Hip Flexor Protocol

What do my 5 dogs have to do with this post?

Nothing.

But it’s one of the few pictures I have with all of them; so enjoy!

Anyway, on to the post.

I had a recent question regarding hip flexor pain/tightness that is especially aggravated during squats. Because I’ve worked with wrestlers with this issue before, I thought it would be worthwhile to address. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve usually found it to be a strength issue.

How is that possible?

Well, think about it.

When’s the last time you’ve performed regular hip flexor strengthening?

I know as a wrestler, you probably spend a lot of time working on hip extension. However, do you really spend any time on your hip flexors?

After first being presented with this issue a few years ago, I realized that up until that point, I hadn’t regularly programmed any hip flexor strengthening work.

With that said, it’s not always a strength issue. Sometimes it’s best addressed with flexibility/mobility work. And sometimes it’s best addressed by self myofascial release.

So, with that said, let’s get into the top ways to deal with this situation.

1. Strengthening

Because I’ve found this to most often be the culprit, we’ll begin with direct strengthening.

My preferred exercise for this is the Hanging Leg Raise (HLR) and its progressions.

Because I’ve already covered this in detail, I won’t go into the execution and progressions now.

As far as how to implement this, I would suggest a conservative approach at first. Perhaps 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps of the basic Hanging Leg Raise. Feel free to perform all of the sets during a warm-up, or supersetted with an exercise later in your training session.

The biggest considerations come in the following hours and day(s). Constantly check in with your body to see how your hip flexors have responded.

Have they gotten too tight?

Is the workload you just completed causing tightness and a decreased performance during your training session?

Assessing how the HLR is impacting your hips will allow you to make decisions in your training going forward.

For instance, if you perform 3 sets 8 of reps and don’t have a negative response to the workload, you should consider increasing the volume.

Ultimately, I think working to 4-5 sets of 10-15 reps once or twice a week has proven successful for the wrestlers I’ve worked with in the past.

Here’s a sample 6 week progression to be performed bi-weekly:

Week 1- 3×8
Week 2- 3×10-12
Week 3- 4×10
Week 4- 4×12-15
Week 5- 5×12
Week 6- 5×15

Again, this is just a sample and it’s important that you stay mindful throughout your implementation of the HLR as well as the strategies below.

2. Stretching

This is pretty open-ended and can be very individually specific. Here are the 3 progressions I mostly commonly recommend:

Progression 1

Progression 2

Progression 3

Each progression adds an element to enhance the stretch. Just like a strength exercise, don’t progress to one if you feel your technique suffers, there is a risk for injury, etc.

A big cue to keep in mind throughout is to squeeze the glute of the side you’re looking to stretch. This will help drive the hip forward and increase the stretch on the hip flexor.

Another consideration, although it’s not “stretching,” is a technique called Positional Release.

The idea is to shorten the muscle or tendon as much as possible to help release any/all tension that may exist in the tissue.

This is a great technique to add in between heavy sets of squats, or anytime throughout the training session, or day for that matter!

Just relax in the position for 1-2 minutes.

In fact, a great way to see if this technique has a positive impact on your hip flexors is to perform 2-4 sets of 10-20 bodyweight squats. In between each set, perform a “set” of this technique and take note of how your hip flexors feel.

If they don’t get tight when they normally would, it’s a good sign this strategy is having a positive impact.

Self Myofascial Release

SMR is just a fancy way of saying self massage. Here’s a quick video of me explaining my preferred way.

Unfortunately, attacking the issue at its source is not always the best solution. Oftentimes, tightness in one area can be because of an issue above or below the specific area.

In the case of the hip flexors, it means thinking about ways to address the quads and lats.

As far as massaging the quads go, my preferred method is to use a jigsaw with a massage tip. There are a lot of fancy massage guns that you could buy, but I haven’t found any research that says there is a specific frequency needed to eliminate tightness/knots. I have a corded Ryobi that I bought for about $50 and a 3-piece massage kit that I probably paid about $15 for. It’s been a game changer for me.

For the lats, I have found simply rolling on a foam roller and doing some stretching is more than enough. In my opinion, I think it’s unlikely that tight lats are contributing to a hip flexor issue. However, the fact that a lat/side stretch is added in the 3rd stretching progression has got to mean something. By the way, I stole that 3rd progression from Stretch to Win.

Conclusion

When dealing with tight hips, or any area for that matter, the first solution is almost always stretching. However, while I think that stretching should be part of the solution, it’s not always the end all be all. Addressing the issue from multiple angles should help expedite the problem and keep the issue from coming back.

Based on my past experiences, regular implementation of the 3 methods detailed above will help correct tightness in hip flexors.

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