“Hip Flexors” is a phrase that I’ve heard a lot over the last few years, but I’ve honestly never really understood what it means or why you need to strengthen and stretch them. The very first time that I learned to stretch this muscle was during a spin class. My instructor insisted that we all get on one knee (in will-you-marry-me fashion) and lift our arms, leaning our weight slightly forward and reaching upward. The result was relief in my inner-hip area which was surprisingly tight. My instructor pointed out that since most of us have desk jobs, this is a commonly tight muscle and oftentimes it is overlooked during stretch sequences.
Strong Hip Flexors = Strong Runner
After doing some research, I’ve learned that hip flexors are not only good to stretch – there are massive benefits in strengthening them. In case you’re not savvy, hip flexors are the muscles that make up your inner hip that assist in bringing the knees up. Now, let’s think about the fundamentals of running form – basically you life your knees up over and over in order to cover ground. So it makes sense that the stronger the hip flexors, the faster the athlete (http://www.elitefts.com/documents/hip_flexors.htm) . In addition, hip flexor strength can prevent injuries. According to a hip flexor strength study done by Russell Deane, “individuals in the training group improved hip flexion strength by 12.2% and decreased their 40-yd and shuttle run times by 3.8% and 9.0%, respectively. An increase in hip flexion strength can help to improve sprint and agility performance for physically active, untrained individuals.”
P90X & Hip Flexors
Tony Horton mentions hip flexors a few times in P90X, but the most notable is during the first few moves in Ab Ripper X, where he points out that not only do the Bicycles, In & Outs and Crunchy Frog work your stomach, they work your hip flexors as well. Before this, I honestly didn’t even know you could “work” hip flexors – I thought they were just a part of your body that got sore from sitting on my butt all day! Tony also points out that several of the moves in Core Synergistics will increase hip flexor strength. One of these moves in the Steam Engine. Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder distance with your hands behind your head. Raise one knee to waist level (or higher) and rotate your body to touch your knee to your opposite elbow. Repeat on the other side for at least one minute.
Yoga X is another P90X workout that can strengthen hip flexors by practicing the Boat Pose (sit partially up at about a 45 degree angle to the floor with back straight and lift legs straight out at about 45 degree angle). Boat Pose is one of my biggest weaknesses in Yoga and I’m guessing it’s due to my weak hip flexors!
Here is a list of exercises that you can do outside of P90X to strengthen hip flexors: http://www.myfit.ca/exercisedatabase/search.asp?muscle=Hip%20Flexor
Tight Hip Flexors = Back Problems
Another ill-effect of your 9-5er is tight hip flexors. If these muscles are left unstretched, they shorten up and can affect the position of your pelvis. This in turn affects the position and movement of your lower back. The aforementioned stretch taught to me by my spin instructor is a great way to stretch tem if you don’t have a lot of time. Yoga is another great way to stretch the hip flexors. If done properly, Warrior 1 Pose is a great way to stretch hip flexors. Another move in Yoga that focuses on hip flexors is the Bridge pose (a backbend).
Here is another stretch that I found on yogajournal.com: Starting on hands and knees with your feet near a wall, put your right shin straight up the wall and bring your left foot forward so it’s under the left knee. Place your hands on your knee and lift your spine straight up while taking your tailbone down. You should feel a strong stretch on the front part of your thigh. If you tend to stand with a “swayback,” developing awareness of the opening at the front of your hips is especially important.
I had assumed that the reason for my increased running speed since starting P90X was mainly due to the Plyometrics and Legs & Back DVDS, and perhaps, Core Synergistics. However, I’m starting to think that a lot of it has to do with increased hip flexor strength that I’ve gained from Yoga X, Ab Ripper X, and Core Synergistics!