What are the Hip Flexors?

P.M. Willers

Hip flexors are a group of muscles surrounding the hip that provide leg stability and hip flexion. They comprise a major muscle group and are highly important to movement. Hip flexors are one of the most underdeveloped groups of muscles. Exercises in strength training frequently ignore or avoid this particular muscle group.

An X-ray of the hips.
An X-ray of the hips.

The primary muscles of the group are the iliacus and psoas major. Together, these muscles make up the iliopsoas. The rectus femoris is also included within the group, although it is also considered a quadricep muscle. These muscles are frequently overlooked and misunderstood, but there are few ways that these muscles can be strengthened using basic free weights.

Doing a lunge can help stretch the muscles needed for hip flexion.
Doing a lunge can help stretch the muscles needed for hip flexion.

A lack of training exercises is the most common problem besides the lack of attention towards the group. Hanging leg raises or inclined sit-ups have traditionally been used to exercise the hip flexors, but these exercises use only the participant’s body weight. Besides using ankle weights, there are few ways to increase the effectiveness of these simple exercises.

Weak hip flexors can cause injury, which may require physical therapy treatment.
Weak hip flexors can cause injury, which may require physical therapy treatment.

These muscles do not display the obvious outward physical changes and improvements of other muscles groups, but strength is vitally important for speed and quickness of movement. Sprinting speed can be positively affected by strong hip flexors. High knee lifts are improved by strong flexors and are associated with both improved stride length and speed. Strength of the group is also invaluable in sports or activities that require kicking a ball.

Hip flexors are often used in exercises such as sit-ups.
Hip flexors are often used in exercises such as sit-ups.

The muscle group can be a valuable asset within tackle or contact sports when an athlete run against or with the weight of another player. They are also an asset in activities such as rowing, cycling, and climbing. Hip flexors also control pelvic carriage and affect posture.

Beyond the benefits of strength, weak hip flexors can cause accident or injury. A disparity between the muscle strength of the hip flexors and gluteus muscles or quadriceps can cause increasesd susceptibility to hamstring injuries. A person with weak flexors is marked by a tendency to shuffle rather than run or move with high and rapid knee movement.

There are now many machines and apparatus that aim to strengthen the muscle group. Machines and tools attempt to use unique angles and rollers to strengthen knee and hip flexors, but there are still problems. The hip joint is not set, so it can be difficult for users to maintain proper form, which can cause strain or injury and render the exercise virtually ineffective.

Strong hip flexors can increase one's sprinting speed.
Strong hip flexors can increase one's sprinting speed.

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Discussion Comments


@Comparables- You should try doing roman chair sit-ups. These allow you to hyper-extend your body beyond 180 degrees and really give your hip flexor muscles a stretch. I warn you though, start off easy so you do not injure yourself. Once you get a feel for the exercise, and get good control of your movements, you can start adding weight and messing with your timing.

I like to hold a 20 kilo plate on my chest and explode up as fast as I can, then slowly lower my body back to the starting position over two seconds. I have found this technique really adds to speed, power, and shiftyness for lack of a better word.


@comparables- Some of my favorite hip flexor workouts are decline sit ups with medicine balls, and hanging leg raises with ankle weights. I would credit these two workouts with helping make me an explosive player. I play DE, but having strong hip flexors is important if I want to get an advantage coming around the edge.

You will need a partner or a sturdy wall for the decline workout. I prefer having a partner, so you can add side throws and twists to make the workout more dynamic. Twisting on the decline sit up will do more to strengthen your hip flexors than just going straight up and down. You can also do decline sit ups with a plate crossed over your chest if you can't find a medicine ball.

The leg raises really make you work if you add a little weight. I stand a dumbbell up on its end and pick it up with my feet. I hang from the pull up rack, lifting my legs as high up to my chest as possible. You can use weighted ankle straps, but I prefer using the weight because it makes me really work to not drop the dumbbell.


Are there any hip flexor exercises that I can do with free weights or weight machines? I want something that will really strengthen my hip flexors so I can run with more power. I am already fairly quick, but I want something that will allow me to hit a hole and blast right through it. I am going to try out for varsity football next year, and I need to do some fine tuning. I would appreciate any pointers.


My brother had a hip flexor injury a few years ago. He was playing tennis and made a very quick change of direction. He was irritated with himself because he hadn't done enough warm-up exercises. Also, he found out later that it is important to keep your abdominal muscles strong to stabilize the hips.

Anyway, he had to rest and it was painful to walk for a while, but he did recover.


I never really thought about it much, but I guess we don't think about our hip flexors very often. I can't think of many exercises that hit that area. Maybe some of the yoga movements exercise that area. I can see that they are important for certain sports.

I used to do gymnastics and I would think you would need to use those muscles a lot for that. The hip joint and the muscles around it are kind of loosy goosy, so if you aren't in great shape, you should be careful.

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