Paul Hough, lead sport/exercise physiologist at St Mary’s University and author of Advanced Personal Training explains what the hip flexors are, how they work and how to build better hip flexors to aid your cycling comfort.
What are the hip flexors?
The hip flexors are a group of muscles consisting of the iliacus, psoas major and rectus femoris.
As the name suggests, these muscles work together to produce hip flexion — moving the knee towards the abdomen.
How do they work?
The iliacus originates at the top of the pelvis and attaches on the femur (thigh bone).
The psoas major originates on the lumbar vertebrae and attaches to the femur.
The rectus femoris is one of the four muscles that form the quadriceps, contributing to knee extension as well as hip flexion.
What goes wrong?
The cycling action involves repeated hip flexion where the hip is never fully flexed or extended, which often leads to the hip flexors becoming tight.
In addition to cycling, prolonged periods of sitting (driving, office jobs for example) can also lead to tight hip flexors.
As well as being uncomfortable, tight hip flexors reduce cycling performance by inhibiting the hip extensors (glutes), which causes weakness and increases the risk of injury, such as lower back pain.
How to fix it
Glute strengthening exercises should be performed alongside hip flexor stretches.
The rectus femoris can be targeted with foam rolling — daily stretching of the hip flexors is recommended alongside low intensity strengthening exercises of the glutes performed three to four times per week. Here are three exercises designed to improve hip flexor flexibility.
Check out some of our guides to stretching and exercising the muscles most commonly used in cycling: