles, the sartorius muscle, which is the longest muscle in the human body, serves the function of flexing, abducting, and laterally rotating the hip, as well as extending the knee. There are several other muscles making up the hip flexors, but those mentioned provide the primary muscle power.
Besides giving a person greater running power, hip flexor strengthening is beneficial in that the stronger these muscles are, the greater protection they give towards avoiding hamstring injuries. The hip flexors provide a braking or damping system of sorts when the hamstring muscle is flexed suddenly, keeping it from overextending and strained or possibly torn.
Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises - One of the best exercises for hip flexor strengthening is the leg raise, done when either hanging from a bar or resting your forearms on arm rests with your feet raised above the floor. Leg raises are done by either pulling the knees towards the chest, or keeping the legs straight while lifting them to a horizontal position, or both. These raises can also be done lying down, preferably on an incline bench. These exercises have the added benefit of strengthening the abdominal muscles.
Yet another approach is to take a sprinters starting stance with your wrists resting on a low bench rather than the floor. Using an ankle cuff cable attachment, with weight under constant tension throughout the movement, drive your knee forwards towards your chest as if you were leaving the starting blocks.
Hip Flexor Stretches - As is the case with almost any exercise, stretching muscles ahead of time is always advisable, especially in the case where, as in the sprinters stance workout, you're using weights. An excellent stretch to accompany a hip flexor strengthening workout is to lie flat on your back and slowly pull your knees towards your chest, one at a time and both at a time, doing several repetitions for each leg and for both legs. This also serves to strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Summary - It's a bit ironic that while hip flexor strengthening exercises are so important, and so very simple, as are hip flexor stretching exercises, relatively little attention is paid to them by not only individuals but athletic coaches and trainers as well.