Tight hips are ubiquitous amongst athletes. However, it can get confusing, because your hips don’t move in just one direction. This means that you can have epically open hips in one position and experience significant discomfort in another.
Since it is as detrimental to over-stretch a weak muscle as it is to neglect a short, tight one, it's useful to establish where you have restricted, and where you have excessive range of motion. You can then design your yoga practice accordingly. It's not that you shouldn't do poses that stretch muscles in which you already have adequate range of motion, but that you may not want to hang out there for long periods of time and exacerbate an existing imbalance.
Here are 6 tests you can do to assess the extent of your flexibility in the various different planes of motion, and the relevant poses for each. Please note that this is just a guide. If you have any specific concerns, please see your doctor or physical therapist.
Hip Flexibility Self-Assessment
Your hips are responsible for flexing (bending), extending (straightening), abducting (opening), adducting (closing) and rotating (turning in and out) your legs.
1. Hip flexion test: Lie on your back and hug one knee into your chest. Keeping a neutral spine (not allowing your pelvis to tilt forward or back), can you comfortably touch your thigh to your stomach?
Muscles responsible: Hip extensors—gluteus maximus and medius.
2. Hip extension test: Sit on the edge of a table, hug one knee into your chest and lie back. Keeping a neutral spine, does the thigh of your other leg hang below the level of the table at least 20-30 degrees?
Muscles responsible: Hip flexors—psoas major and minor, iliacus and rectus femoris.
3. Hip abduction: Lie on your back with your buttocks against a wall and your legs straight up. Allow your legs to fall open. There should be at least a 90-degree angle between your legs.
Muscles responsible: Hip adductors—pectineus, gracilus, adductor longus, brevis and magnus.
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
4. Hip adduction: Lie on a table on your side, with your waist supported. Bend your bottom leg, move it forward and out of the way, and let your top leg hang freely down. Your top leg should fall at least 30 degrees below the plane of your upper body.
Muscles responsible: Hip abductors—gluteus minimus, medius and tensor fascia latae.
Reclining Spinal Twist
Additional poses: Eagle.
5. Hip internal rotation: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Can you rotate each foot in to least 45 degrees?
Muscles responsible: Hip external rotators—gluteus maximus and medius, piriformis, gemellus superior and inferior, obturator internus and externus, quadratus femoris.
How long should you hold these poses for?
Both static and dynamic stretching can be beneficial for loosening up tight hips, so try to incorporate both. If you're really suffering, I would recommend 15 minutes of flow yoga a day—any of the videos in the Yoga 15 series would be suitable—and then 60-90 minutes of long hold, or yin yoga, a week. Either in one block or spread over several days.
I'd love to know if you find this info helpful and what I can add to make it more so.
Photo credit: Nala Rinaldo