Humans weren't meant to sit at desks all day.
We were meant to run, walk, lift objects, and hurdle over the occasional barrier. But in this day and age, many of us spend 8-10 hours or more in a sitting position. (Be honest: Are you sitting on your couch or at your desk while reading this? Thought so.)
Sitting for extended periods of time weakens and tightens the hip flexors, which can lead to pain and other health problems. Not-so-fun fact: Tight hips don't just cause pain in the hip area — it can also manifest in low back and knee pain as well.
Technology and desk jobs aren't going away any time soon. Therefore, you need to make a conscious effort of making hip mobility exercises part of your everyday routine. Mobile hips can decrease chronic pain, improve athletic performance, and make you more explosive. Below, I dive deeper into the importance of hip mobility and explain seven exercises to incorporate into your daily workout program.
Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. When working with tight hips, lower back pain, or other mobility issues, always work directly with your physical therapist to create a plan that works well for you.
Why You Need Hip Mobility
If you ever felt "stuck" when dropping into a parallel squat, felt (or heard) your hips crack when doing a bicycle crunch, or can barely cross your legs, you probably have limited range of motion in your hips.
Even if tight hips don't cause you physical pain now, it will cause pain in the future. Even worse, chronically immobile hips can lead to injuries in other areas of your body. If you want to stay healthy and active for the vast majority of your life, you should do mobility work now to stay injury-free later.
How Hip Immobility Happens
The hip joint itself is a thick, strong capsule with ligaments — something we call a "ball and socket" joint. The "socket" (the acetabulum) is inside your pelvis, while the "ball" is the top part of your thigh (your femur). When a hip joint is healthy, the top of your femur will glide, slide, and roll easily within the acetabulum.
When you lose range of motion, your hip joint will physically lock up on itself. This can cause pain or deterioration of your labrum — the cartilage surrounding your hip joint. This, in turn, can lead to injuries in other areas.
7 Hip Mobility Exercises for Tight Hips
These hip mobility drills will help alleviate tightness in your hips, strengthen your glutes, and provide a nice hip flexor stretch. I suggest using these mobility exercises as a warm-up before any lower body workouts, particularly those involving deadlifts, squats, or lunges.
1. Frog Stretch
Come to all fours, with your knees, toes, and palms connected with the floor. Your heels will be slightly closer together than your knees, but won't touch (keep roughly 6-8 inches or 15-20 centimeters between your heels). Your knees should be slightly wider than hip-width apart, as though you were going to sink back into child’s pose. Push yourself backward so your glutes move toward your heels. Come back to your starting position, and repeat.
2. 90/90 (Modified Pigeon Pose)
Come to a seated position. Extend your right leg in front of you and your left leg behind you, bending your knees so your pelvis is pointed directly forward. Bend both legs so they form a 90 degree angle, with your left calf and right quad parallel toward each other (and, if you're doing it perfectly, also parallel to your chest).
Roll your shoulders back and down, and bring your chest toward your right knee. As you come forward, try not to curve your spine downward (lead with your chest). Return to your starting position. Do 10 repetitions on your right leg, switch legs, then do the same on your left leg.
3. Advanced Runner's Lunge
Start by standing in front of a wall, sofa, or piece of sturdy furniture. Come into a seated lunge position, with your right leg in front of you and your left leg behind you. Your right foot and left knee should be firmly connected with the ground.
Bring your left foot off the ground, bringing the entire length of your left shin and foot in contact with the wall behind you (keep your knee connected with the ground). You should feel an intense hip stretch on your left hip flexor. To deepen the stretch, squeeze your core and your left glute. Switch legs, and repeat.
4. Hip CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations)
Come to all fours, with both palms and knees connected with the ground. Brace your core, then bring your right knee toward your right elbow. Keeping your knee bent and toes slightly flexed, open your hip flexor so you're in a fire hydrant position, with your right calf muscle parallel to the ground. Lastly, rotate your right leg directly behind you (again, keep your knee bent) so your right thigh is extended behind you and your calf perpendicular to the ground (the bottom of your foot will be facing the ceiling).
When you reach your end range of motion, switch directions and come back to your starting position. Repeat with your left leg.
5. Dynamic Squat Stretch
Start in a standing position, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, and drop into a deep squat. Your goal is to go below parallel, with your butt dropping toward your heels. Once you can't go any further, raise your glutes toward the ceiling in a forward fold, and repeat.
If you have tight hips or ankles, your heels will raise off the floor during this exercise — try to avoid that. Squat only as low as your mobility allows so your heels stay firmly connected with the floor. Every time you repeat this stretch, aim to go a little lower. Alternatively, slip a thick book (like a textbook) underneath your heels, then drop into your low squat.
Added challenge: A great extension to the squatch stretch is the full squat rotation, which makes for a very effective, full body mobility exercise.
6. The World's Greatest Stretch
Come into a deep lunge position. (Unlike the runner's lunge, where both knees are bent and connected with the ground, bring your back knee off the ground and keep your back leg straight, with your front knee bent.) If your right leg is forward, rotate your right arm inside your leg toward your left elbow.
Once you reach the end range of motion, rotate your upper body in the opposite direction, so your right arm extends toward the sky. Lastly, return both palms toward the ground, and sit back so both glutes extend toward your left heel. You will feel a nice stretch in your right hamstring. Come back to your starting position, and repeat with your opposite leg.
7. Piriformis Stretch
Lay down on your back with your legs fully extended. Bend your right knee and bring it toward your chest. For a deeper stretch in your right hip flexor, you can bring your knee closer toward the left side of your body (across your chest). Hold for a moment, then return to your starting position. Repeat with your left leg.
Make Hip Mobility Exercises a Regular Part of Your Fitness Routine
If you sit at a desk all day (which many of us do), you might be prone to tight hips. Even if it doesn't cause you pain now, it could cause injuries as you age.
Hip mobility exercises can loosen your hips, prevent injuries in your knees and low back, and generally improve your athletic ability. Plus, you’ll find certain movements easier (like parallel squats). Incorporate hip mobility drills into your regular workout routine, doing them before lower body workouts. If you're an endurance athlete, you should always do hip mobility exercises before going on a run.
When it comes to mobility work, drills are just one part of the equation. Various recovery techniques, like foam rolling, stretching, and ACT (active release therapy) can help loosen up the muscles surrounding your hip flexor joint. In addition, strengthening your glute muscles can help take pressure off your hips, thereby preventing injury.
For a well-rounded program that combines cardio, strength training, recovery work, and even nutrition, try the Build Bullet-Proof Health program by 4 Legs Fitness.