When it comes to improving your Rugby speed, you probably don’t think much about your hip flexors. You’re more likely to think about improving your sprinting technique, first step quickness or power, but looking after your hip flexors are a significant part of the process of speed.
Here’s a champion tip for you: your Hip Flexors are your secret power weapon.
What are your hip flexors?
The hip flexors have attachments on the lumbar spine, the pelvis, and the femur. In addition to their major function of flexing the hip, their attachment on the spine makes them an important part of the core muscles and spinal stabilisers. The hip flexors are prone to becoming tight and shortened. Hip flexor pain is usually felt in the upper groin region, where the thigh meets the pelvis.
Speed and your hip flexors
When we are talking about speed, your hip flexors are responsible for driving your knee up for each stride. This will determine your stride length and the amount of power you can generate into the ground. When your hip flexors are tight, your knee drive becomes restricted which reduces the amount of power you can generate into the ground, which in turn affects your stride length.
We know that speed is all about how much power you can generate into the ground so now we can understand how important hip flexors are to unlock your speed.
What causes tight hip flexors?
For the majority of rugby players, the biggest cause of tightness is from sitting down for long periods of time, and in particular for young players this rings true as they sit down the majority of each day at school. If you live in a regional area you are also probably accustomed to long drives sitting in the car, making the issue even worse. When you sit down for long periods of time, your hip flexor muscles shorten and when they shorten, they get tight. Shortened muscles are the enemy of speed as short muscles can’t generate much power. And what do I always say? Less power equals a slower player.
A weak core is another culprit to tight hip flexors. They are connected to, and stabilise the spine so when your core is weak, these muscles often cop the slack which results in tightening and pain.
Have you ever stood up for long periods and your lower back starts to ache? You can blame your weak core for that as your hip flexors are tightening down to try and support your core.
Here are signs that you may have tight hip flexors
Tightness or ache in your lower back
Neck tightness and pain (as referred pain)
Pain in the glutes
Poor posture and difficulty standing up straight
What if I told you that strengthening your hip flexors is better than stretching?
The go-to thing to do when hip flexors are tight is to stretch it out. The problem with stretching your hip flexors constantly is that it weakens the muscles which will hurt your speed, but in saying that a muscle that is too short will also affect your speed. So listen up, instead of stretching them you should focus on strengthening them. Strong hip flexors will improve your speed and explosiveness. Do I have your attention yet?
Try this simple test to find out if your hip flexors need strengthening.
How do you strengthen your hip flexors?
Hands down, my favourite hip flexor strengthening exercise is the Single Leg Split Squat. If you know me by now, you will know that I love single leg exercises.
Because the movement transfers perfectly across to sprinting (you sprint on one leg so why not train on one leg!) and it improves stability, corrects muscle imbalances, works your core and focuses on your hip flexors all at the same time.
Talk about getting bang for your buck!!
Perform for 10 reps over 3 sets (per leg) twice a week.
Your hip flexors will unlock your speed. It makes sense when speed boils down to the amount of power you can generate into the ground, then your hip flexors become your secret power weapon.
Work on strengthening your hip flexors and you will be on the path of breakaway speed.