4 of the Best Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists

Nov 14, 2023
hip flexor strengthening

The hip flexors are an important group of muscles. They are the only ones that bridge the spine and legs together, so it’s crucial to keep them strong and healthy for proper coordination and athletic ability. This article will show you some hip flexor strengthening exercises you can do to train them both effectively and efficiently at home with zero to no equipment.

hip flexor strengthening exercise

hip flexor strengthening exercise

Dynamic Cyclist coach Alisha doing an exercise which works the hip flexors by driving the knee up towards the chest.

What Are Hip Flexors?

Hip Flexors are a group of muscles that flex the hip. This means bringing the thigh closer to the abdomen or chest. As you can see in the above picture, our personal trainer Alisha is driving her right knee up towards the chest, displaying the function. The three primary hip flexors are psoas, iliacus, and rectus femoris

Psoas and iliacus are together often referred to as iliopsoas because of two things…

  1. Their shared insertion point on the femur (thigh bone) 
  2. Their synergistic function of hip flexion

Rectus femoris is a quadriceps muscle, and is in fact the only quad muscle to cross both the hip and knee joint. This allows it to extend the knee, like the other three quadriceps, but also to flex the hip. This muscle does a huge percentage of the work while cycling for this reason. It extends the knee on the downstroke, and flexes it on the upstroke along with the other two hip flexors.

Hip Flexors & Cycling

As just alluded to, the hip flexors are primarily working on the upstroke of your pedal (apart from the rectus femoris, which contributes heavily to the downstroke, as well). Because you are doing this thousands of times every ride, it’s important that the hip flexors are not only strong, but balanced with other muscles in the body, as well.

These muscles tend to get stiff, short, and tight because our hips are constantly being put into flexed positions, mainly through sitting. Activities that involve sitting are becoming more and more pronounced in our everyday lives through things like office work, driving, and watching TV. Cycling too, because we are sitting on the bike and our hips never fully extend while riding.

(Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Tight hip flexors can contribute to conditions like lower back pain, hip impingement, anterior pelvic tilt, and even faulty breathing patterns. Restoring balance by properly stretching and strengthening the hip flexors will contribute to better cycling performance and an overall improved quality of life. 

Training the Hip Flexors for Cycling

We now understand that our hip flexor muscles flex the hip, but there’s something else we need to understand before prescribing certain exercises, and that is their relationship with the core. Several abdominal exercises are performed incorrectly, which causes the body to overuse the hip flexors and often results in some of the problems we described above. 

Take the following exercise, for example. A classic sit-up with legs straight out in front of you:

The classic sit-up exercise is a great abdominal/hip flexor exercise, if done correctly.

Most people think of this as an abdominal (more specifically, upper abdominal) exercise, and they’re right. However, it is also a hip flexor exercise. The abdominal muscles primarily working in this exercise are called the rectus abdominis, better known as your “six pack”. They are responsible for flexing the trunk, and from picture 1 to picture 2, you can see that happening.

But what about from picture 2 to picture 3? The rectus abdominis only has 30°-45° of trunk flexion off the floor, which would bring you to approximately picture 2. The rest of the way is actually your hip flexors pulling your midsection up off the ground. If your upper abdominals were weak, you would see the person stopping at picture two and their feet lifting up.

This is important to know as we proceed into the exercises. The hip flexors work in concert with the core to stabilize the spine, control movement, and generate power. It works in reverse of the sit-up example, also. For example, in a lying leg lift (which you’ll see below). The exercises that follow will show you how to strengthen the hip flexors in a number of ways for optimal health.

Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists

Each of the exercises below will train the hip flexors differently to help them perform in a variety of ways. We’ll show you an exercise that largely isolates them, some that teach them to work together with your core, and others that integrate them with the leg and bigger, full body movements. All of which will contribute to more power, endurance, and stability on the bike!

Single-Leg Lift

single leg lift hip flexor strengthening exercise

singe leg lift hip flexor strengthening exercise

Instructions:

  1. Start in a seated position with one leg straight out in front of you and the other one bent
  2. Lean back on your hands behind you for support, arms straight
  3. Extend the straight leg by flexing your quads and pulling your toes up towards your shin
  4. Lift the leg straight off the ground, you should feel a strong contraction in the crease of your hip
  5. The movement may be small, and that’s fine
  6. Lift only your leg, do not crunch the torso or bend the knee to help you
  7. Lift as high as you can, pause for a split second, then lower
  8. Repeat for 10-15 reps, or, 30-45 seconds
  9. Switch to the other leg and repeat

The single-leg lift teaches you to feel and train your hip flexors in isolation. You’ll be surprised how strong the contraction is in your hip to try to lift your leg just that small distance off the ground. Training in this way gives your body better control of the lower limbs, which each account for approximately 20-25% of a person’s bodyweight.

Lying Leg Raise

lying leg raise core exercise

lying leg raise core exercise

Instructions:

  1. Lying on your back, bend your knees and lift them off the ground (the straighter your legs the harder this exercise will be)
  2. Rotate your pelvis backwards by flattening your lower back against the ground, you should feel your core engage - hold this position
  3. Now, lower one leg, keeping the core tight, until your heel touches the ground
  4. Bring it back up, breathe, reset the core if needed, then lower the other leg
  5. Alternate back and forth until you’ve completed 10-15 reps per leg, or, have done it for 30-45 seconds

One of the biggest problems cyclists have is lower back pain, and this is one of the exercises to help prevent it. By focusing on keeping your lower back on the ground, you’re training your core and hip flexors to work together to stabilize the lower back while the legs are moving. Do you know another activity where you need to do this? Cycling!

Weighted Step-Up

weighted step up hip flexor strengthening exercise

weighted step up hip flexor strengthening exercise

Instructions:

  1. Use a chair, box, staircase, bench, or any other platform that is sturdy enough to support your bodyweight
  2. Start by standing in front of the platform with optional weights in your hands for added difficulty
  3. Step one foot up onto the box
  4. Press yourself up so both of your feet are now on the platform
  5. Step down with the same foot you stepped up with
  6. Switch legs, stepping up with the other leg
  7. Repeat for 10-15 reps per leg, or, 30-60 seconds

While the step-up exercise does place heavy emphasis on the quadriceps, it also incorporates an important hip flexing function at the beginning to raise your foot onto the platform. This is similar to a pedal stroke in that you press down hard on the pedal (pressing yourself up) and then have to pull the knee back up to the start position (raising the knee onto the platform).

Sliding Reverse Lunge

sliding reverse lunge hip flexor strengthening and stretching exercise

sliding reverse lunge hip flexor strengthening and stretching exercise

Instructions:

  1. On a smooth surface, place a piece of fabric, such as a towel or t-shirt under one foot
  2. Slide the foot with the fabric straight back behind you while dropping into a lunge position (picture 2)
  3. Stretch back as far as your strength and flexibility allows
  4. Return to the start position by pressing up with the front leg 
  5. Simultaneously drag the back foot by pulling the fabric forward with your hip flexors
  6. Repeat for 10-15 reps, or, 30-45 seconds
  7. Switch legs, repeat

The sliding reverse lunge is an excellent way to both strengthen and lengthen the hip flexors at the same time. One of the keys to strength, performance, and injury prevention is training a muscle to perform at different lengths. Muscles are often weak at their end ranges because they’re at a mechanical disadvantage, it’s also where they’re often injured.

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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