Anytime that you lift your knee, you’re using a group of muscles known collectively as the hip flexors. We do activities that involve knee movement like climbing stairs, running (late!), or getting out of a car daily. So it’s natural for tight hip flexors to become a bother from time to time. “Hip flexors sit at the far insides of the hips. Anything involving throwing up the knee uses those hips to pull and push,” explains Aaptiv trainer Ceasar F. Barajas. “If your hip flexors are all jammed up, you’ll have some trouble moving.”
It’s normal to experience tight hip flexors, especially when we overuse them by doing repetitive motions in a workout. However, it can also be very painful. Tightness can cause discomfort at the front of the hip, muscle tenderness, and even limited mobility. To minimize this, Barajas says that it’s important to do more than just one type of physical activity. If you’re an avid runner or indoor cycler—two exercises that can cause tightness in the hips—it’s important to add something like yoga or stretching into your workout routine. “If we find our body continually cycling, and cycling alone, there’s going to be developments in the way [that] the body receives that force,” he explains.
We asked Barajas to share three of his go-to yoga poses and some stretching tips for how to loosen up tight hip flexors.
Modified Lizard Pose
To get deep into your hip flexors, grab your yoga mat and work your way into a modified lizard. To do this popular yoga pose, place one foot at the top of your mat. Let your back leg either rest on the ground or root your toes down into the mat.
Once you’re in position, Barajas says you then move your front foot to the outside edge of your mat. Bring your lower body forward. “You can use yoga blocks to rest [your hands] on. Or keep your hands down on the ground,” he says. If you’re super flexible, you can also bring your elbows to the ground for an added stretch. From there, Barajas says you can use either your elbow or hand to help “push the front knee open very gently” so that you really feel the (good) burn.
Deep Squat (Malasana)
This stretch requires some flexibility, so Barajas says it can take time to fully get into it. Starting from a standing position with feet placed just outside of shoulder width apart, drop your seat to the ground into a deep squat. “The idea is to keep your heels on the ground. If you have the flexibility, your knees will open and your back will still stay straight,” he says. But, for people who have tight hip flexors (and other tightness in the hips), it’s not uncommon for their heels to lift off the ground when they’re in their squat. “I teach people to keep their heels flat, and only go as low as they can until the heels start to raise up,” Barajas says. “Then, sit there for several breaths. At the same time use the elbows to help push the knees open.”
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
In yoga, the name for this stretch is anjaneyasana. But for the non-yogis out there, think of it as a deep lunge. To get into this pose, move one leg in front of your body at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back knee and foot resting on the ground. From there, you’ll want to push your hips forward, engaging your core. “You can take the hands on the hips, or take the hands overhead,” Barajas says, adding that the arm extension is a nice way to get an extra stretch.
No matter what activity you do, Barajas says that you should also do a healthy amount of foam rolling through the top of the hips and the IT band. Foam rolling is super important to keep hip flexors in working order. But it’s not something that you should rush through. “You don’t get on top of a foam roller and just start rolling the body,” he says. “It’s a slow controlled movement.” Barajas adds that using a foam roller regularly will help loosen tight IT bands. This, in turn, will improve your hips and hip joints. It’s a win-win-win, really.
When it comes to how long you should hold stretches, Barajas says that it’s important to spend anywhere from three to five deep breaths in each pose. If your body is already warmed up from a workout, you can hold poses even a bit longer, for around five to eight breaths. Keeping in mind that you should feel hip flexor stretches. You never want to make hip flexor pain worse by forcing a movement or pushing through an injury. “Go to a place where it feels good. But anything that involves pain or discomfort, stop,” says Barajas.