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Move from your abs rather than your hip flexors.
Located on the upper thighs near your hips, the hip flexors help you to bend at the waist and lift your knees. Because of their location and function, the hip flexors tend to take over during stomach exercises that target the lower abs, or the lower rectus abdominis. When this happens, your abs miss out on the strengthening benefits of the exercises while the front of your hips and thighs can feel tight and painful. Focusing on your form and using your lower abs for strength can help your hip flexors relax during abdominal exercises.
Perform a five- to 10-minute light cardiovascular workout to warm up your body and muscles. Choose an activity that activates your abs, such as walking, jogging or jumping rope.
Focus on your body and form; awareness is the first step in performing abdominal exercises with proper technique. Pull your lower abs in toward your spine so that they are fully engaged, and keep the abs activated throughout each exercise. Maintain a flat back to avoid arching or hunching. Keep the tailbone neutral rather than tucked, which can cause the hip flexors to kick in. Advance through the exercises slowly to keep your form and alignment intact.
Practice neutralizing your hip flexors while working your lower abs with the reverse supine crunch. Lie on your back on an exercise mat and extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms facing down. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and lift your legs toward the ceiling so that your knees are directly over your hips. Pull your lower abs in toward your spine and press your lower back into the floor. Maintain the abdominal engagement as you roll your hips off of the mat and move your knees toward your head. Hold the contraction for one count and then use your abs to reverse the move and return to the starting position. Complete three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
Work your lower abs with the reverse plank hover. Sit tall on an exercise mat with your legs extended in front of you and your feet flexed. Place your hands on the mat outside of your hips, palms facing down and fingers pointing forward. Pull your abs, including the lower rectus abdominis, in toward your lower back as you relax your hip flexors. Press into your hands to lift your hips off the floor 2 to 3 inches; keep your heels on the ground and slightly bend your knees. Hollow out your stomach as much as possible to fully contract your lower abs. Hold the contraction for one count and then return to the starting position. Complete three sets of 10 repetitions.
Stretch your abs, lower back and hip flexors after your training session to elongate your muscles, relieve any stiffness and to help prevent your hip flexors from becoming tight. Hold the stretches for 20 to 30 seconds while breathing deep and slow in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Consult with a health care provider before starting a new exercise program. Tell your physician if you have any chronic medical conditions or injuries, especially to the hip flexors.