Part of preventing pain and injuries is keeping your muscles strong. There are two ways in which your leg and hip muscles can be weak: imbalanced or under-developed.
Dealing with Hip Flexor Imbalances
Injuries and pain are most commonly caused by one set of Hip Flexor muscles being stronger than the other. These muscles are needed in just about everything you do throughout the day, from walking, climbing and even sitting.
When one side is stronger than the other, you will favor the stronger side, which leads to imbalances in other parts of your body. These will affect your posture, walking and running technique, which will cause short and long term injuries.
Testing for Imbalances
In order to find out if you have a significant imbalance (minor differences are OK), you need to perform some sort of strength test. Find a Hip Flexor machine at your gym or a resistance band that you can use.
You want to perform the test to failure in order to accurately gauge the strength of each leg one at a time. Try to select a resistance that will allow you to fail after 5-15 reps to give you an accurate picture of the situation. Take a few minutes in-between the tests so that you are fully rested.
If you find that with one leg you can do more than one extra rep before failure, there is a significant problem present.
The second thing we must test for is flexibility. Use this stretch to get a feel for if one side is tighter than the other. You want them to be as even as possible.
Fixing Imbalances with Strengthening and Stretching
The amount of time it will take to fix the discrepancy will depend on the magnitude of the strength difference.
Correcting the issue is actually fairly simple, all you need to do is incorporate Hip Flexor strengthening exercises into your workout routine (or create one if needed). Here’s the important part. Do one-legged exercises whenever possible and always start with the weaker side. This way you can ensure you don’t do any extra on the strong side.
If you can’t do single-legged exercises, you need to pay extra attention that you are not favoring your strong side as you get tired. Keep your legs as balanced as possible.
The idea behind fixing any tightness imbalance is the exact same, but even easier. Stretches should be performed at regular intervals throughout the day, and you should spend longer on your tighter side. Over time they will become balanced and you can stretch them evenly going forward.
General Weak Hip Flexors
Even if you don’t have any imbalances, it is still possible that you have weak muscles compared to the surrounding parts of your body. The problem with this, is that if you’re doing an intense activity, like running, your Hip Flexors want you to slow down while every other muscle in your body is telling you that you can go faster. If you push too far, your hips won’t be able to keep up and injury is inevitable.
Here are some common signs of weak Hip Flexors:
pain during intense activities
more pain and soreness after working out than other muscles
Fixing Weak Muscles
You have the option to isolate the muscles and strengthen them or to perform compound movements to hit many muscles including your targets at the same time.
If you are involved in athletics that involve very specific needs for hip flexion, you should lean more towards isolation exercises. This includes sports like cycling or rock climbing.
On the other hand, if you are just experiencing general pain during normal activities or light jogging, compound exercises like squats are a great way to progressively put the most stress on the weakest part of the movement (your hip muscles).
For most people, the ideal solution lies somewhere in-between these two options, with a combination of both isolation and compound exercises.
One final thing to be aware of is that when performing compound exercises, it is often easy to cheat and put more of the load on your stronger muscles. You need to focus on always using good form in order to stress and stimulate your weak Hip Flexor muscles.