Why Strengthening Your Hip Flexors Is Important

Ignoring these key muscles could lead to long-term mobility issues—and could affect your performance short-term.


BY ELIZABETH MILLARD |

  • Weak hip flexors could lead to mobility issues as you age, according to new research.
  • Regularly incorporating hip-strengthening exercises—like hip thrusts—into your lower-body strength days can improve mobility and prevent injury.

When it comes to strengthening your lower-body muscles that power your running, most runners focus on quads and hamstrings—but are you showing your hip flexors enough love? A recent study in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics suggests that ignoring them could lead to mobility issues as you age.

Researchers looked at 433 older adults and assessed their physical function through handgrip strength, hip flexion, hip extension, hip abduction, knee extension, and toe flexion.

They asked the participants to do several mobility tests, such as standing up from a chair five times without using their hands—often used to measure “transfer skill,” which means your ability to activate your lower-body muscles quickly—as well as standing on one chair, and sprinting up a set of stairs. A year later, they took the same assessments and tests to determine whether their function had increased, stayed the same, or decreased.

People whose function had decreased had significantly weaker hip flexor strength compared to those who did the same or better on the tests. This led researchers to conclude that focusing on hip flexor strength could have considerable benefits as you get older.

Although the study was done on somewhat sedentary older adults, the results can apply to younger people and those who are active. In fact, running—and other sports with repetitive motion—might put you at more risk for weak hip flexors if you don’t take the time to focus on strengthening them.

For example, a study on young adult soccer players looked at muscle activation during play and found those with restricted or shortened hip flexor muscles showed less activation of gluteus muscles, which could put them at higher risk of lower-extremity injuries.

Another study, also on soccer players, found that hip thrust exercises—rather than squats— boosted sprint performance, largely because it allowed the gluteus muscles to fire more effectively.

Hip thrusts are also a great option for improving strength in the hip extensors, according to Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., assistant professor in exercise science at CUNY Lehman College. With any introduction of hip-strengthening exercises, though, the advice is the same, he told Runner’s World: Take it slow, learn proper form, and focus on higher reps and relatively lighter loads to get enough practice.

 

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