How to Train the Most Important Muscles for Flexing Your Hips

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

The human body contains 600 to more than 650 individual muscles (depending on who’s counting), and they all work together to support nearly every movement you make. But occasionally, there are muscles that work so closely and in such harmony that they’re given a common name. Such is the case with the iliopsoas.

The iliopsoas is one of a handful of “composite” (or hybrid) muscles, and is composed of the psoas major and the iliacus. Both muscles originate in the lower abdomen (at the lumbar spine and hip, respectfully), and merge as they cross over the hip joint to attach to the femur. Some people also include the psoas minor in the iliopsoas, but only 40 to 60 percent of people have this relatively weak, unnecessary spinal flexor, and it really doesn’t matter anyway, as it doesn’t help the iliopsoas perform its primary job: flexing the hip.

In that role, the iliopsoas has no equal. There are other hip flexors, but the iliopsoas is the strongest. Indeed, it’s the primary driver for actions such as walking, running, and all other movements that involve lifting your leg.

Bottom line: If you want to move more powerfully—in your workouts, on the playing field, in everyday life—you need to pay your iliopsoas more attention in your training program.

Your move: Target your iliopsoas with exercises that require you to bring your knees towards your chest, such as the bent leg raise and the V-up.

But it’s not enough to simply strengthen this key leg mobilizer, which can become tight and inactive through prolonged sitting (e.g., by spending all day on a couch or at a desk). When that happens, posture and athletic performance can take a hit—and your risk of injury increases. Prevent it from happening by stretching your iliopsoas on the regular with mobility exercises that target your hip flexors.

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