How to Foam Roll the Hip Flexors to Improve Hip Mobility

Tight hips are such a common issue! Whether it be from sitting all day at the computer or getting a killer leg workout in, tight hips and poor hip mobility in general can be extremely nagging.

Stretching exercises or hip mobility exercises are usually our first thought to treat our tight hips (and it’s not a bad idea!).

You have the classic hip flexor stretch, any hip rotator stretch or target of the hip adductors like the butterfly stretch, the piriformis stretch, and so much more!

The question though is can you do anything else to help improve hip mobility and hip flexibility besides stretching? The answer is YES.

Before we dive into foam rolling, let’s talk about why hip mobility matters.

Why Does Hip Mobility Matter?

We use our hips for movement all day, every day!

Function:

Consider walking, taking the stairs, squatting, dressing, sitting down and standing up. Without proper hip mobility, we wouldn’t be able to do any of these activities!

Recreation and Sports:

Let’s not forget recreational and sporting activities. Imagine trying to get in and out of a kayak if you can’t move your hips… going for a run without being able to pick your feet up off the ground… going for a swim without moving the hips… good luck with that.

Snowball Effect of Poor Hip Mobility:

You have to have good hip mobility to function. It’s as simple as that.

If the hip muscles and other surrounding soft tissues are excessively tight, this can create abnormal tension where the muscle-tendon unit attaches to bone. As a result, you may notice an effect on the hip joint and hip mobility as a whole.

how to foam roll hip flexors

So, if the pliability and flexibility of the soft tissues can be improved, there’s no reason why hip mobility and range of motion will not also reap the benefits.

If you have poor hip mobility, no matter the reason behind it, your movement will suffer.

Many times, this poor movement is associated with hip pain and discomfort. As a result, you begin to limit your activity level, and as a result the hip mobility can further decline.

Unfortunately, you then can end up in a vicious pain cycle, with your movement and hip mobility suffering even more.

So, moral of the story, hip mobility matters! You can’t function without it.

As previously mentioned, stretching is usually the first go-to when trying to improve hip mobility, but the addition of foam rolling can be a game-changer.

Let’s take a deep dive into foam rolling.

What’s the Big Deal About Foam Rolling Hip Flexors?

foam rolling hip flexors

We all know and love foam rolling. Foam rolling is such a great way to directly target and treat tense soft tissues, especially tight muscles.

You get many of the same benefits with foam rolling as you would with massage, such as improved circulation, relaxation of tight muscles, and increased flexibility.

Now, getting a massage or a similar type of treatment is amazing, but seeing a professional may not always be an option. Limited time and limited funds are usually the main reasons.

That’s why it’s important to know what effective home alternatives exist that provide the same benefits, such as foam rolling.

The use of a foam roller to help improve soft tissue flexibility will directly assist in improving hip mobility and range of motion.

Not only is a foam roller incredibly easy to use, it also can be stored easily and is very affordable.

How Do I Learn How to Foam Roll the Hips?

OK, so now we know the basics of why foam rolling can be beneficial. The next question is how can you effectively foam roll the hips to improve hip mobility? Let’s take a look!

Main Muscles to Target While Foam Rolling Hips

Before you start foam rolling, it’s important to know exactly which areas to work on. Today, we’ll be focusing on the following muscle groups:

These muscles groups have anatomical attachments in one way, shape or form that affect hip mobility. If one or more groups are struggling with excessive tightness and tension, hip mobility will be negatively affected.

Ensuring regular care and maintenance of these areas will absolutely help to ensure healthy hip mobility.

Glutes: Basic Anatomy and Function

There are three glute muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius.

The glutes are involved with primarily three movements at the hip: abduction, extension, and external rotation.

Here’s how to foam roll the glutes:

  1. Starting position: Sit directly on the foam roll. Keep the knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms reaching behind you, and hands planted on the floor.

  2. Extend one leg (the leg you plan to target the foam roll on) in front of you, as you shift the majority of your weight onto that glute area.

  3. Using the other leg and arms to assist in pushing yourself back and forth on the foam roller.

  4. Continue rolling, as tolerated, aiming for at least 30 seconds of rolling or up to 1 minute, if able.

Alternative position:

If you want to advance this movement and add some hip rotation, here’s an alternative position to consider:

coach todd showing how to foam roll glutes and hips
  1. Begin in the same starting position as above. This time, cross the ankle of one leg (the side being foam rolled) over the other leg (you’ll be making a Figure 4), which will place the hip in external rotation.

  2. Repeat the rest of the above instructions.

Once you have finished foam rolling one side, go ahead and switch legs to even things out.

Hamstrings: Basic Anatomy and Function

Like the glutes, there are three hamstring muscles: semitendinosis, semimembranosus and biceps femoris.

While the hamstrings control movement both at the hip and knee, for today’s topic we’ll focus just on the hip action. The hamstrings are responsible for moving the hip into extension.

Here’s how to foam roll the hamstrings:

  1. Starting position: Sit on the floor with the back of the thighs laying on top of the foam roll. Place the arms behind you with the hands flat on the floor.

  2. On one leg (the side that will be foam rolled), keep the leg straight. On the other leg, bend the knee and place the foot flat on the floor.

  3. With the bent leg and arms, lift the hips off the floor, so that pressure is applied to the back of the thigh (the hamstrings) on the side being foam rolled.

  4. Begin pushing yourself back and forth, using the bent leg and arms for support and power.

  5. Continue rolling, as tolerated, aiming for at least 30 seconds of rolling or up to 1 minute, if able.
hamstring foam roll

Once you have finished foam rolling one side, repeat on the other leg.

Quadriceps: Basic Anatomy and Function

The quadriceps are made of four muscles: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius.

Similar to the hamstrings, the quads control movement at both the hip and knee. Again, we will be focusing on their role at the hip for today. The quads are responsible for hip flexion.

Here’s how to foam roll the quads:

quad foam roll for improve hip mobility
  1. Starting position: Stomach towards the floor, lay the front of the thighs on the foam roller. Support yourself on your elbows (like a plank).

  2. Gently use your upper body to rock the body forward and back in a straight line on the foam roller.

  3. Continue rolling for at least 30 seconds or up to 1 minute, as tolerated.

Hip Flexors

The infamous hip flexors!

Tight hip flexors are an extremely common source of hip pain and reduced hip mobility. One of the main reasons for tight hip flexors is because many of us sit and work at a desk all day.

This automatically places these muscles in a shortened position, and when situated like that for an extended time frame you can easily end up with tightness.

Basic Anatomy and Function:

Hip flexors describe multiple muscle groups that control the movement of hip flexion. These muscles include the iliacus, psoas major (iliopsoas), tensor fascia latae, and part of the quadriceps the rectus femoris.

You need to be able to flex the hips for so many things, such as picking up the legs to walk or going up a step. Besides their important functional role, tight hip flexors can lead to problems with poor posture.

If the hip flexors are tight, this can tend to cause someone to lean forward slightly because the tightness will become bothersome as you try to stand straight.

Standing upright will place the hip flexors in a more lengthened and stretched position. Leaning forward continuously over time can potentially then lead to problems with back pain.

Here’s how to foam roll the hip flexors:

  1. Starting position: This is very similar to the position for foam rolling the quads. Lay over the foam roller with stomach to the floor; however, instead of the thighs laying over the foam roll, it will be the front of the hips instead. Support yourself on the elbows (like a plank).

  2. Gently use your upper body to rock the body forward and back in a straight line on the foam roller.

  3. Continue rolling for at least 30 seconds or up to 1 minute, as tolerated.
coach todd foam rolling hip flexors using roller

Compliment Foam Rolling with Hip Mobility Exercises and Hip Stretches

compliment foam roller stretches for hips

We’ve looked at the benefits of foam rolling and which hip muscles to foam roll in order to promote better hip mobility.

One of the best things to do after a good foam rolling session is to include hip mobility exercises and hip stretches. This will further encourage better hip range of motion and better flexibility of the hip muscles.

If you’ve been experiencing hip pain, you may find the combination of foam rolling, hip exercises, and hip stretches to feel most productive and helpful for the pain.

They were mentioned at the beginning of the article, but just for review, some of the hip stretches you can consider to compliment your foam rolling will include a hip flexor stretch, piriformis stretch, stretching the hip rotators such as in a Figure 4 stretch, or a stretching a combination of hip rotators and the inner thighs, or adductors, in a butterfly stretch.

Just remember that the foam rolling and mobility exercises for hips should never be painful. If you’re experiencing pain, try to modify the way you’re doing the activity and how long you’re doing it for.

If this doesn’t help and pain continues, then you may need to hold on performing that particular activity.

If you’re hip pain is continuing despite all your best efforts, consider seeing your medical doctor and physical therapist for a more in-depth evaluation and treatment plan.

Should You Foam Roll the IT Band?

This has always been a huge topic of debate. Should the IT (iliotibial) band be included in foam rolling?

do not directly foam roll the it band shown by coach todd

You’ll see many different opinions and thoughts on this topic, but most have come to find that directly foam rolling over the IT band isn’t necessarily as beneficial as it was once thought to be.

The IT band is a huge band of thick fascia, or connective tissue, located on the outside of the thigh.

It plays a large role in hip stability. Due to how thick the facia of the IT band actually is, you technically can’t stretch or mobilize it externally.

So, when you hear about practicing an “IT band stretch,” just know you aren’t technically stretching the fascia itself, but more so the surrounding musculature and soft tissues, which still is beneficial for the IT band.

Furthermore, laying all of your body weight on the IT band, while directly foam rolling it, can actually make tightness worse as you’re pressing it down and into the foam roller. Not the best way to release it.

Now, you don’t want to completely forget about the IT band, as it can be a large source of tightness and pain in both the hips and knees, but there are better ways to treat a problem with the IT band without directly foam rolling over it.

Can You Hurt the IT Band If You Foam Roll It?

You won’t cause any permanent damage, but if your IT band is already flared up and painful then foam rolling directly over it can cause further irritation, and as mentioned previously, direct foam rolling of the IT band (while it can initially feel good) will ultimately have no significant effect on releasing the fascia.

This may then cause further pain and irritation at the attachment points of the IT band, including the hip. If the hip is hurting, then you know what happens… your hip mobility suffers!

Effective Ways to Foam Roll Around the IT Band

thinking about effective ways to foam roll

So, instead of foam rolling over the IT band, consider foam rolling all of the surrounding muscle groups. We’ll still be focusing on the IT band role at the hip for this article.

The IT band has a connection with multiple muscle groups at the hip including the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae.

So why does this matter?… You already learned how to foam roll these areas!

Instead of directly foam rolling the IT band, which we’ve found can be counterproductive, foam roll the surrounding muscles that have a connection and relationship with the IT band.

You’ll find this to be effective for relieving any sensation of pain or tightness around the outer thigh, where the IT band is located.

What if I Can’t Get Up and Down from the Floor to Use a Foam Roller?

can't get up from the ground as you age so you can use alternative to improve him mobility

If you struggle with safely getting up and down from the floor, please don’t try this at home on your own. There are a couple of alternatives you can try instead.

Using the Foam Roller on Your Bed:

It can be a little tricky and not the most ideal, but you could try foam rolling on your bed. The soft surface may cause you and the foam roller to sink into the bed a little bit, but if you feel you can work your way around this, then it’s not a bad idea to try!

Use an Alternative Tool That Has the Same Effects of a Foam Roller:

If the bed trick didn’t work, you could instead use a massage roller with handles. You won’t be positioning yourself as you did in the above instructions, as you will be manually rolling the muscles yourself.

How can you use something like this for each muscle group? Let’s talk about it:

  1. Glutes: You could lay on your back (such as the bed). On the side you’ll be rolling, move your knee into your chest. This will create room for you to move the roller to the glutes and begin rolling.

  2. Hamstrings: This one will be easier to do sitting with your legs in front of you, but keep your knees bent. This will create room for you to move the roller behind the thigh and onto the hamstrings. Gently roll up and down the back of the thigh.

  3. Quadriceps: You could manually roll the quads in the same position as the hamstrings, but you may find it more comfortable to keep the leg extended in front of you instead. Then simply roll the massage roller back and forth over the front of the thigh.

  4. Hip Flexors: Rolling the hip flexors will be best in a fully extended position, lying flat on your back. You can lay on your bed with this one as well. Place the massage roller over the front of the hips, where the hip flexors are located, and begin gently rolling back and forth.

You’ll still get the same benefits using the massage roller as the foam roller, but you won’t be able to use as much pressure.

The reason for this is because with the foam roller you’re using your body weight for the rolling technique.

If using a massage roller instead of a foam roller, it is still recommended to roll for the same amount of time as is recommended for the foam roller.

Aim for at least 30 seconds and up to 1 minute, if tolerable, per muscle group.

Again, the massage roller is still an effective alternative if you don’t feel that you can safely or correctly use a foam roller. You will still successfully address and treat tightness in the hips, and effectively improve hip mobility.

Wrapping Things Up

We covered a lot today! Let’s look at the main highlights:

How to Address Poor Hip Mobility:

If you’re experiencing limited hip mobility and pain related to an injury, general hip tightness or generally reduced range of motion, it’s important to get yourself moving!

This might include hip mobility exercises, stretches to address hip flexibility, and outside tools such as a foam roller.

Benefits of Foam Rolling Hips:

benefits of foam roller tight hips

The foam roller is a great tool to release soft tissue restrictions, including muscle tightness and improve hip flexibility.

This is a very affordable and easy to use tool that just might be what you’ve been looking for to compliment your self-care and workout routine.

If you’re recovering from a hip injury, this may also speed up your recovery process and get you back to where you were in no time.

Remember if using a foam roller to help while recovering from an injury, the foam roller should not cause pain. It should feel productive and beneficial.

If it doesn’t, don’t continue using it and consult with your medical doctor and physical therapist for further advice.

Where to Foam Roll:

The primary muscles to target when foam rolling for the hip to improve hip mobility include the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors.

When foam rolling each area, typically aim to foam roll for a minimum of 30 seconds and up to 1 minute, if able.

If working on the foam roller for this long is too uncomfortable, you can always practice in shorter spurts of time, and repeat as needed.

Do You Foam Roll the IT Band?

The final decision about the IT band is a recommendation to avoid directly foam rolling over it. Instead, consider foam rolling the surrounding muscles, which will indirectly help to release the IT band.

A Well-Rounded Program:

After a good foam rolling session, consider a nice stretch session for the same muscles you foam rolled. This will really help to promote optimal hip flexibility and hip mobility.

You can find a foam roller in any sporting goods store and most online platforms.

As a side note, to achieve a well-rounded exercise program for promoting healthy hips, don’t forget to practice hip strengthening exercises also! This can be done using body weight, a resistance band, or some other type of resistance such as ankle weights.

Practice and promotion of hip mobility, flexibility and strength will allow you to have the best and most optimal functional mobility.

Hopefully you’ve found this article to be helpful and feel more confident in your ability to achieve your best possible hip mobility!

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this article. It is exactly what I needed, as I was in an auto accident over 30 years ago and had a hip replacement over 10 years ago. Since then, I've experienced tightness in my hip and lack of mobility. I look forward to trying these exercises. I do your knee exercises almost every day, and I feel they are helping my knees. Thank you, Todd, for offering free information, in addition to the information that we pay for. I appreciate you!

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