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  • Hip Flexor Stretches
    Opening the Fronts of the Hips for Front to Back Splits

    hip flexor stretches: extended leg cat pose, cat pose variation with opposite hand grabbing ankle, bow pose, half bow pose, pigeon variation with same side hand grabbine ankle, camel pose table yoga pose combination with one knee and one foot on the floor, hips lifted, upward dog with toes tucked under, high lunge with hands supported on yoga blocks, upright splits with hands supported on yoga blocks. Neil Keleher, Sensational yoga poses.

    Hip flexor stretches can be used to stretch the front of the hip joint.

    The hip flexor muscles cross the front of the hip joint and when active can be used to close the front of the hip joint either by moving the front of the thigh towards the pelvis or by tilting the pelvis forwards, towards the thigh.

    Note that the psoas major is a hip flexor and so these could also be thought of as psoas stretches.

    Stretches include extended cat pose, high lunge, counterpose for high lunge, upright pigeon, upward facing dog, bow pose, semi-kneeling tabletop pose, dancer and splits.

    hip flexor stretches, extend leg cat pose with spine bent backwards. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    hip flexor stretches, extended cat pose variation with lifted knee bent and same side hand grabbing ankle. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    high lunge hip flexor stretch with both hands on front knee, back foot toes tucked under.
    upright pigeon hip flexor stretch with back toes tucked under and back knee lifted.
    upright pigeon hip flexor stretch variation with back knee bent and same side hand grabbing the back ankle. This hip flexor stretch targets rectus femoris which crosses both hip and knee joint.
    upward dog hip flexor stretch with tops of feet flat on the floor.
    bow yoga pose hip flexor stretch with both ankles grabbed and eyes looking straight ahead. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    half table top half camel hip flexor stretch. One shin is on the floor, other foot is on the floor with shin vertical. Pelvis is lifted using both legs to do the lifting. This may target rectus femoris of the kneeling leg.
    Camel pose hip stretch, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    upright splits hip flexor stretch. Front knee bent, hands on yoga blocks so that hands can be used to support the body.

    i Extended Cat Pose, An Active Hip Flexor Stretch

    In extended cat pose the focus is on lifting the leg to stretch the hip flexor.

    Starting in cat pose, rather than keeping the spine straight, move the pubic bone back (between the thighs) and the tailbone forwards so that the pelvis tilts forwards. Let the lumbar spine (and thoracic spine bend backwards.)

    The reason for tilting the pelvis forwards is to give the thigh room to move upwards at the hip joint.

    hip flexor stretches, prelude to extend cat pose, cat pose with pelvis tilted forwards. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    Lift one leg, keep the knee pointing downwards. Pull upwards on the thigh.

    Lift the leg as high as possible while keeping the knee straight.

    So that it is possible to lift the leg high keeping tilting the pelvis forwards.

    hip flexor stretches, extend leg cat pose with spine bent backwards. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    hip flexor stretches, extend leg cat pose with spine bent backwards. Shoulder relaxed so ribcage sinks down. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    You could give the illusion of deepening the hip stretch by letting the chest sink at the shoulders (above right).

    Work instead at increasing the forward tilt of the pelvis, increasing the back bend of the lumbar spine and from there using the hip extensors to lift the leg higher, so stretching the hip flexors.

    i Targeting Rectus Femoris

    To target the rectus femoris, which crosses both the hip joint and the knee joint, you can try bending the lifted knee and grabbing the foot. You can grab with the same side arm and work on balance or grab with the opposite arm. Try both since they give a slightly different hip flexor stretch.

    In both of these variations try to pull the foot back. Pull the knee up (using the leg muscles) and pull the arm up (Using the arm muscles.) And continue to bend the spine backward (using the spinal erector muscles.)

    hip flexor stretches, extended cat pose variation with lifted knee bent and same side hand grabbing ankle. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    hip flexor stretches, extended cat pose variation with lifted knee bent and opposite hand grabbing ankle. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    i High Lunge/Warrior 1

    The High Lunge hip flexor stretch has a similiar shape to extended cat pose except both feet are on the floor. The focus in this hip flexor stretch is on sinking the pelvis.

    An initial stretch is to have one leg back with knee straight and the back of the foot on the floor or toes tucked under. The other leg is forwards with the knee bent and shin more or less vertical. With hands on the floor and elbows straight focus on sinking the pelvis down to stretch the hip flexors or the rearmost leg.

    low lunge hip flexor stretch with top of back foot on the floor. Neil keleher. sensational yoga poses.
    low lunge hip flexor stretch with toes of back foot tucked under, back knee straight.  Neil keleher. sensational yoga poses.

    From there place both hands on the knee and lift the torso to increase the stretch. Continue to sink the pelvis downwards. As in cat pose, you can focus on drawing the back thigh upwards as you sink the pelvis downwards.

    Press both hands down against the knee and use the shoulders to help reach the ribcage up and backwards.

    high lunge hip flexor stretch with both hands on front knee, back foot toes tucked under.

    From there reach the back leg arm up. Reach upwards through the ribs and arm, drawing the ribs up away from the pelvis.

    Hold for a few breaths and then reach both hands up.

    The ribs, arms and head all reach upwards while the pelvis sinks downwards.

    The back thigh can be pulled upwards relative to the pelvis to increase the hip flexor stretch.

    high lunge hip flexor stretch with one hand on front knee, back foot toes tucked under.
    high lunge hip flexor stretch with both hands reaching upwards, back foot toes tucked under.

    Counterpose for High Lunge

    You could rest between each variation of the above hip stretch by straightening the front knee and bending forwards.

    standing hamstring stretch with one leg forward, other leg back, back heel lifted.

    An option for less flexible practitioners is to use props as shown below.

    high lunge hip flexor stretch with hands down and hands on blocks.
    standing hamstring stretch with one leg forward, other leg back with hands on yoga blocks, elbows straight.

    i Upright Pigeon

    A similiar style of hip flexor stretch is upright yoga pigeon hip stretch. In this pose the front shin is on the floor with the foot further back than the knee.

    Read yoga pigeon pose for more on setting up the front knee and activating the front leg.

    upright pigeon hip flexor stretch with back toes tucked under and back knee lifted.

    With the front knee bent, shin on the floor, position the back leg parallel to the long edge of your mat with the knee pointing downwards. Use your arms to push the ribcage upwards and backwards.

    Use your spinal erectors to bend the lumbar and thoracic spine backwards. To make it easier to bend backwards try lifting your back ribs. Reach them upwards towards you head.

    Using your arms and front leg push your pelvis back and down. Reach your back leg back.

    You can experiment with lifting the back thigh relative to the pelvis. (The same action as used in extended cat pose and high lunge.)

    As in high lunge, you can tuck the toes of the back foot under or have the top of the back foot flat on the floor.

    I'd suggest using both options. Note that you may get a deeper hip flexor stretch with the toes tucked under since this lifts the knee higher when the knee is straight.

    As in cat pose an option for targeting the rectus femoris is to bend the back knee and grab the foot. Do keep the spinal erectors active. And do continue to press down with the front knee.

    upright pigeon hip flexor stretch variation with back knee bent and same side hand grabbing the back ankle. This hip flexor stretch targets rectus femoris which crosses both hip and knee joint.
    upright pigeon hip flexor stretch variation with back knee bent and opposite hand grabbing the back ankle. This hip flexor stretch targets rectus femoris which crosses both hip and knee joint.

    Pull back with the lifted foot. You can grab it with the same side hand or the opposite hand.

    i Upward Facing Dog

    One way to stretch the hip flexors of both legs at the same time is with upward facing dog.

    upward dog hip flexor stretch with tops of feet flat on the floor.
    upward dog hip flexor stretch with ankles flexed and toes tucked under. Neil Keleher. Sensational yoga poses.

    Use the spine erectors to bend the lumbar and thoracic regions of the spine backwards. You can work at pushing the pelvis down while at the same time pulling upwards on the back of the thighs while keeping the knees straight.

    A variation of this hip flexor stretch is to do it with the chest facing a wall. Place your hands on the wall and use the hands to push the ribcage backwards.

    upward facing dog variation with hands on a wall and pushing the ribcage backwards.

    Keep the legs active, focus on reaching them back, also, make the neck feel long (pull your ears up away from your shoulders.) Play with your distance from the wall and work at gradually straightening the arms.

    i Bow Pose and Half Bow

    Other hip flexor stretches you can play with include half bow pose where from upward dog you grab one foot. Pull the foot back.

    For bow pose, grab both ankles. Bend the spine backwards, pull the feet back, away from the hands, and pull up with the knees.

    half bow yoga pose variation same side hand grabbing one ankle.
    bow yoga pose hip flexor stretch with both ankles grabbed and eyes looking straight ahead. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    i Semi Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

    This next hip flexor stretch is a mix of both camel pose and table top yoga pose. Start with one shin on the floor and the other foot on the floor with knee pointing upwards.

    Place the hands on the floor behind you and lift the hips. Use both legs. Press down with the knee and press down with the foot at the same time.

    Move the foot further forwards (or back) so that the knee is comfortable. Use the lifted knee leg to help stretch the hip flexor of the other leg.

    Focus on moving your pelvis forwards as well as up. As it lifts higher you can move your hands forwards so that the hands stay under the shoulders.

    half table top half camel hip flexor stretch. One shin is on the floor, other foot is on the floor with shin vertical. Pelvis is lifted using both legs to do the lifting. This may target rectus femoris of the kneeling leg.

    i Camel Yoga Pose Flexor Stretch

    From the previous pose, another possible hip stretch is to kneel with the hips lifted and push the hips forwards, either starting with the hands on the floor and keeping them there, or while lifted, dropping the hands down to the heels or the floor, and from there pushing the hips forwards.

    camel pose, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    camel pose, Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    camel pose hip stretch, Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    If you are less flexible you may find it easier to start with your heels lifted (toes tucked under) and with your hips back a little. Lower your hands to your heels and then push your hips forwards to stretch your hip flexors.

    camel pose, Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Once you are comfortable with your hands on your heels you can try reaching your hands to the floor. You may notice that you can't push your hips quite as far forwards as a result.

    Read more about camel yoga pose.

    Camel pose hip stretch, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    i Stretching the Hip Flexors While Balancing on One Leg

    One fun way to stretch the hip flexors is while balancing on one leg in dancer. As a preparation for splits you can work at bending forwards and touching the free hand to the floor.

    i Hip Flexor Wall Stretch

    A very intense hip flexor stretch that actually starts of as a quad stretch is to position your self in a lunge with the back shin against a wall. To stretch the quad of the kneeling leg push your hips towards the wall. To target the hip flexors of that leg as well as the quadriceps, try to lean your upper back against the wall. Muscle control can help alot.

    Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

    i Hip Flexor Wall Stretch, Splits

    From here, move into a lunge. Move your hips forwards and rest your hands on the floor. If you like you could sink your chest to the floor in a low lunge to target the hip extensors of the front leg.

    Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall,  Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

    If you keep your torso upright, while at the same time moving your front foot further forwards and sinking your hips, then you'll be increasing the stretch of the back leg hip flexors.

    Get low enough and you'll be doing a version of the splits. And for this reason I often like to use this hip flexor stretch as a preparation for splits.

    i Splits

    One other Hip flexor stretch is front to back splits with the torso upright.

    You can start with the front knee bent and the back knee on the floor. So that this stays a hip flexor stretch, keep the back knee pointing downwards.

    As in high lunge and upright pigeon, try pulling up on the back of the back thigh. Pull forwards on the front of your lumbar spine but keep your torso upright. (The "pulling forwards" is to help activate the psoas muscle.) Use your arms to support the weight of your body, and as the hip flexors or your rear leg relax, let your pelvis sink deeper.

    upright splits hip flexor stretch. Front knee bent, hands on yoga blocks so that hands can be used to support the body.

    For combined hip flexor quad stretches, look at hero pose or virasana.

    Counterpose hip flexor stretches with hamstring stretches and glute stretches that work on the back of the hip.

    Here are more Hip stretches.