If you’re like me and have a regular ol’ desk job (or maybe you’re still a student) and sit around in a chair for 8+ hours a day, odds are your hip flexors – the muscles in front of your hips responsible for hip flexion (ex. drawing your knee into your chest) spend a lot of time in a shortened position. Short/tight hip flexors make it hard for you to fully extend (straighten) from your hips, which make both splits and backbends (remember, back-bending is like front-stretching – so your hip flexors do get stretched in a backbend!) more difficult. So if you’re working on back or leg flexibility, spending some quality time stretching your hip flexors is important.
(For more on hip flexor anatomy and what they do, check out this post from Yoga Journal: Hip Flexor Anatomy 101: Counterposes for Sit-Asana)
Below are three exercises you can do to both help stretch out those pesky hip flexors, and strengthen them with some active flexibility drills:
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch (Kneeling Lunge)
- Keep your hips “tucked” to flatten out your lower back
- Stack your hips over your back knee
- Keep the front knee behind your toes
- Actively press your back knee into the ground to engage that quad
- Let your back arch
- Lean too far forwards or backwards
- Let your front knee sneak in front of the toes
- Be generally floppy – this is supposed to be an active stretch!
This is one of the most common (and easiest!) ways to stretch out your hip flexors, so always take a moment to check in that you’re doing it right and you actually feel a stretch in your quad and your hip flexor.
Where should I be feeling this? Circled in yellow below is the area where you should be feeling the stretch. The first picture shows how we want our back to be flat (by tucking our tailbone) to really stretch out the front of the hips The second picture shows how your hip angle can compress (start to close) if you let your low back arch. This takes the stretch away from your hip flexor.
Lunging Back Knee Taps
As Cirque Physio points out, “stubborn” hip flexors aren’t always due to a lack of flexibility – in fact, it’s often lazy glutes that aren’t joining the party. She does a great job explaining how you need strong glutes in a hip-extended range of motion (ex. splits) to “tell” your body that you are safe and supported in that position. This knee tap exercise is GREAT at working on those strong glutes and your active flexibility.
(Quick sidebar to endorse another circus blog: All of Cirque Physio’s posts are amazing – you should absolutely check them out!)
Back knee taps, or as Leah Orleans of Acrobatrix adorably calls them, “ketchup dips” (because it’s like you’re daintily dipping your back knee in a little paper takeout cup of ketchup), are one of two conditioning exercises I do as part of every splits/leg training day.
Lunging knee taps look like this:
See my post about what to do (and not to do) in lunging knee taps here.
Split Back Knee Raises on Blocks
This is the second conditioning exercise I (begrudgingly) add to splits days. Jacob Skeffington at Eastern Acrobatics showed me this years ago while I was doing some floppy (aka not-active) splits one day and I’ve loved to hate them ever since!
If you already have a solid split, start in a split (otherwise scroll down to see the variations on blocks).
For all variations, place a yoga block under your back foot (I like placing it under the top of my foot). Keeping your hips tucked underneath you (not just arching your back and throwing your butt out to make it easier), think about straightening that back leg. You should feel a stretch in the back leg’s hip flexor, and both your glute and quad of that back leg will be working hard to straighten your leg. Hooray for active flexibility!
Full Splits Version:
Hands-on-Blocks, Mid Block Version:
Hands-on-Blocks High Block Version:
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