10 Exercises To Instantly Improve Hip Mobility

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The Most Notoriously “TIGHT” Region of The Body

Have you ever asked the average person who has been battling chronic lower back pain or a painful hip pinch what they think the problem is? As a physical therapist and coach, I ask these questions for a living. And usually, the answer goes something like this…

“My hips are just TIGHT! I think I need to stretch more!”

Ah yes, it comes to no big surprise that hip flexor and hamstring tightness get blamed for almost every little ache and pain presenting at the lower back, hips, knees, and even ankles. But is there actually any truth to hip mobility being the root of all evil for orthopedic pain and dysfunction?

When your hips are “tight”, whatever that terms currently means to you, your body must cheat and compensate to gain this mobility from elsewhere on the body. Poor hip mobility has been widely recognized in the literature as a risk factor for pain, injuries and other pathologies in the lower back along with the lower body in general.

So yes, hip mobility is clearly important for general health and fitness whether you are a professional athlete, bodybuilder, or just a weekend warrior wanting to perform without getting hurt. But lets not forget, true hip mobility can be improved in MANY other ways than just the most common self-help practice, static stretching.

This hip is an inherently mobile ball and socket based joint that moves in all 3 cardinal planes of motion. So it is imperative that we appreciate and understand these unique movement planes in order to maximize authentic mobility and movement at the hip joint.

When more intelligently addressed, improvements in hip mobility will not only be gained, but maintained for the long run. Here are the 10 most effective hip mobility drills that will quickly open up your hips, help you battle back against chronic aches and pains and have you performing at the top of your game, no matter the sport of activity.

#1 Hip 90/90 Stretch

This is a GREAT bang for your buck mobility drill to help improve flexion and external rotation of one hip while improving abduction and internal rotation of the other. If you are like me, you find yourself crossing your leg with one side over the other. While total arc of motion (Internal Rotation to External Rotation) may be similar, you will find it more difficult to perform this exercise on one side in comparison to the contralateral limb.

Start position: Begin in seated position with an erect spine, with one leg bent in front of you while the other leg is out to your side. Both knees should be bent to around 90 degrees. If too difficult to get in this position, sit on an elevated surface like a yoga block which will decrease mobility demand at your hips.

The Movement: For this exercise rotate to each direction, first thread the needle towards the leg that is in front of you. Reach as far as you can towards the back wall. Don’t let your butt lift off of the floor! Then rotate towards the leg on your outside.

Programming: 2-3 sets of 5 reps to each side.

#2 The Bretzel Stretch

Start position: Lay on your side, specifically the leg in which you want to stretch.

The movement: Bring the opposite knee up towards your chest and hold it in place with the arm that is on the same side of the leg that is being stretched. The will lock out the pelvis into a posterior tilt which will minimize the common compensation of lumbar extension when stretching the hip flexors!

If this is uncomfortable, you can prop your knee up by putting a foam roller or something else under the knee to support it. Grab the top of your ankle on the side you plan to stretch with the other arm that is free with the palm facing the ceiling. Try to pull your knee back as tolerated to help increase the stretch of specifically the rectus femoris. The FINAL aspect of this stretch is to then rotate your chest towards the ceiling.

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds to each side.

#3 The World’s Greatest Stretch

The World’s greatest stretch has been popularized for a great reason! It is one of the best bang for your buck flow’s to help mobilize the hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders.

The movement: Here’s a step by step rundown of this catch all movement:

  • Double hip opener: try to keep your back leg as straight (extended) as possible to stretch the hip flexors. For the front hip, really drive your elbow down to open up the hips into flexion as much as possible.
  • Thoracic spine rotation via the shoulder: you should be ACTIVE throughout each movement and thoracic spine rotation is no different. Build tension in the shoulder girdle and use your down arm to protract your scapula and rotate your torso towards the front leg.
  • Hamstring stretch: nothing fancy here. Try and keep your knee as straight as possible. If it’s tight like mine, you won’t be going anywhere.
  • Hip flexor stretch: Reach up as HIGH as you can, in addition to side-bending away from the leg that is to be stretched. Lunging in to the front leg will assure that your pelvis is locked-out and you are avoiding compensation from your low back.

Programming: Repeat for 5 repetitions on each side or for 15 yards

#4 Posterior Hip Mobilization

Start position: Begin on your hands an knees in a table top position. Simply being in this position adds a posterior glide of the head of the femur.

The movement: place one foot over the other leg which will put your hip into slight external rotation.  and at this point rock back until you feel a good mobilization of this hip. you essentially want to shift your weight/hip over the hip you want to mobilize. This exercise will require much less external rotation than a pigeon pose, a pigeon pose will target the piriformis; however with less external rotation this will target the posterior hip capsule.

Note: You should only feel a deep stretching sensation in the back of your hip, if you feel it in the front of your hip, you either need to change your foot position (most likely putting your hip in external rotation and moving foot closer/on top of your other foot) or you need to perform a banded Hip Joint Distraction.

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds to each side.

#5 Frog Stretch for Short Adductors

Here is an adductor mobilization that every athlete should perform prior to performing on the field or in the weight room. Groin mobility is essential for various training methods including agility, plyometrics, sprinting, and performing heavy traditional and olympic weightlifting.

Start position: Begin on your hands and knees in a table top position with your knees spread as far as comfortable.

The movement: Rock back until you feel adequate stretching of your groin. Make sure to keep your back FLAT, avoid rounding the back as you rock back. At this point you have the option to rotate to each side to further this mobilization. Stay strong in the shoulder girdle that is on the floor, push away with the stabilized shoulder as your rotate towards the ceiling with the opposite arm.

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds or 5-10 repetitions to each side

#6 Long Adductor Stretch

Start position: Get set-up on your hands and knees (quadruped) in a comfortable position. Stick the leg you want to stretch directly out to the side of you, allowing it to be in line with the opposite knee

The movement:
Staying strong in your shoulder blades and initiating the movement with your hands by pushing into the ground, push your body backwards in a slow and controlled manner. Keep a flat back as best as you can. Often times individuals will compensate with rounding their back. This will help mobilize the long adductors. If your goal is to bias the hamstrings, point your toes towards the ceiling and rock backwards.

Option: Place the hand on the opposite side of the leg being stretched behind your head and rotate your upper body and chest away from the leg being stretched. You should now feel a stretch in the middle of your thigh and up towards your groin. With the hand on the same side of the leg being stretched, perform ‘thread the needle’ away from the leg being stretched.

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds or 5-10 repetitions to each side

#7 Hip Internal Rotation

Any activities that requires squatting, pivoting, planting and cutting, and/or rotating your body will likely be hindered by limited hip flexion and internal rotation range. Hip internal rotation is a commonly overlooked impairment. Shown here are two different ways in which you can improve your hip mobility which may allow you to improve your squat and deadlift depth. Normal hip internal rotation is about 40 degrees, use these exercises to help you normalize motion at this joint.

Start position:  lay on your back facing up with one foot over the opposite leg.

The movement: Use the elevated leg to help drop your knee in towards the floor.Reach with your arm towards the side that is getting stretched to maximize this stretch and avoid any compensation via rotating the entire body. Further this hip stretch, place your legs up against a wall which will put your hips into more flexion as your medially rotate your leg.

Note: You may also feel a stretch in your low back (particularly with the first exercise). No worries, this is likely a stretch of the commonly tight Quadratus Lumborum muscle being stretched. Don’t push much through any irritation of the hip.

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds

#8 Hip Flexion Mobility

This exercise is great because you can leverage the weight of your body to help improve hip flexion. This exercise often showcases the discrepancy from side to side.

Start position: Place one foot on an elevated surface, the higher the surface the more aggressive this stretch will become.

The movement: Lower your body as if you are reaching the elbow towards the heel of the elevated leg. Really sink down as far as you can. With each exhale sink a bit deeper. Rotate your hip around to find your restriction!

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds

#9 Hamstring Flexibility

Reduction in flexibility of the hamstring has been reported to be associated with occurrence of back pain in adolescents and adults in cross-sectional studies.

Start position: Start by holding onto a strong resistance band or towel wrapped around your feet.

The movement: Key here is to attempt to make you low back as straight as you can. If you curl your entire spine- the restriction may be due to neurodynamic mobility deficits than hamstring length.Use the Quad muscles to straighten your knee until you feel a hamstring stretch- this will also help with reciprocally inhibiting the hamstrings.

There are 4 hamstring muscles (2 medial and 2 lateral). To isolate the lateral hamstrings bicep femoris long and short head you can do this by internally rotating your legs so that your toes are pointing together. If your goal is to stretch the medial hamstrings- semimembranosus and semitendinosus then you can externally rotate your legs so that your toes are point out.

Programming: Hold for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds

#10 Active Hip Mobility

Training hip flexion at end range is especially important for sprinters, hikers, jumpers, punters, cyclists, and hurdlers. Here are a few great drills to help improve your end range hip strength & activation.

A Study in 2012 by Casartelli et al. found hip flexor weakness in those with hip impingement (femoral acetabular impingement aka FAI). We are not saying weakness here is the cause of the hip impingement, however it is an impairment that is often co-present with hip impingement that must be addressed.

Start position: Begin in a half kneeling position allowing the kneeled knee to be on top of a foam pad for comfort. With the opposite hand you can stabilize as needed onto a dowel or any stable surface.

The movement: Lift your hip up as high as you feel comfortable into each position without compensating. The body will want to move away from the body.

For example: with hip flexion avoid leaning back/rounding the back, with hip abduction avoid side bending away/hip hiking, and with hip extension avoid leaning forward/arching the back.

If you really want to challenge yourself go through the entire motion of the hip: Initiate with hip flexion as high as you can -> Abduction -> Extension. Make sure to keep the trunk straight for the entirety of this exercise!

Programming: 2-3 sets of 5 reps to each side.

About The Author

the prehab guys

The Prehab Guys – Arash Maghsoodi, Michael Lau, and Craig Lindell are Doctors of Physical Therapy and Strength and Conditioning Specialists providing scientific insight for your optimal movement system. Instilling new meaning into physical therapy.

Follow them on:  Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook

And visit the site: www.ThePrehabGuys.com

 

4 Comments

  1. Steven Head September 24, 2018 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Great stuff, a couple really cool variations of some I use and a couple I haven’t. The frog for proximal/shorter adductors v. the long adductor stretch is brilliant. Question, 4 hamstring muscles? Counting the Biceps Femoris as two I suppose.

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  4. Benjamin Ehinger October 1, 2018 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Excellent exercises. I have struggled with hip mobility all my life and was told at a young age my hip actually comes out of place slightly and when this happens, I suffer from hip pain for a few days before it goes back in place. I am going to add the stretches you have listed here to my regular routine from this guide: http://bit.ly/FreeMuscleGuide and see if it helps. Maybe I will dedicated an entire workout each week to just stretching my hips and lower body.

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NEVER WASTE ANOTHER WARMUP

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Every Warm Up in 6 Minutes or Less.
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