Q&A Wednesday: why do my hip flexors hurt when I do Pilates?

Q: Hi Robin! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and really appreciate all the tips and resources you provide. Thank you! I’ve recently started doing Pilates and notice that sometimes my hip flexors really start to hurt. It’s usually when I’m lying on my back with my legs in “tabletop” position. Any ideas on why this is and what I can do to help? Thanks in advance!

A: This is such a good question. And one that I get asked all the time. This issue primarily arises for people who are either new to Pilates or have never been trained on how to do ab work effectively and accurately, which is nothing to feel bad about! But it is something to pay attention to.

While I can’t say for certain what’s going on without seeing you in person, pain in the hip flexors is often due to overuse of the hip flexor muscles (mainly the psoas major) and underuse of the deep core stabilizers (primarily the transverse abdominis).

Many people think their hip flexors are weak, when in fact they are not weak but rather overused and tired because their deeper core muscles aren’t pulling the weight that they should.

The psoas major (what most of us think of when we think of hip flexors) runs from the lumbar spine, through the groin, and helps to flex the hip joint.

The best thing you can do to correct this is to (surprise, surprise) do Pilates! But the key is to start at the beginning, learn about the way your body works and begin to find the connection to your deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor so that you don’t have to rely on your poor hip flexors to do ALL the work. If you dive into more advanced work you will likely repeat old movement patterns that continue the pain and overuse.

I highly recommend going through my Pilates For Beginners Series on YouTube, paying special attention to Part One: Neutral Spine and Hip Mechanics and Part Two: Transverse Abdominis.

In the meantime, here are a few simple things you can do to alleviate the pain and help you  find that connection deep within your core:

– leave your feet on the floor with knees bent instead of “tabletop” position.

– rest your feet on a chair or the couch while in tabletop to mimic the position without the strain.

– try raising one leg at a time in tabletop until you are able to do both without discomfort.

Give these a try and let me know how it goes. I hope it helps!

xo,

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6 Comments
  1. Katherine 4 years ago

    Hi Robin,
    I’m so happy that you did this post because I struggle with this a lot. I continue to struggle even though I have been following you since the 28 Days of Pilates and am currently in the Sisterhood. I have done the beginner’s videos more than once and I am always trying to make sure I am doing the movements right, but I still have this issue.

    I was wondering if you have any suggestions for when we are working in the seated pose where we lean back? I struggle to get my hip flexors to back off in that position as well.

    Thanks again! 🙂

  2. Jessica 4 years ago

    I’m a physical therapist and Pilates instructor and get this question quite a bit as well! Great answer and thanks for reminding us of the importance of the basics!

  3. Sarah Stockett 3 years ago

    I find that sometimes the hip flexors grip when the pelvis is tucked under (like in an Imprint position). To help relax the hip flexors in an exercise such as The Hundred, I would work with a neutral spine (using a small towel under the low back to help stabilize if there is weakness). Also, sometimes massaging the tight muscle while trying to get it to relax can work. It can help with the body/mind connection, too. But the real trick is to notice your posture while you’re sitting and standing. If your pelvis tucks under, that is probably the root of your issue.

  4. Philippa C 2 years ago

    I have given up a beginners Pilates class after about 8 sessions because I appear to have strained something in my left hip, going down my thigh. I cannot currently lie down straight in bed as a result, and occasionally the leg even gives way momentarily, and I am walking lame. Prior to this, I had been doing the exercises in table top -only in class, not at home supervised – and was encouraged to keep going after things started to hurt. For sure my core probably wasnt probably engaged and my abdominal muscles were not doing their share of the work. But how can you know if your core is engaged properly when you have only had a few sessions? I am a lifetime horse rider and have had a number of injuries over the years, so like a lot of riders i have a fairly high discomfort/pain threshold as a result. But I am concerned this has happened with the Pilates, especially when i cant identity the cause. I emailed the instructor and she just said, oh, I hope you get better soon!

  5. Colleen 11 months ago

    I would suggest you go see a local physical therapist. There could be other reasons why you are having trouble engaging your core. For example, hip/SI mal alignment or nerve referral from your spine.

  6. Emily Scott 2 months ago

    such an interesting question with an even more amazing answer. I also had such questions popping up in my head all the time, however my instructor at Lifespan Pilates studio was professional enough to tell us about all such problems and their solutions as well. I am attaching their link in case anyone is interested;
    https://lifespanpilates.com/

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