8 Exercises for Improving Hip Mobility
I am a big fan of two things: mobility work and doing what works to get healthy results! Today lets talk about eight exercises you can do to improve your Hip mobility.
Many people will see issues with their hips during their lifetime, partially from the tendency towards “desk jobs” or other careers where sitting is a primary “movement” during the day, and a good deal from becoming de-conditioned over time (i.e. not exercising and getting out of shape). As our hips age ungracefully, everyday activities become more difficult, and it becomes harder and harder to start an exercise regimen for fear of hurting yourself. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
The hips are the basis for a large portion of human movement. They propel us in walking & running, propel us up & down stairs, abd provide support while kneeling & squatting. In basically every sport, hip mobility and strength play a big role in successfully competing at a high level. Sitting most of the day stiffens the hips and can make them weaker from prolonged positioning.
This isn’t ideal for us or for our hips.
Each day you should be spending time remedying the issues many people have with tight, dysfunctional hips. It takes a consistently executed stretching plan to keep the hips in top shape, mobile and healthy. The eight exercises presented below hit the major pain points experienced by most people. You can practice this both as a warm-up for other exercise as well as a routine all by itself to improve flexibility.
The key to these movements is to use steady and gentle intensity and progression. Trying to force a stretch that you don’t have the range of motion for is a recipe for injury. You should progress at your own pace, and expect improvements to take several weeks of consistent attention.
Rushing your mobility training can and likely will cause problems in the long run.
Most of the progress you make while stretching is from simply getting used to tolerating the elongated muscles and positions. This is directly contrast to how we gain ability with our lifts and calisthenics, which help us tolerate contracted muscles (and doing so faster and harder). The key to a good stretch is learning to relax into it over time.
The stretch reflex that causes your muscles to tighten is protective: they get tight to prevent injury. You’ll be working on convincing your body that no injury is about to happen and that it’s okay to relax. Slow and steady is the way to go.
For each of the movements below, move in and out of the stretch several times, holding the stretched position for 10-30 seconds at a time (depending on comfort level). Once you’re done with a hold, shake out the muscles gently and do it again. You should expect to hold each stretch (on each side, when applicable 2-3 times each session.
As with anything, practice leads to improvement. As you progress over time, you won’t need to stretch as much to get the same results.
1. Lying Hip Rotations
This movement is a good warm-up for the rest of the sequence.
Check for any tightness on the outside of your knees, and if needed you can place the stretching leg higher or lower on the resting leg.
2. Piriformis Stretch
Place the stretching leg with the shin on top of the resting leg thigh, and then reach through to pull the resting leg toward your chest. This will cause the stretching leg to stretch further.
Go slow! Be gentle getting into and out of the stretch, using a little pressure from the hands to resist the stretching muscles.
This one is great for the groin muscles and improving side rotation in the hips.
Keep your back straight and upright as you stretch. Bring one leg into the position and leave the other straight. Twist your trunk to the stretching leg, hold, and release. Repeat on both sides 2-3 times. Once your hips are ready, bring both feet in (pictured) and rotate side/side and lean forward into the center.
Now you should be ready to up the intensity a little, and we’ll do that by inverting the butterfly stretch into the Frog position. This adds weight to the movement.
Again, don’t force it. Let your body gently relax into the movement as your hips are ready for it. Some people may get all way into a “frog split” while others may be much higher to start.
Rock gently back and forward, squeezing your knees as you go back, and relaxing them as you come forward.
5. Kneeling Lunge
Keep your hips square, trunk upright, and back straight. Your front shin should be straight up and down (not titled) when in this stretch, so you may need to adjust your foot position as your flexibility improves.
Lean your way into the stretch, and adjust your back foot as needed to get the best stretch. You may find that your back foot being on your toes feels best, or that a flat foot works for you.
6. Traveling Butterfly
This movement goes from sitting on your butt with your legs straight out in front to the butterfly stretch position.
It’s meant to be a dynamic motion, and you won’t hold any position here for more than a few seconds.
This is a great way to improve circulation and get the hips moving after the stretching you did in the last 5 moves.
7. Squatting Internal Rotations
Another good one for blood flow, you’ll start in the bottom of a squat and then rotate one knee in, to get it as close to the ground underneath the opposite knee as you can within pain. Hold that ground position for a second or two, and then come back up into the squat. Repeat on the other side.
Keep moving, and give yourself time to work on smoothing it out. Slow and gentle wins here again.
This is a great capstone stretch for this sequence. You can start with both legs bent, and then slowly rock into the back leg being stretch further out.
Keep your back straight, and work towards leaning a little further forward over time, until your front knee can rest at 90 degree internal rotation while comfortably lying forward on the leg with your chest.
Keep Your Hips Functional
In order to keep your hips as functional as possible, they need to practice movement through their full range of motion. Doing this routine at least once per day will go a long way towards doing that, but if you have tight hips you may want to do it twice per day. The whole routine will take less than 10 minutes overall.
As you get better at the movements, many will become easier. At that point, you can start working them at different angles to change things up and continue making progress. It can be a good feeling to see how far you get and how much body control you can develop with time. Don’t be afraid to explore your range of motion.
Your hips are pretty awesome, allowing us to be mobile in almost every activity the human body is capable of doing. The finest athletes almost always have great hip mobility, which goes to show how important it is.
Give your flexibility the attention it deserves.