Runners: tight hip flexors? Do you need strength or stretching?
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
A sensation of tightness in the front of the hips can often be experienced by runners during & after a run. Does this mean you need to be stretching more? Not necessarily, you may need greater strength!
We’ve discussed in our previous blog (here) on the important function the hip flexor muscles serve when running, so in this blog, we discuss how to test if they are “tight” or “weak”, and if you therefore need 1) greater flexibility, 2) greater strength, or perhaps both!
Most runners attribute a sensation of “tightness” to something that needs to be stretched. But what most don’t realize, is that when a muscle becomes fatigued, it can give the sensation of “tightness”. Muscles that have insufficient strength, will therefore fatigue easier, then give a recurrent feeling of tightness. Stretching in these instances would only provide temporary relief, the long term solution lies in strength!
So how do you know if your hip flexors are tight, weak or both? Here are some of our favourite tests to distinguish:
First up for the mobility tests:
Test 1: Mobility - Half kneeling doorway test
To perform this test, position yourself in a doorway, kneeling on the leg you wish to test with your back against the door frame. Ensure that your testing leg is perpendicular to the ground. Arch and then flatten your low back against the door frame. If you are unable to completely flatten your low back OR you feel an intense stretch in the front of your thigh then you may need to improve your hip mobility.
Test 2: Mobility - Modified Thomas test
Sitting on the very edge of a bed, lay back and bring both your knees up to your chest. Let one leg go and let it hang over the bed. If you have adequate mobility, your thigh on that side should be at or below parallel to the ground. If lacking range of motion, the thigh won’t relax down.
Now time for the strength tests!
Test 3: Strength - Standing knee to chest
Standing on the spot, bring your involved knee up towards your chest and then let go. Try and keep the knee up as high as possible. To pass this test you should be able to maintain full height for 5 seconds. If you see your knee dropping when you let go, it may indicate weakness in the hip flexors.
Test 4: Strength - Anterior powerline Bunkie test
To perform this test, set up in a front plank position with your feet elevated 30cm off the ground. Remove 1 leg from the step so all your weight is going through one leg. Ensure that your body, hip & leg remain straight. Hold this position for as long as possible and compare to the other side. A normal result on this test is 40 seconds, with no greater than 10% difference side to side. Whilst this test does challenge the hip flexor muscles, there are obviously other areas that will be stressed by this test. (Brumitt 2015)
Test 5: Strength - AxIT hip flexion
The most accurate means of testing hip flexor strength out of these tests, is using handheld dynamometry. We utilize our state of the art AxIT system to assess this and we look for males being able to produce 35% body weight of force, & females producing 34% body weight of force. (Kemp 2013)
So there you have it, by now you should know if you need either strength, mobility or both, so in our next blog here, we discuss how to address these deficits!
If you need help with your hip issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us at www.healthhp.com.au
Brumitt, J. (2015). "The Bunkie Test: Descriptive Data for a Novel Test of Core Muscular Endurance." Rehabilitation Research and Practice 2015: 780127.
Kemp, J. L., et al. (2013). "Greater understanding of normal hip physical function may guide clinicians in providing targeted rehabilitation programmes." J Sci Med Sport 16(4): 292-296.