Hip Flexors AREN'T Evil ...Do They Hold The Key to Faster Running Speed? By Nick Nilsson
The mere mention of the hip flexors often sends personal trainers into a tizzy.
"Do whatever you can to eliminate them from the exercise!" they scream.
And, for a lot of people, this CAN be decent advice. TIGHT hip flexors can be a huge contributor to lower back pain. TIGHT hip flexors can cause what's called "anterior pelvic tilt"...this is your hips tipping forward because your hip flexors are pulling them forward when the lower back and abdominal muscles aren't strong enough to oppose that pull.
Now, you'll notice I highlighted the word "tight" in the sentences above.
STRONG hip flexors present no such problems, especially when balanced by strong abs and lower back muscles.
It's only when those hip flexors are never stretched and tighten up so they constantly pull forward on the hips that they present a problem.
Hip flexors are definitely NOT evil.
In fact, hip flexor strength is one of the greatest limiting factors when it comes to running speed!
If you're an athlete, or if you train or coach an athlete, listen up.
A constant focus on doing exercises that eliminate or minimize the hip flexor involvement will slow down maximal running speed.
I'll tell you why...
In your head, picture somebody running...notice what happens each time they bring their leg forward. Looks like the hip flexors might be involved in that, doesn't it!
When you strengthen and TRAIN the hip flexors for explosive power, you can significantly (and very QUICKLY) boost running speed. Your body is able to bring your legs forward faster and you'll be able to accelerate faster.
Who do you think is going to win the race...the person with the faster stride turnover or the person with the slower turnover (assuming their strides are equal in length). Big duh.
The single most effective exercise you can do to increase running speed quickly in a person is not squatting or power cleans or anything like that. It's explosive hip flexion.
Now, it IS true that the hip flexors are highly involved in the sit-up exercise. But I'm definitely not recommending you do ballistic, explosive sit-ups to work the hip flexors.
You'll be much better off doing direct hip flexor work using bands or cables. Bands especially are excellent because you can explode strongly against them without having to worry about decelerating the resistance...the stretching of the band takes care of that for you.
So first, get yourself some training bands (if you don't have them or can't get them, a low pulley cable with an ankle harness will work just fine).
The simplest exercise you can do is to attach a band to a solid object down near the ground (or use the low pulley with the ankle harness). Loop the other end over your thigh. Hold onto something solid then EXPLODE up against the band.
The exercise itself looks like you're trying to knee somebody in the gut as hard as you can. Simple as that. Do it against resistance and do it explosively. This will do more to increase your running speed than squats ever will.
[If you're interested in seeing more explosive hip flexor exercises, I'll have a link at the end of the article]
To prevent that tightening problem I mentioned above, be sure to stretch your hip flexors after every session and regularly throughout the day if you spend a lot of time in a seated position (which puts your hip flexors in a shortened position for many hours at a time).
To stretch them, drop down on one knee like you're in a lunge position then just lean your upper body back. You'll feel a great stretch along the front of your thigh up through your hip flexor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds then repeat on the other leg.
Hip flexors are NOT evil.
They're CRITICAL, especially if you want to improve running and/or leg speed (I say leg speed because it's important in skating as well and I can't really call that running!).
By properly strengthening the related muscle groups (abs and lower back) and by stretching the hip flexors, you'll have no problem keep proper alignment in your body AND you'll experience great improvements in speed performance.