The psoas and the iliacus are muscles that originate from the front of the lumbar spine and the hollow of the hip bone respectively. They share a tendon that ends in the front of the leg and together form the primary hip flexor.
These muscles help bring the knee towards the chest, or, with a planted leg bring the torso towards the knee. They are used in everything from elevating the leg during a walk or run to delivering power during a swimming flutter kick. They are also, unfortunately, very prone to shortness in our day to day lives. Whether it’s from long hours in a chair at work or huddling in a ball to escape the winter chill many of our habitual activities can, over time, shorten this muscle group.
So, we present to you a few variations on hip flexor stretches;
Basic Lunge: Keeping the torso as straight as possible take a big step forward with the leg you do not intend to stretch. Allow your back knee to touch the ground for support and try and anchor it there. Then as you move the front knee forward more you should feel a stretch into the front of the hip and perhaps the front of the abdomen as well. Feel free to inch the front leg forwards to increase the intensity of the stretch, provided of course that there is no pain and that your knee does not pass your big toe.
Lazy hip flexor stretch: If your floor is not padded, or if your knees do not easily support pressure without discomfort this is a stretch that can be done from your preferred soft surface (bed, couch, etc.). Lay your entire back and inside leg on the edge of your chosen surface. If the surface is high enough that your outside leg can dangle without touching the floor. Then, grab the ankle of the outside leg, bend at the knee as fully as possible then keeping the knee bent pull it towards the ground.
The Ballerina: This stretch is best performed with a stabilizing surface close at hand. Begin by grabbing the back of the ankle of the hip you wish to stretch with the opposite hand. Then with a combination of pull from the arm and push from the back of the hip, extend the leg back across the midline of the body while arching the torso backwards and away from the stretching hip. This stretch can be customized by the amount of both bend in the knee and extension of the hip. More bend in the knee will bring the stretch more into the front of the leg while more hip extension will yield a stronger pull in the front of the hip. Ideally, both maximal bend of the knee and extension of the hip will result. Realistically, very few of us are that flexible, so it’s a work in progress.
NOTE: As with all stretches, do not perform if the movement is painful. First warm up the hips and low back with gentle hip circles in both directions to increase the range of motion and to prepare the tissue. You can hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, repeating 3 times and always stretch both side.