The area surrounding your hips has a lot going all, with muscles, tendons and ligaments going every which way. Some of the most powerful muscles, your glutes, sit on the back of your hips, while in the front, there are more muscles that control your hip and leg. A large group of them are called hip flexors.
Flexors and Glutes: Partners in Crime
The hip flexors and glutes were made to work together. When you walk, you use your hip flexors on one side to bring one leg forward. On the other side, you use your glutes to push off and propel yourself forward. These two muscle groups oppose each other and balance each other out.
You can use this partnership to your advantage if you need to stretch out your hip flexors. Doing exercises such as a glute bridge will help loosen your hip flexors. That's because when your glutes squeeze, it helps the opposing hip flexors relax.
Your body will relax muscles to help you move more fluidly by using something called reciprocal inhibition, which occurs when you contract a muscle and the opposite muscle relaxes. For example, if you use your bicep in a bicep curl, your body will relax your tricep to let the elbow move.
The same thing happens at your hip. When you squeeze your glute, your hip flexors relax to let your hips move. That's why when you want to stretch your hip flexors, it actually helps to do glute exercises.
Bench Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand in front of a bench or other object at knee height, facing away. Place the top of your right foot flat on the bench. Your left foot is still on the ground, about three feet away from the bench. Drop your right knee down to the ground. You should feel a stretch in your right leg.
Lengthen your spine and pull yourself up straight. Squeeze your right glute and push your hips forwards as far as you can, then come back to the starting position. You can also raise your right arm up or keep your abs tight as you go forward to increase the stretch. Do 10 reps on each leg.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the ground with your heels a foot away from your butt. Drive your hips up while keeping your upper back, head and arms on the ground. The higher you can press your hips up, the harder your glutes work and the more your hip flexors will stretch. Higher reps work better for this exercise, so aim for 20.
Get into the same position you used for the glute bridge by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Grab your left knee and pull it in close to your chest until you feel a stretch. Then, perform a bridge with your right hip, driving it as high as possible. You'll feel the glute on the right side working and the right hip flexor stretching. Do eight repetitions on each leg.
Bent-Knee Hip Extension
Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you. Fold your forearms in front of you and rest your forehead on them. Bend your left knee so that it's at 90 degrees and the bottom of your left foot is facing the ceiling. Drive that foot straight up using your glute, feeling the stretch in the front of your left leg. Do eight reps, and then switch legs.