Five New Moves to Relieve Tight Hips

  

tight hip stretches

The demands of training paired with time at a desk can leave many of us with tight hips. Tight hips manifest in many ways, from back and knee pain to decreased power and performance in your chosen discipline. The exercises below will help increase strength and mobility in your hips, helping negate those desk-hours and relieving any tightness or pain.

Exercise #1: Deep Ab Exercise

Endurance athletes could possibly benefit the most from this first exercise for two reasons: (1) This exercise focuses on relaxing the diaphragm and (2) it facilitates stimulation of the deep abdominals. As endurance athletes we love to take big inhales (diaphragm contracting) but we also don’t like to exhale (diaphragm relaxing and deep abs working). This can create hip and low back problems. The diaphragm actually shares an attachment to the low back with a hip flexor called the psoas (both have attachments on vertebrae L1-L3). This means what happens to one of these muscles will probably affect the other. The takeaway: If you want to relax your hip flexors, then you must relax your diaphragm (and vice versa).

Steps:

  • Lie on your back in a 90/90 position with your feet on a chair/ball AND against a wall.
  • Have a wedge (or towel) under your tail bone but allow your low back to rest on the mat.
  • Have a head pad such as a book or towel under your head.
  • Blow up the balloon focusing on long sustained exhales while relaxing the rest of your body (i.e. hips, neck, back, feet).

Exercise #2: Liquid Hips*

This exercise is called liquid hips because that is essentially what it creates. Your hip is known as a synovial joint. That means that a lubricating fluid (called synovial fluid) is produced within a membrane that lines the joint space. This fluid helps to keep your cartilage healthy as well as provide greater joint flexibility.

Steps:

  • Lie on your back with your feet on the mat in your socks.
  • Allow your leg to “fall” to the outside as you extend the knee/hip and then rotate it to the inside as you pull it back to the start
  • Reverse directions
  • Perform this 3-5 times in each direction.*

* Three to five reps in each direction should be good for most of us. More is not better in this case as you don’t want too much synovial fluid in the joint capsule at once.

Exercise #3: Respiratory Hip Bridge

One exercise that will help strengthen the gluteals while keeping the low back protected is a single leg respiratory hip bridge. The difference between this and a traditional hip bridge is that your back is protected by keeping one hip supported and flexed beyond 90 degrees. This support is increased by using a balloon to stimulate the deep abs.

Steps:

  • Lie on your back with your feet in close.
  • Bring one leg in close towards your chest (enough so your low back flattens) and then grab behind your knee.
  • With a balloon in your mouth (or not) extend perform the bridge as high as you can.
  • Do not let your big toe leave the mat. Try to keep your weight centered through the foot that is on the mat.
  • Lower down to the mat slowly.

Exercise #4: Side Leg Lifting

This is a great way to put help strengthen the hip abductors. This muscle group helps to take pressure off your groin and knee. Strong hip abductors are most crucial when standing on one leg (as in during running).

Steps:

  • Lie on your side with the leg slightly elevated (against a wall) with your low back slightly round and your top in line with your shoulder. – Make sure that it is not in front of your shoulder or any other part of your body. The leg must be either in line with the body or slightly behind it.
  • Make sure that you are reaching through your heel with the top leg
  • Focus on “reaching your leg away” from you as opposed to seeing how high you can lift the leg.
  • To add a little more intensity to the exercise slightly roll your hip forward, turn your knee down to the mat and (very) slightly extend your top leg to start.
  • Do not go too fast!

Exercise #5: Proper Clam Shelling

The clam shell is an excellent exercise for the posterior gluteal region. It is often performed at incorrect angles and extending and rotating the back rather than the hips. This exercise can be performed with resistance bands and/or a balloon as well.

Steps:

  • Lie on your side with your back in a slightly rounded position
  • Keep your hips slightly open with your knees/hips flexed to about 60 degrees.
  • Shift your top hip forward over your bottom slightly.
  • Imagine “reaching your top knee” away from you as you clam shell.
  • Lower down slowly or maintain the position at the top and blow up a balloon then lower your leg.

About the Author

Tim Fleisher

Tim is a Ph.D candidate in Exercise Science at the University of Texas-Austin. His research focuses on the deep hip muscle neuromuscular activity in individuals with low back pain. He is also the microscopic gross anatomy lab director and instructor in the biology department. In addition he is a STOTT PILATES(R) certified instructor trainer, licensed sports massage therapist and certified USA Triathlon(R) Coach. He travels the world teaching seminars and courses on "prehabilitative" and "post-rehabilitative" core strengthening strategies for athletes and sedentary individuals. Tim is also an active age group Ironman(R) triathlete and ultra distance runner and cyclist.

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