Yoga for long hip flexors
Lengthen your hip flexors with an easy modified version of Virabhadrasana 1. If you sit a lot, practice this pose several times a day. It’s a great all-round healthy knee pose as it lengthens your hip flexors, hamstrings and calves; tones the buttocks and quads; and helps with ankle dorsiflexion. What more could you ask for!
- From standing, step one foot two feet forward of the other. You can take a slightly longer stance if that’s comfortable.
- Level your hips so they’re parallel to each other, press your feet down into the floor and stretch your legs up.
- Lift your pubic bone up to engage your lower abdomen and firm your buttocks forward.
- Stretch your arms straight up above your head to help lengthen your trunk to the ceiling.
- By now you should be feeling a stretch in the front thigh and hip of the back leg.
- To finish the pose, you can bend your front leg, guiding your knee above the heel, but not beyond.
- If you keep your back heel pressing down to the floor you may also feel a stretch in you back leg calf muscles – another healthy move for the knees!
Yoga for strong hip flexors
There are two main hip flexors – the rectus femoris and the illiopsoas. The illiopsoas, a deep muscle that connects from your lumbar spine to your thigh bone, is the muscle most likely to need strengthening. The other hip flexors don’t flex the hip beyond about 90 degrees, so to isolate and selectively strengthen the illiopsoas the knee should be raised beyond that point.
- The standing pose on the left is one way to strengthen your illiopsoas. It also doubles as a strength test.
- Stand with your back to a wall and lift your abdomen and your chest to align your pelvis.
- See if you can raise one knee above your hip line. If you are unable to the hip flexors might need strengthening.
- Repeat the action ten times on each leg, as though marching high steps on the spot. You could practice several sets of 10, once you build up your strength.
- Afterwards, stretch the hip flexors back out with Virabhadrasana 1 (see above).
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Steve Rose says
Thank you for your post. With the hip flexor stretch, is it important to have the back leg externally rotated? Does this stretch the adductor and is this important?
Apologies for my slow response. I’ve been caught up in navigating the new normal in these coronavirus times.
The back leg in Virabhadrasana 1 can be internally or externally rotated, depending on where you want to focus the stretch.
If the back leg is internally rotated, the heel will likely lift up from the floor (unless you have very long calves and Achilles’ tendons!) and the hips will be more parallel to each other. This will focus the stretch in the center of the hip flexors and quadriceps.
If the back leg is more externally rotated, as in the classic pose shown in the photo above, you will feel more stretch at the inner hip flexors and quads, and maybe some adductors too. The attempt here is to keep the back heel on the floor, while turning the hips towards parallel in a non-aggressive way, though many people find this difficult to practice.
In both versions of the pose, don’t forget to strongly stretch the arms upwards. This will help you lengthen the uppermost portion of the hip flexor group, the psoas muscle, where it connects to the lumbar spine. Stretching the arms up also helps keep the spine itself long, and the entire pose will feel lighter and more invigorating.
I personally wouldn’t use this pose to stretch the adductors as there are more effective yoga stretches out there that target them, such as Virabhadrasana 2 or Baddha Konasana.
Whether or not it’s important to target any particular muscle group when stretching comes down to individual needs. In general, a well rounded yoga practice should cover all of your functional mobility bases. And thankfully, there’s no need to practice advanced poses to achieve this goal. A simple yet regular practice of standing poses, forward bends, backbends, twists and a few inversions should meet most of your needs.