If you spend much time at a desk, in a car, or on a couch, you probably have reduced hip mobility.
And you probably don’t even notice it because you don’t feel it in your hips. But if you’ve ever had lower back pain after a long day at work or had trouble squatting all the way down to pick up a bag of groceries, chances are your hips need some attention.
Our hips and the muscles that surround them are the base for most of our movement.
Unfortunately, the necessities of daily life can make our hips less functional than we’d like. Sitting most of the day stiffens the hips and can make them weaker from prolonged positioning.
This is not ideal for us, and not ideal for the workhorses of our body.
It’s important to spend some time each day remedying the issues many of us have with tight, dysfunctional hips, which is why I created the stretching sequence I’ll describe in this article.
Loosen Up Your Hips With This Routine
The hips are an area that need a lot of consistent exercise to keep mobile and healthy.
They propel us in walking and going up stairs, as well as supporting us in kneeling and squatting. And in pretty much all sporting activities, good hip strength and flexibility is one of the keys to good performance.
(See this related article for more on how the hips work.)
The following series of 8 hip stretches hit the major muscles that are tight on most people.
I originally designed this sequence a few years ago as a warm-up for myself before working on more strenuous lower body exercise and stretching, but I soon realized it’s a great mobility practice on its own and can help people to improve restrictions efficiently.
In this video, Ryan will demonstrate each of the 8 hip stretches / mobility exercises involved in this sequence. Below, I’ll describe each exercise in detail.
You can download this video and get a printer-friendly PDF of the routine to keep your hips loose and pain-free even when you’re not at a computer.
The key to practicing the sequence for the maximum benefit is to use a steady and gentle intensity and progression.
One of the important things to know about stretching in general is that most of the gains you achieve are from simply training the muscles to better tolerate the stretched positions. It’s just as much about practicing as any other skill. You learn to relax and your muscles ease off from that natural tendency to hold tight.
The stretch reflex which tightens muscles is protective.
With practice you are working on convincing your body that nothing bad is going to happen in these new stretched out positions. That’s why slow and easy and controlled is better.
- Move in and out of the stretch several times.
- Hold the stretched position for 10-30 seconds.
- Shake it out and do it again.
With more practice comes a better understanding of how to perform these mobility exercises.
Do it enough times over the weeks, months, and years, and you won’t have to do it as much to get the same results. Practice, practice, practice.
Exercises to Loosen Tight Hips
Below, I’ll describe each of the exercises in this hip mobility sequence, and give you some pointers on what to look out for.
1. Lying Hip Rotations
- Lie on back with both knees bent.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite knee.
- Move in and out of the stretch by rotating the hip in and out.
- For the hold, use your hand for assistance to press into the knee.
This exercise starts the sequence as an easy first movement to warmup and build toward the rest of the series.
Be aware of any tightness or soreness on the outside of your knees in this one. If you experience any of this, move the rotating leg so it’s resting higher up on the shin.
2. Piriformis Stretch
- Cross one leg fully over the opposite leg, so your knee is crossed over your thigh.
- Pull the crossed knee toward your opposite shoulder, stretching the piriformis muscle.
In the same position as the first exercise, cross the leg further, then shift your hips fully to the other side, pulling your knee up to the opposite shoulder.
Remember to go gently into and out of the stretch, and use a little pressure from your hands to resist against the muscles you want to stretch. In this case it’s the piriformis and other hip rotators.
3. Butterfly Stretch
- Sit up with feet together, moving the knees down toward the ground.
- Use your hand to press into the ground and move your groin closer to your heels.
This classic stretch is very useful for the groin muscles, and for improving hip rotation to the side. Pay close attention to your back and keep it straight and upright as you move through the stretch.
Work on one side at a time as Ryan demonstrates in the video, and then do both knees at once as you feel comfortable and warmed up.
4. Frog Stretch
- Start on hands and knees, bringing your knees as far apart as is comfortable.
- Rock back and forth in that position.
- Keep the balls of your feet on the ground, with toes pointed outward.
At this point in the sequence, we are ready for a bit more intensive stretching for the hips, adding some more weight bearing into the exercise.
Again, take it slow and easy and don’t force a range of motion you may not be ready to achieve.
The action here as you move in and out of a stretch is squeezing the knees together as you rock backward and relaxing as you rock forward. After a few repetitions you can sit back and relax into the stretch for upwards of a minute.
5. Kneeling Lunge
- Get into a lunge position, with knee and foot about hip width apart from the elevated leg.
- Keep the chest tall and the hips square.
- To make the stretch harder, you can pull the back knee up off the ground.
This exercise is somewhat deceptive in terms of how it can affect your hips.
You may need some trial and error to find the best front foot positioning, which happens when your shin is upright when you lean forward, rather than being angled down or back.
Keep your hips square and your upper body tall, and you’ll be in the right position. Don’t be afraid to adjust the back leg positioning to get the most out of the stretch to release your hip flexors.
6. Traveling Butterfly
- Sit on your butt with feet straight in front of you (longsitting).
- Use your hands to push the hips forward toward your heels, so you wind up in the butterfly position.
- Move between the long sitting and butterfly positions.
This movement goes from longsitting (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
- Start in a deep squat position (as deep as you can go).
- Rotate one knee inward, down toward the ground.
- This stretch can be done sitting on a small stool if you cannot get into a comfortable squat position.
This is another dynamic movement like the traveling butterfly, which I’ve put toward the end to encourage blood flow and circulation after all the previous stretches.
Don’t hold the end position very long at all.
Just keep moving and give yourself some time to work through the movement.
8. Pigeon Stretch
- Start with your front knee bent to a 90-degree angle. The back knee can be as bent or extended as is comfortable for you.
- Rotate the back hip toward the front heel, and then toward the back foot.
- Keep the chest up tall, and only bear as much weight as you can comfortably.
In the video, Ryan demonstrates the modified stretch in the beginning, with both knees bent and rhythmically rotating to move in and out of the stretch of the front bent leg.
As you warm up you’ll then work on straightening the back leg behind you. Take your time and gradually work on putting more weight through the bent front leg.
How To Customize This Routine to Your Schedule and Your Body
The hip region includes several large, overlapping muscle groups, and tightness in any one of them can cause problems, but the preceding stretches are a great way to take your hip muscles through their full range of motion, ensuring they stay as healthy and functional as possible.
These 8 movements take just a short amount of time, so you can add them in throughout your day to break up long bouts of sitting, or you can even use them as a warmup to your regular training routine.
As you practice you’ll notice that some of the stretches will be easier to perform. When that happens, you can work on different angles to change things up and see how much further you can get.
Don’t be afraid to explore your ranges of motion and the many different ways you can use your newly developed hip mobility.
Our hips are incredible structures that allow us to be mobile and strong and perform everything from the most mundane activities as walking to amazing feats of strength and power shown by the finest athletes.
Take the time to take care of your hips and your life will be the better for it.
Here’s a quick review of the exercises in this routine:
|How to Stretch Your Hips|
|1. Lying Hip Rotations||Cross one ankle across the opposite knee and rotate the hip in and out.|
|2. Piriformis Stretch||Cross one knee over the opposite thigh and pull the knee toward the opposite shoulder.|
|3. Butterfly Stretch||Sit with your feet together and move your knees toward the floor.|
|4. Frog Stretch||On all fours, separate your knees as wide as you can and rock back and forth.|
|5. Kneeling Lunge||Get into a lunge position and keep your chest tall as you move your hips back and forth.|
|6. Traveling Butterfly||Move from the longsitting position to the butterfly position.|
|7. Squatting Internal Rotations||From a deep squat, rotate one knee toward the ground, then alternate.|
|8. Pigeon Stretch||Sit with one knee bent to 90-degrees in front of you, and one knee behind you, rotating your back hip forward and backward.|
Keep Your Hips Happy on the Go
Download this video and get a printer-friendly PDF so you can stay loose and pain-free even when you’re not at your computer.
Flexibility is so much more than just splits or backbends. It’s a necessity for day-to-day function and being able to reach whatever goals you have.
Give your hip mobility the effort it deserves.