Updated: Feb 21, 2019
This is the fifth and final post (for the time being) on tight hip flexors and how to help strengthen, stretch and alleviate this issue. Please check out the other posts in this series.
The last piece of the hip flexor puzzle can be tied to the gluteus complex and a weak non-dominant hip flexor. It is easy to have both of these issues happening.
Do you have Weak Glutes?
The glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) are tied directly into the hip flexors. When your hip flexors are tight, as discussed in previous posts, it can be for many reasons, often combined reasons. If your glutes are underdeveloped or firing incorrectly it can add to the tight hip flexor. One of the most intriguing body misfires is that we many of us struggle to engage the backside of the body. Out of sight out of mind! Obviously you can work on strengthening the backside of the body.
One of the best things you can do is slow down. Slow down any movements that requires glute activation and check in with your body. Are the glutes actually firing? When you are doing squats, for example, do them without weights and slow down the movement to see if you can activate your glutes. It is really easy to rely on frontside muscles like the quads or overworked hip flexors.
Gluteus Strengthening Exercises
Glute Isolation Single Leg Lift (Abduction)
Begin on your side with your back against the wall, yes I am not against the wall in this photo. Place your back flat against the wall. Engage the core inward and support the head with an arm or let the head lay on the lower arm. With the top leg straight, lift the leg up in abduction. Focus on lifting from the top leg gluteus muscles. It may be very difficult to engage the glutes. Go slow and concentrate on both the up and the down (adduction) Keep the core working in synergy with the glutes. Begin with three sets of 12 reps on each side.
Begin on the stomach (prone), place the hands under the forehead or turn the head to the side. Engage the core, then lift and engage the glutes, low back, hamstrings and legs in order to lift and hold the legs off the floor. Think about lengthening the legs away from the body and opening the joints as you lift the legs. Of course, concentrate on the glutes and lifting from the glutes again in synergy with the core. It is easy to release the core in this series. Begin with 3 sets of 8, holding for 10-15 seconds.
Begin the same at the first Half Locust. Again making sure to engage the core. In this version isolate one leg at a time to lift and hold. Focus on the glutes and core connection, do not worry about leg lift height but again think about lengthening the lifted leg. This exercise may help you discover if one side is weaker through more fatigue during a set. Begin with 3 sets of 8, holding for 10-15 seconds on each side.
When more limbs are added to a movement it gets more complicated. If you really need to focus on getting the glutes to fire correctly, I would skip this move until you are engaging your glutes correctly and fully. Begin prone, engage the core. Fire the glutes, low back and hamstrings and lift the legs off the mat. Keep the core engaged! If this feels ok and there is not pain or strain the low back engage the shoulders back and down (scapular retraction and depression) and lift the chest off the mat. The arms can be by the sides or out to the side or reaching forward. The forward reach is the most difficult, if this strains the low back or you can no longer concentrate on activating your glutes, bring the arms by the sides or do not do full Locust yet. Hold in the Locust pose and think about lengthening the limbs away. Also watch that the shoulders stay out of the ears. Begin with 2 sets of 6, holding for 10-15 seconds.
1. If you are looking for some extra glute strengthening exercises, check out our post on the Booty Workout.
2. Try a pilates class and focus on engaging your abs and your glutes every time you bend your legs in flexion or backside work. You can be very body aware and have a hard time activating the glutes and hamstrings properly. Pilates can give you the chance to go slow and concentrate.
Do You have the Weak Non-Dominant Hip Flexor?
If one hip flexor is tight and shortened or dominant, often the other side can be weak, such as tight right hip flexor and weak left hip flexor, this throws your pelvis and hips out of alignment, your right hip (now shortened) will lift and come forward. When you try this exercise, I would try both sides and feel the difference. The weak hip flexor will try to recruit other muscles and will get fatigued quickly. If both sides feel about the same, you may not have a weaker side.
A Few Truths About the Hip Flexors
1. Having a tight hip flexor, may not mean it is strong.
2. Having a dominant hip flexor may lead to a weak non-dominant if not balanced.
3. Both sides may need to be strengthened and stretched.
Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercise
Lie on the back (supine) and lengthen both legs out. Bend the leg that is dominant. Engage the core and engage the lengthened leg hip flexor. Try to lift the leg straight up using the core and hip flexor. Lift to about the same angle as the bent leg, to the knee, then with control lower down using the hip flexor. This should be hard and take concentration to not have the quad take over. Go slow and keep activating the core too. Try 3 sets of 10-12 lifts.