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Hip Flexors: How Runners Can Keep Their Hip Flexors Healthy


Active women doing leg lifts, strengthening hip flexors.

I often think about how tremendous the human body is. With a background in nursing and now as a running coach, I’m blown away by what our bodies can do. Think about it – the human body can run for hours at a time. Some ultramarathons go on for DAYS!


And while our bodies are amazing for having this capability, there is also the potential for countless running injuries if we aren’t focusing on strength, stretching, and mobility.


If you’ve dealt with hip issues before, then you know firsthand how frustrating they can be. From running 5ks to ultramarathons, hip flexor issues can cause a big setback to your training and even derail your entire race plan.


The good news is that there are techniques we can use to take care of our hip flexors, prevent injuries, and get to race day strong and healthy. Besides preventing injury, being proactive to strengthen and stretch our hip flexors can increase performance, meaning you can run faster and stronger!


Let’s start from the top - what are hip flexors?


The hip flexor isn’t just one muscle – it’s a group of muscles located in the front of the hip, responsible for flexing and lifting the thigh towards the chest. They play a crucial role in our running biomechanics, helping us maintain proper stride length, knee drive, and hip stability.


Anatomy of the hip flexors for runners.


Due to the repetitive motion and high-impact nature of running, the hip flexors can become tight, weak, or imbalanced, leading to a range of issues:


1. Tightness and Reduced Range of Motion


Prolonged sitting and inadequate stretching can cause the hip flexors to become tight. If you run a few times a week but outside of that you sit for long periods (think desk job), then you may be at risk for tight hip flexors (especially if you aren't making time to stretch).


This tightness can restrict our stride, limit our range of motion, and contribute to poor running mechanics.


2. Weakness and Imbalance


Weak or underactive hip flexors can hinder our running efficiency and stability, leading to compensatory movements and increasing the risk of injuries. When one muscle is weak, typically another will take over, oftentimes without us even knowing - until injury shows up.


Weak hip flexors can result in hip and knee pain. You don't always feel it in your hips.


Imbalances between the hip flexors and other muscle groups can affect our posture, stride symmetry, and overall running performance.


3. Injuries


Neglecting the hip flexors can lead to overuse injuries such as IT band syndrome, hip bursitis, or even low back pain. Strengthening and caring for these muscles is essential for maintaining optimal performance and preventing setbacks.



Hip Flexor Care


Here are some key tips to keep your hip flexors strong and healthy:


1. DYNAMIC WARM-UP


Before every run (especially on speed workouts), incorporate dynamic warm-up exercises that specifically target the hip flexors. This prepares the muscles for the demands of running and improves blood flow to the area.



HIGH KNEES


Classic high knees! There are numerous benefits to this move other than warming up your muscles before a run - it strengthens the hip flexor while also delivering more range of motion. While strengthening the lifted leg, the leg on the ground is being used to provide stability and control.


Woman doing high knees warm up before a run.

  1. Start standing straight, with legs hip-width apart.

  2. Lift the left leg up towards the chest, to create a 90-degree angle.

  3. Alternate, lowering the left leg down and lifting the right leg up towards the chest.

  4. Can march at a fast pace or pick it up and jog in place.

  5. Continue for 30 seconds. Complete two sets.




WALKING LUNGES


Walking lunges are a great workout to wake up your entire lower body, including your hip flexors. These can help naturally lengthen your stride and improve your single-leg balance. There is no equipment required for this move, (although if you want to progress the move and use this for strength building, not only a warm-up, you can add a kettlebell for added weight).


Woman doing walking lunges as running warm-up.
  1. From a standing position, look straight ahead and take a generous step forward with your right foot. Keep your trunk upright and core engaged throughout the movement.

  2. Bend your extended knee and transfer your weight onto your right leg. Continue to lower yourself slowly into the lunge until your left knee hovers just above, or softly touches the floor. Your right knee should be directly above your right ankle.

  3. Push forward onto the right foot/leg and come back to the standing position.

  4. Repeat with your left leg in front and continue to alternate lunges, walking forward, for the desired amount of time.



2. STRETCHING & MOBILITY


Include regular hip flexor stretches into your post-run or cooldown routine. You can also include stretching or yoga in your training plan as a dedicated workout during the week in addition to stretching after your run. Stretching the hip flexors releases tension and increases flexibility.



KNEELING HIP FLEXOR STRETCH


This is my absolute favorite hip flexor stretch. I still remember the first time I learned about this stretch and how I felt after spending some time on the stretch. As with any stretch, you want to go far enough to feel resistance but if you feel ANY PAIN, you will want to stop.


Woman stretching her hip flexors.
  1. Kneel on a mat with both knees, then place one foot forward so that you have a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee. Place your hands on the front knee for support (if needed). This is the start position of the kneeling hip flexor stretch.

  2. Keeping the torso upright, slowly lean forward until you feel a comfortable stretch through the groin and top of the thigh (rear leg).

  3. Maintain a hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.




STANDING IT BAND STRETCH


Another great stretch for the hips! This stretch is specifically focusing on the side of the hip. The more you bend to the opposite side, the deeper the stretch you'll feel.


Woman stretching her IT band.
  1. From a standing position, cross your right leg over your left leg, keeping your heel pressed into the ground.

  2. Keeping right leg and back straight, push right hip out and bend upper body towards the left.

  3. Hold for 30 seconds. Release and switch sides.










3. STRENGTH TRAINING


As a running coach, I highly recommend incorporating hip flexor strengthening exercises into your cross-training routine. This can help improve hip flexor strength and endurance, enhance running performance, and reduce the risk of imbalances.


These are my THREE favorite exercises to strengthen the hip flexors:


SEATED ALTERNATING LEG LIFTS (over an object)


This move is small but mighty! You'll feel the burn after a few reps. You can use any object (pictured is a weight but you can use a water bottle or anything else).

  1. Sit with both legs out straight in front of you.

  2. Using an object, place both legs on the right side of the object of your choice.

  3. Slowly raise the right leg up and over the object, allowing your leg to touch the ground.

  4. Slowly raise the right leg back up and bring it back over the bottle, returning to the starting position.

  5. Repeat for 20 - 30 reps on each side, performing 2-3 sets total.


BANDED MARCH


The standing banded march is a great beginner move to strengthen the hip flexors. This strength move is meant to be slow and controlled.


Woman doing banded march to strengthen hip flexors.
  1. Place resistance band around both feet.

  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart and keep a neutral spine.

  3. Lift the left leg towards the chest, creating a 90-degree angle. Hold for 5-10 seconds.

  4. Alternate, lower left leg to the ground and lift right leg towards the chest, creating a 90-degree angle. Hold for 5-10 seconds.

  5. Repeat the process, alternating legs for the desired amount of time.









BANDED MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS


What I love most about this move is that it targets multiple muscle groups. You're not just working your hips, you're also strengthening your abdominal muscles and glutes. Unlike a non-banded mountain climber where you may want to go fast (usually cardio move), this one you will also want to take slow and controlled.


Woman doing banded Mountain Climbers to strengthen hip flexors.
  1. Stand hip-width apart and wrap the resistance band around both feet.

  2. Get into the classic push-up position. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart and directly under your shoulders. Your arms are fully extended.

  3. Engage your core and keep your butt down so that you create one long straight line with your body - the body should be parallel to the floor.

  4. Pull the left leg towards your chest, stretching the resistance band. The movement should come from your thigh - you don't jump off with your ankle.

  5. Move the left leg back to starting position and lift the right leg towards the chest. Repeat, alternating legs, for the desired length of time.



4. FOAM ROLLING


Utilize a foam roller to release tightness in the hip flexor area. Roll slowly and mindfully, targeting the front and sides of the hip. This self-massage technique can help alleviate muscle tension, reduce inflammation, and promote better flexibility.


When it comes to foam rolling, you'll want to stop whenever it feels tight or tender. Take a deep breath in and then as you exhale, slowly roll your way down. Treat your body in sections rather than continually rolling back and forth.



HIP FLEXOR FOAM ROLLING


Woman using foam roller on hips.

  1. Start by lying down, facing the floor on the foam roller, in a forearm plank position. Make sure the foam roller is underneath your left hip flexor and your right leg is bent comfortably to the side.

  2. Resting on your forearms, begin to roll slowly up and down and side to side on the foam roller to target the hip flexor, paying close attention to trigger points.

  3. Do this for 30 seconds then switch and repeat on the right hip flexor.



IT BAND FOAM ROLLING


Woman using foam roller on hips.

  1. Begin by lying on your right side with the foam roller positioned underneath your right IT band, or the side of your thigh. Rest your body weight on your right forearm. Your right leg should be straight, and your left should be bent and the knee with your foot placed comfortably in front of your right leg.

  2. Bracing yourself with your upper body and left leg, begin to slowly roll along the foam roller on your right IT band between your knee and glute.

  3. Repeat for 30 seconds then switch to roll your left IT band.



Understanding the importance of hip flexors and integrating proper care into your training plan can make all the difference in your running experience; helping you crush your goals and remain injury free.


Including specific strength and stretching routines is important to keep specific muscle groups strong and healthy, which is why I create customized plans for runners.


If you’re struggling to find the right training plan, sign up for a free discovery call where we can talk about your goals as well as the challenges you’re facing. I’ll give you 3 tips to modify your current plan to achieve faster results as a runner and you can decide whether a customized training plan would help you hit your goals.

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