Key points ahead:
- Tight hips make everyday activities more difficult.
- Trying to force a stretch will just lead to more pain and stiffness. Don’t do it.
- Practicing these 8 exercises consistently now will mean less of a need to practice them later.
Our hips and the muscles that surround them are the base for most of our movement.
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.
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 below.
The hips are an area that need a lot of consistent exercise to keep mobile and healthy.
The following series of 8 stretching exercises 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.
Hip Flexibility Sequence for Lower Body Freedom of Movement
In this video, Ryan will demonstrate each of the 8 stretches involved in this sequence. Below, I’ll describe each exercise in detail.
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 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.
Technical Breakdown of Each Exercise
Below, I’ll describe each of the exercises in this stretching sequence, and give you some pointers on what to look out for.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #1 – Lying Hip Rotations
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.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #2 – Piriformis Stretch
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.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #3 – Butterfly
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.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #4 – Frog
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.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #5 – Kneeling Lunge
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 for you.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #6 – Traveling Butterfly
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.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #7 – Squatting Internal Rotations
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.
Hip Flexibility Exercise #8 – Pigeon
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 Use this Routine to Keep Your Hips Functional and Flexible
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 improve 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 hips.
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.