Cycling Hip Pain: 5 of the Best Stretches for Hip Flexors

Feb 14, 2024
Cyclist hip pain

Cycling hip pain is a debilitating (and just downright annoying) problem that so many cyclists face in their daily riding. Hip flexor pain and stiffness are symptoms commonly linked to bigger issues going on in a person’s body, ones that the sport of cycling is so good at creating. This article will teach you how to start fixing it today and prevent it from happening in the future.

Cycling Hip Pain Anatomy

Three muscles make up the hip flexor group, they are: Rectus femoris, iliacus, and psoas. The latter two together are often referred to under one label, iliopsoas, because they function virtually the same and in concert with one another. Psoas is the primary hip flexor, and in fact the only muscle that connects the upper and lower body (the pelvis is the beginning of the lower body).

Iliopsoas; iliacus and psoas. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

Rectus femoris is one of your quadriceps muscles, the only one to cross both the knee and hip joint (giving it its hip flexing function). This muscle is perhaps worked more than any other while pedaling due to its dual function of knee extension and hip flexion. If you’ve ever had your rectus femoris massaged/foam rolled, you know just how excruciatingly tight this tissue can get.

Rectus femoris. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

While cycling, these three muscles play important roles throughout the course of a single pedal stroke. From top dead centre (12 o’clock) position to bottom dead centre (6 o’clock) position, the rectus femoris is contracting vigorously to overcome the inertia of the pedal and propel you forward. 

Between 6 and 12 o’clock, the rectus femoris remains engaged, primarily targeting the upper segment of the muscle, initiating hip flexion to help raise the knee. Concurrently, the iliopsoas muscle assists in elevating the knee throughout the latter part of the pedal stroke, aiding in the generation of momentum essential for transitioning into the subsequent revolution.

Why Do I Have Hip Flexor Pain While Cycling?

High degrees of hip flexion are common in aggressive riding positions such as the one pictured above. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

The hips are subject to a unique range of motion while cycling. They never get into full flexion (which would be the knee touching the chest), but also never fully extend. This means they’re always in a state of flexion, just to varying degrees. And it becomes even more pronounced in aggressive riding positions, such as the one pictured above (aero).

Why is this a problem for cyclists? Because of something called adaptive muscle shortening. This term refers to muscle tightness caused by a chronic shortening of the tissues, which are, in this case, the hip flexor muscles. Never allowing those muscles to stretch into extension teaches them instead to stay in a persistent state of flexion, often leading to an array of problems.

With attachment points on all five of the lumbar vertebrae, the psoas is a significant stabilizer of the lumbar spine. Tightness in this muscle alone can wreak havoc on the most commonly injured area in cyclists, the lower back. Excessive stiffness in the hip flexors can lead to pain in the front of the hip and other issues, too, including:

 

  • Faulty posture; short hip flexors will tilt the pelvis forward and arch the lumbar spine, which is extremely stressful for the lower back, hips and everything below - including the knees, ankles and feet
  • Reduced blood flow; tight muscles have reduced blood flow, inhibiting tissue oxygenation and nutrient delivery, leading to fatigue, stiffness and delayed recovery
  • Sciatica; stiffness in the hip flexors can compress the sciatic nerve and lead to pain running down the back of your thigh and/or in your buttocks
  • Glute weakness; excessive contraction of the hip flexors discourages activation in their antagonist’s, which are the glute muscles (very important for power production and pelvic stability)

 

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

5 of the Best Stretches for Hip Flexors

One of the ways we can combat cycling hip pain is by following a stretching and mobility program that regularly targets the hip flexors. Below we have provided 5 of the best hip flexor stretches that you can try today, right at home and with next to no equipment! Try doing these pre, post and even mid-ride to provide some relief to those achy, overworked muscles.

Standing Quad Stretch w/Chair

Instructions:

  • In a standing position, grab one ankle and pull your foot towards your buttocks; use a chair or wall for balance
  • Be sure not to arch the lower back, instead tuck the hips under so you feel an intense stretch on the front of the hip and thigh (picture 1)
  • For a more intense variation, you can lean forwards slightly to increase the range of motion, pulling the hip further into extension (picture 2)
  • Hold here for 30-60+ seconds
  • Switch sides and repeat

Modified Runner’s Lunge

Instructions:

  • Start in a wide kneeling lunge position with your hands resting on the front knee
  • Lean into your front knee while also tucking the hips under and pressing them forward (pictured)
  • You should feel a strong stretch in the front of your outstretched back hip
  • Hold here for 30-60+ seconds
  • Switch sides and repeat

Baby Cobra

Instructions:

  • Start by lying in a prone (belly down) position
  • Prop yourself up onto your elbows and gently raise your upper body off the floor
  • Keep the hips on the floor and focus on arching the lower back
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in your abdomen and deep into the tops of your psoas muscle
  • Hold here for 30-60+ seconds

Leaning Quad Stretch

Instructions:

  • Start in a kneeling position sitting on your heels
  • This starting position may be intense enough for those who have very tight quadriceps, if this is you, simply hold this position as your stretch
  • For the more flexible, position your hands behind you for support and lean backwards (pictured)
  • For an even deeper stretch, actively tuck your hips under you (rotating the pelvis backwards) and press them up at the same time
  • Hold here for 30-60+ seconds

Half-Kneeling Quad Stretch

Instructions:

  • Get into a kneeling lunge position
  • Grab the back foot and pull it up towards the buttocks, use a strap if necessary
  • Be sure not to arch the lower back, instead, keep the hips tucked under 
  • This is an intense stretch for the quadriceps and iliopsoas muscles, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t get into the position pictured above on your first try
  • Hold here for 30-60+ seconds
  • Switch sides and repeat

Hip Rehab Program for Cyclists

If you have cycling hip pain, we have the program for you. Dynamic Cyclist is the world’s leading and most comprehensive strength, mobility and injury prevention platform available online, and is helping tens of thousands of cyclists to train and compete pain-free. Join our global community and feel the benefits for yourself by clicking here to sign up for a 7-day free trial!

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

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