The muscles you don’t see have a big impact on the muscles you do, and the hip flexors fall into this category. Although they are unseen, the strength and performance of your hip flexors directly affect your lower body training, speed, and lower back.
The best hip flexor exercises aren’t fancy. A half kneeling hip flexor stretch may seem basic but if you’re not performing it correctly, then what’s the point? To help you sieve through all the hip flexor moves available, we dive deep into the benefits of training the hip flexors, how your hip flexor muscles function, and provide a list of the five best hip flexor exercises. These include:
Best Hip Flexor Exercises
- Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- Mini Band Hip Flexor Iso Hold
- Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
- Passive Leg Lowering
- Front-Racked Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. None of these supplements are meant to treat or cure any disease. If you feel you may be deficient in a particular nutrient or nutrients, please seek out a medical professional.
The half-kneeling position is the go-to stretch to open your hip flexors and it is often one of the most butchered exercises out there. That said, when performed correctly by getting the body in the right position and engaging your glutes, you will feel the hip flexor magic. This stretch will mobilize your hips, strengthen them, improve posture, and possibly help an achy back. Plus, it’s a great position to lift from for more core and hip engagement.
Benefits of the Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- Improves hip flexor length, strength, and balance.
- With the narrower base of support, you’ll get core stability and glute activation benefits.
- Great filler/recovery exercise when performing squats and deadlifts.
How to Do the Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Start on your knees and toes and bring one leg forward, making sure your ankle is directly underneath your knee. The other knee is directly underneath your hip. Squeeze your glute to bring your pelvis forward and get ‘tall’ with your torso. Hold for a designated time and repeat on the other side.
Do 30 seconds each side as part of your warm-up or as a recovery exercise after a lower-body exercise. On non-training days hold for two minutes on each side.
If your hip flexors are tight, then chances are they’re weak, and this isometric exercise can help you regain strength in the area. Weak hip flexors can lead to problems in the hip joint which include misalignment of the spinal vertebrae and SI joint. Weak hip flexors can also cause tension in the lower back area too. And if you struggle to do this exercise, then working on your hip flexor strength should be a priority.
Benefits of the Mini Band Hip Flexion Iso Hold
- Improves single-leg balance and hip flexor strength.
- Can be regressed by holding on to something or progressed by using a stronger band or holding longer.
How to Do the Mini Band Hip Flexion Iso Hold
Loop a mini band underneath the middle of both feet and stand with feet hip-width apart. Drive your knee up to hip height and point the working foot towards the ceiling and hold for time. Slowly return the foot to the floor and repeat on the other side.
The standing hip flexion isometric hold trains single leg balance and hip flexor endurance, which is best trained while you’re fresh. Hold for 30-60 seconds on each side before you attack your squats, deadlifts, or single-leg training.
Proximal stability training (meaning training that involves the core and trunk) leads to distal mobility (hips and shoulders). Training core stability affects distal joints, providing more mobility to those joints. The half-kneeling Pallof press will improve core stability and hip mobility at the same time. (1) The half-kneeling position with its narrow base of support increases the demand of the core and hip stabilizers. The Pallof press increases this because the stabilizing muscles must resist the additional rotational forces.
Benefits of the Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
- Improves core stability and hip mobility at the same time.
- A great exercise to help ease low back pain and is a substitute for side planks if they cause you discomfort.
- The Pallof press trains the core to resist rotation, lumbar extension, posterior pelvic tilt in a dynamic fashion which mimics daily life.
How to Do the Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
Get into a good half-kneeling position with the resistance band or cable stack to the side of you at chest height. Hold the handle near your sternum and press horizontally to extension as you breathe out. Pause for a second and slowly return to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions on both sides.
Performing 10 -15 reps on both sides as part of your warm-up or pairing them any exercise that requires hip mobility works well.
Passive leg lowering doesn’t look like much, but there is a lot going on with this exercise. While one hip is in flexion, meaning the hamstring is stretched, the opposite leg goes into flexion and extension while the core remains stable. This is called hip separation where one hip flexes while the other extends. This is the basis of our locomotion and most single-leg exercises. If you struggle with this, your mobility needs to improve. It’s that important.
Benefits of Passive Leg Lowering
- Improves hip mobility and core stability at the same time.
- Provides a resisted stretch of the hamstrings to help improve flexibility.
- Trains hip separation which is important for running and single-leg exercises.
How to Do Passive Leg Lowering
Lie in a supine position and loop a resistance band around the middle of one foot and then flex both hips to 90 degrees. Hold the band in each hand and pull the band down enough to feel your core engage. Lower one leg to the ground slowly while the banded leg stays stable. Lower your heel almost to the floor while keeping a neutral lower back. Return leg to starting position and repeat for reps and switch sides.
Do 10 reps each side as part of your warm-up or use a filler/recovery exercise when training the lower body.
Most lifters know that hip mobility, upper back strength, and leg drive are essential elements for pulling heavy, and this exercise covers all those bases. Because the back leg is elevated, you go through a longer range of motion to help improve hip strength and mobility. lus, with the weight being anterior loaded, core strength is a huge factor since your body is fighting to stay upright.
Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat
- Reduces strength imbalances between legs and helps improve leg drive for squats and deadlifts.
- Improves hip mobility and hip flexor strength because of the increased range of motion of this exercise.
- Helps strengthen your single-leg balance.
How to Do the Split Squat
Clean a pair of kettlebells to the front rack position and place your foot flat on the bench behind you. Get the front foot into a comfortable position and drop your back knee towards the floor while keeping your chest up and a slight forward of your torso. Once you reach your end range of motion, drive through your front foot, and return to the starting position.
Pairing this with a single-arm row variation as part of your accessory training hammers the upper back muscles. For example:
- 1A. Front-racked kettlebell elevated split squat — 12 reps on each leg
- 1B. Single-arm dumbbell row — 12 reps on each arm
All About the Hip Flexors
The hip flexor muscles connect the torso and lower body. It crosses the hip-joint from your lower spine to your inner thigh, and it is one of your body’s main back stabilizers.
The three muscles that make up the hip flexors are the psoas major, psoas minor, and iliacus. From a performance standpoint, tight and weak hip flexors may cause mobility issues which will affect squat and deadlift depth. Because of this, your glutes may be weak too, and this spells bad news for your lower back and gains.
Plus, when you sit too much it can cause the hip flexors to round like a banana so that when you stand, it pulls on your back and makes you more prone to pain and injury. So, it pays to stretch and strengthen the hip flexors from a performance and injury standpoint.
Anatomy of the Hip Flexors
Your hip flexor’s mobility plays a key role in allowing you to squat and deadlift because they’re needed for full hip extension. Strong and mobile hip flexors allow you to run, jump, and squat deep. They run from your anterior pelvis to your thigh bone femur and play an important role in keeping your pelvis aligned.
The hip flexors are small but important muscles and understanding what it is and how it works is important in obtaining a stronger, better-looking lower body.
Psoas (Major And Minor)
Is a long, thick, spindle-shaped muscle that originates from the thoracic/ lumbar region T12-L4 lateral of the lumbar vertebrae and medial to the quadratus lumborum muscle. And it inserts on the femur via the iliopsoas tendon. Its actions are flexion of the hip and trunk and assist in lateral rotation of the thigh.
The psoas major is often paired with the iliacus muscle as it merges with iliacus and inserts on the femur. Together, these muscles are called the iliopsoas muscle.
The iliacus is a triangular-shaped muscle that originates from the iliac fossa, the iliac crest, and the lateral aspect of the sacrum. It inserts at the lesser trochanter of the femur and the muscle fibers of the iliacus then merge with the most lateral fibers of psoas major to form the iliopsoas muscle. Its main actions are flexion of the hip and truck.
The Benefits of Training Your Hip Flexors
Your hip flexors allow you to move and stand upright because your lumbar curve bears and transfers the weight above it. This muscle helps to create the lumbar curve as it pulls your vertebrae both forward and down and plays an essential role in locomotion and most lower body strength exercises.
Here are some other important benefits of training the strength and mobility of your hip flexors.
Improved Hip Mobility
A weak hip flexor often presents as a tight flexor. By strengthening the hip flexors, you’ll improve your hip mobility and strengthen all parts of your squats and deadlifts, which leads to better hypertrophy potential too.
You’ll Run More Efficiently
The length and strength of the hip flexors directly affect hip extension. A tight or weak hip flexor means the hip will not go into full extension and therefore slowing you down. The more explosive and stronger your hip flexor muscles are, the greater your ability to drive off the ground faster.
Reduced Lower Back Issues
Hip flexors are a back stabilizer and a connector between the lower and upper body. If they become tight or stiff, the hip flexors can pull the lower back into further lordosis causing anterior pelvic tilt making you more prone to pain and lower-back issues.
How to Warm-up Your Hip Flexors Before Training
Sure, you can skip warming up your hip flexors, but your performance may suffer. Better to spend a few minutes driving blood flow to this area in combination with some hip activation exercise to get the most of your lower body training.
If you train in the morning or spend the day sitting, foam rolling your hip flexors and quads is a great way to get your hip flexors ready for action. 10-15 rolls, focusing on the tight and sore spots.
After rolling low-intensity movements like passive leg lowering for 10 reps on each leg, half kneeling hip flexor stretch for 30 seconds on each side or dead bugs for 6 reps are all great ways to prepare the hip flexors for action.
More Hip Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best hip flexor exercises to strengthen and mobilize your hips, you can also check out these other helpful hip training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- 4 Mini Band Exercises That’ll Give You Stronger and More Stable Hips
- 3 Movements to Increase Hip Mobility for Weightlifting, Squats, and Functional Fitness
- Moreside, J. M., & McGill, S. M. (2012). Hip joint range of motion improvements using three different interventions. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(5), 1265-1273.
Featured image: Maridav/Shutterstock