#8 - Cracking the Mobility Code - Hip Flexors
This blog is for athletes 40 y/o and over.
At least once a week, I get questions from talented players, teaching professionals and strength coaches about hip flexors. Frankly, I am amazed at how little is known about this set of muscles.
I know I have a lot of explaining if someone asks about their hip flexor (singular).
The hip flexors (plural) are made up of four muscles:
The middle quad, the psoas major, the tensor fascia lata, and a small muscle called the pectineus.
Working all together, they are responsible for lifting the thigh as far as possible toward the chest.
Here is how each one works individually:
- Middle quad (rectus femoris) does most of the lifting until the thigh becomes parallel to the ground. While the middle quad is lifting the thigh, the psoas major muscle assists to track the thigh inward and the tensor fascia lata (TFL) assists to track the thigh outward. If the psoas major and TFL are fairly equal in strength, the thigh is lifted straight upward.
- The psoas major is almost totally responsible for lifting the thigh past 90° to the ground, more upward toward the chest.
Here is where we go wrong ladies and gentlemen. The psoas major is one of those few muscles in the body we constantly "stretch" when we are having lower back tightness, stiffness or pain issues. The internet is full of "psoas major stretches", but you will be hard pressed to find any worthwhile psoas major strengthening exercises.
You may find some articles or videos of "strengthening exercises" for the psoas major, but look carefully to see if there is any resistance used in the exercises.
We need resistance to strengthen the psoas major so it can be strong and healthy enough to lift the thigh past 90° with very little effort.
When the psoas major is strong, the lower back muscles in the spine do not have to participate in lifting the thigh and those muscles can be more relaxed during dynamic movements like sprinting, jumping, squatting, swinging and throwing.
This helps relieve the lower back of much tightness, stiffness and pain issues.
- Tensor fascia lata is one of the few "wild card" muscles in the body that participates in more than one or two movements.
As we mentioned above, it helps flex the hip and thigh upward. It also is the major muscle that pulls the hip and thigh out sideways away from the body (abduction).
It is also an important hip and thigh inward rotator. Training it against a strong inward rotation will help align the hip and thigh and also help the psoas major muscle track properly so it can lift the thigh past 90° with as little restriction possible.
- The pectineus is a small muscle that does a few things also, but mainly it helps the middle quad flex the thigh upward in the first part of the movement.
Things to take away from this short article:
- ALL muscles of the body need to be strong (not just stretched). There are certain muscles that get a back rap for being too tight, but the question we should be asking is WHY they are tight. The answer in most cases is those muscles are WEAK.
- Strong muscles are much more flexible than weak, over-stretched muscles.
Next blog post:
Three reasons your Psoas Major muscle is tight!
Dr. Joe LaCaze, DC, NMT, PES, CCEP, Spinal Biomechanics Instructor