Photo credit: Maria Revelj, Bingin Beach, Bali
Athletes, and especially those of you who also spend a lot of time sitting, often suffer from ‘tight’ hips. Stiffness and limited range of motion at the hips can lead to chronic pain in the lower back and knees, as well as negatively affecting athletic performance.
In this article, I’m going to show you some poses to open up your hips so that you feel more loose and supple and can move with greater freedom and control.
What causes tight hips?
Your body is an efficiency machine. It adapts to what you do most often and, unfortunately, not to what is best for your long-term health. As we age, we lose the ability to perform movements and get into positions that we have neglected over time.
Here are 4 ways this can affect the hips:
- Chronic contraction. We sit for an average of 10 hours day—at work, when we’re travelling, eating and relaxing in front of the TV. Sitting shortens the hip flexors, the muscles that connect the lower spine and pelvis to the tops of the thighs.
- Limited range of motion. Common activities, including walking, running and cycling, require a limited range of motion and rarely demand significant lateral or rotational movement.
- Overuse. We typically repeat the same limited selection of movement patterns over and over.
- Weak glutes. As the hip flexors tighten from contraction and overuse, the opposing muscles—the glutes—respond by relaxing and deactivating. This process, known as reciprocal inhibition, is designed to protect the hip flexors from tearing.
These 4 factors create the perfect storm for tight and inflexible hips. You therefore need to counterbalance your lifestyle and physical training with targeted flexibility and mobility work, to restore your range of motion. This will ultimately protect you from related pain and boost your performance.
Let’s look at these two elements in more detail—pain and performance.
How can tight hips cause pain?
When the muscles and connective tissue around the hip joints get short and tight, they pull the pelvis into an anterior tilt causing an excessive arch at the lower back. This can cause compression pain in the lower back as well as pain further up the spine between the shoulder blades.
Tight hips in combination with weak glutes can also cause knee and foot pain, as other muscles, including the IT Band and hamstrings, have to compensate. This puts excessive stress on joints, ligaments and tendons further down the kinetic chain.
Essentially, muscular imbalances lead to compensation patterns which when repeated over and over stress synergistic muscles and cause chronic pain.
How can tight hips limit performance?
To excel in your sport, you need the ability to access full range of movement at your hips, combined with sufficient strength and stability in and around your hip joints. Here are some of the ways tight hips can negatively affect your performance:
- Inadequate hip mobility and corresponding weak glutes prevent you from generating maximum power and speed.
- Tight hips reduce your control and agility as you’re not able to transfer your weight as smoothly and efficiently.
- Tight muscles impair movement efficiency which increases fatigue.
- Some sports, like snowboarding and surfing, require considerable lateral and rotational mobility, at speed.
- Tight muscles and a lack of suppleness can cause discomfort and pain in the synergistic structures.
- Restricted movement increases your risk of injury.
3 types of hip openers
One of the main reasons that yoga is so effective at loosening up tight hips is that, unlike conventional stretching, in yoga we stretch the hips from multiple different angles.
There are 3 different types of hip openers—hip flexor, groin and outer hip stretches. You should aim to incorporate all of them into your mobility program, especially as you may find that you are tight only in some areas and have good flexibility in others.
Hold each of the poses below for 5-10 deep breaths on each side, in and out through your nose.
Click on the links for full instructions and modifications.
Hip flexor stretches
- Be patient and consistent. Loosening up your hips may take time. Depending on your level of tightness, you can work on improving your hip mobility 3-5 times a week. 15 minutes at a time is plenty.
- Force is a substitution for intelligence always. (Moshe Feldenkrais) Focus on feeling and easing your way into the poses, rather than on trying to force your hips to open.
- Use your breath. Slow down your breath and use it as a guide for how deep you need to go in the stretches. Breathe and release. Catch yourself anytime you find yourself holding your breath and holding onto tightness.
- Pay attention to your alignment. Practice in front of a mirror if you can and pay close attention to alignment cues.
- Be mindful. Notice how you body feels in the stretches. Notice where your asymmetries are and which areas you need to work on.
I have just released a brand new series of 15 x 15-minute videos designed to loosen up tight hips, increase hip mobility and build stability and strength in the hip joints. Here is the link:
There are 5 different types of sequence in this series:
- The MOBILITY sequences are relatively fast-paced and are designed to loosen up the hips. They are best practiced in the morning or early on in the day.
- The BALANCE and STRENGTH sequences are the most challenging physically and are designed to build strength and stability in and around the hip joints. They are also best practiced in the morning or early on in the day.
- The FLEXIBILITY sequences are slow and steady and are designed to strategically increase flexibility in the hip muscles. They are best practiced in the early evening when your muscles are warm and pliable and you're winding down.
- The RELAXATION sequences are gentle and restorative and are best practiced in the evening to prepare your body for sleep.
Let me know if you have any questions in the COMMENTS below and share your favourite hip openers.