Must-Do Hip Flexor Exercises to Keep Athletes in the Game

Return to Sport and Prevent Psoas Pain and Injury

By Coach E

Nagging hip flexor pain blocking your return to sport? To recover from a psoas injury and build resilience against future problems, you’ve got to address two key hip flexor functions. The exercises below are designed with these functions in mind, and built to help athletes get back in the game.

How Does Hip Flexor Anatomy Affect Recovery?

The iliopsoas muscle group is your primary hip flexor and made up of the iliacus and the psoas muscles. These muscles have different origins that run from your low back and pelvis before combining to insert on your femur, or thigh bone. [1]

Your iliacus is a thicker, shorter muscle that starts at your pelvis and the sacrum of your spine. This muscle provides power and speed.

Your psoas is a longer, thinner muscle that starts higher up your spine. While your iliacus provides bursts of power, your psoas provides steady stability.

When it comes to rehabbing the iliopsoas muscle group, we must consider these two major functions:

  • powerful hip flexion
  • consistent lumbopelvic stability.

You’ve got to train both to come back effectively from a hip flexor injury, and that’s exactly what these exercises will help you do.

How to Use These Advanced Exercises

When performing these exercises, keep in mind that these are not beginner moves. They incorporate elements like speed, agility, and power and require good athletic form.

These are not the right exercises if you’re experiencing acute hip flexor pain or tightness. If that’s the case, start with these exercises to strengthen the iliopsoas.

Then when you’re ready to return to sport or looking to prevent re-injury, begin using the exercises below, one at a time, to build resilience.

For the most effective psoas recovery, spend two to three weeks working on each exercise twice a week before progressing to the next one.

Start with four to five sets of the exercise, then add one to two sets a week until you reach ten sets. Perform each set for 10 to 12 seconds and rest one minute in between.

To follow along, check out the YouTube video.

Exercise 1: Switches

This move helps train the hip flexor speed required to alternate your feet quickly (like needed in running) but with less impact than pounding the pavement for a jog. And because you have to stick the landing between each switch, you’ll also work the second iliopsoas function of lumbopelvic stability.

  • Start standing with staggered feet
  • Come onto the balls of both feet and bring your hands by your face
  • Switch the position of your feet quickly that the rear foot comes forward and the front foot goes back
  • Stick the landing and pause before repeating

Exercise 2: Alternating Leg Raises

Here we’ll use a variation of alternating leg raises to build hip flexor speed while steadily maintaining lumbopelvic stability. This helps create the iliopsoas endurance that’s necessary for sport.

If you feel a snapping sensation in your hip when you try this, start with these exercises and come back when the snapping is under control.

  • Lie down with a neutral spine
  • With both knees bent, take one heel toward the floor and the other knee toward your chest
  • Alternate your legs quickly while maintaining a stable pelvis (without rocking from side to side)

Exercise 3: Mountain Climbers

Similar to Switches, this exercise combines quick hip flexion with a lumbopelvic stabilization “stick it” moment in order to comprehensively address psoas recovery.

  • Start in the push-up position
  • Flex one hip and bend the knee, pulling the leg in and planting your toes on the ground
  • Quickly switch your feet so the opposite leg comes in and the starting leg extends back, landing both feet simultaneously
  • Stick the landing before alternating feet, increasing speed as able

Exercise 4: High Knee Run

As you work your way up to this last exercise, you’ll really challenge psoas speed and stability by performing a running-like movement that isolates your hip flexors.

  • Start standing
  • Alternate your legs to bring one knee high while moving quickly from foot to foot, landing lightly with each switch
  • Move as quickly as possible while keeping alignment and posture in check

This is a great warm-up before you hit the field for any sport that involves running. Taking time to activate a previously injured muscle can help prevent reaggravation once you’re back in the game.

If you’re in the thick of significant hip flexor pain that’s preventing you from performing these advanced exercises, check out our Hip Pain Solution Program for an in-depth approach that will take you from acute injury all the way to return to sport.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.