How to improve hip flexibility and mobility
Hip Mobility Exercises
How to Improve Hip Flexibility and Mobility
Modern life is not friendly to hip mobility. Without vigilant stretching, even well-intentioned activities like running and cycling may cause the hips to tighten over time. From a performance perspective, tight hips can significantly limit speed, strength, and agility. But the side effects of tight hips extend well beyond the gym. When the hips are immobile, the body often recruits the low back to work overtime while walking, climbing stairs, and doing other daily activities. The added stress can cause significant lower back strain, which can have a damaging ripple effect on everything from sleep to work and sex life.
Hip mobility drills and exercises are a vital component to any exercise and wellness regimen. Whether your goal is to increase athletic performance or simply to improve quality of life, hip flexibility and mobility is sure to play a significant role.
Use the exercises below to improve mobility, following the progression listed here:
1. Ankle Stretch (10-12 repetitions)
2. Crab Position Hip Rotations (10-12 repetitions per leg)
3. Baboon Progression (10-12 repetitions per leg)
4. Kettlebell Jiu Jitsu Roll (10-12 repetitions per leg)
5. Rotational Half Pigeon (10-12 repetitions per leg)
Ankle mobility is often overlooked, despite the fact that the ankles play a critical role in the connection between your body and the Earth. Stiff ankles restrict the ability of the legs to move forward, backward, and laterally, in both straight leg and bent leg positions. This restriction may cause joint misalignment and muscle strain while performing other exercises, which can lead to serious injury over time. In contrast, mobile ankles allow a greater range of motion from the hips down, making it easier to perform deep squats, lunges, box jumps, and lateral movements without “dumping” weight into the knee or lower back.
1. Find a hip-height anchor point that you can grab ahold of, like a horizontal bar. Look for a smith machine, wall-mounted stretching bar, or even a support beam on a weight machine. IMPORTANT: If you perform this exercise by grabbing a weight machine, keep your hands and fingers away from the pulleys, cables, and weight stack, and always check to make sure the machine is not in use.
2. Stand about 2 feet away from the horizontal bar, feet hip-width distance and parallel.
3. Lean forward from your waist and take an overhand grip on the bar, hands shoulder-width apart.
4. Slowly begin your descent by focusing on performing 3 movements simultaneously: Fold forward from your waist, take your glutes straight backward, and bend your knees straight toward your toes.
5. As you lower, feel your glutes, thighs, and shins press into your feet. This will cause a stretching sensation in your ankle.
6. If you cannot feel the stretch, return to a standing position and move your feet 2-4” away from the bar.
7. Repeat steps 3-5.
Crab Position Hip Rotations
Hip rotations are difficult exercises for increasing flexibility, yet they are also among the most vital. Use this hip mobility drill to improve range of motion through both adduction (moving toward your body) and abduction (moving away from your body) movements.
1. Sit upright on the ground, feet planted with legs bent 90 degrees.
2. If your hips are tight, angle both feet outward by 45 degrees. This will open your hips from the start, making it easier to move through the rotational exercise. For a more challenging exercise, keep your feet parallel.
3. Plant your hands on the ground on either side of your hips.
4. Lift your hips about 2” off the ground. Keep them lifted as you perform this exercise.
5. Roll on to the outer edge of your right foot and open your right leg like a book.
6. Rotate from your right hip, and push your right knee down toward the ground.
7. After you reach the ground (or your maximum range of motion), pause and take 1 deep breath.
8. Slowly roll to the ball of your right foot, rotate your right leg back to the starting position, and continue pressing your right knee over toward your left ankle.
9. After you reach your maximum range of motion, pause and take 1 deep breath.
10. Roll back to the heel of your right foot, and return your right leg to starting position.
11. Perform steps 5-10 to repeat on your left side.
Mixed martial artists cannot afford to have tight hips. In fact, few things require more hip awareness and dexterity than combat sports. This exercise was taught to me by former WSOF World Champion, Luis “Baboon” Palomino. It is an exceptional, dynamic flow that loosens the legs, warms the knees, stretches the groin, and opens the hips—all while performing a simple 3-part movement.
1. Take a wide leg stance with both feet angle outward by 45 degrees.
2. Press into the outer edge of your left foot; then, slowly bend your right leg 90 degrees. Be sure to keep your right knee in alignment with the big toe of your right foot.
3. As you bend into your right leg, plant both hands on the ground in front of your right thigh.
4. Use your hands to support most of your bodyweight as you sink a little further into your right leg.
5. When you reach your edge—the “sticking point” where adding more pressure will cause severe discomfort—pause for a moment and take 1 deep breath.
6. Next, sit slightly backward and into your right glute; then, use your left hip to rotate your left foot, toes-up.
7. Pause and take another deep breath.
8. Shift your weight back into your hands, then use your left hip to rotate your left foot all the way over, toes down and into the floor.
9. As you press your left toes into the floor, pivot on your right foot and turn your hips and shoulders to the right.
10. Keep rotating until you reach a full lunge position. Keep a slight microbend in your left knee, roll your tailbone down toward the ground, then sink a little deeper into your right leg.
11. Pause and take another deep breath.
12. Slowly rise up from your lunge by straightening your right leg, then pivot both feet until you return to the starting position (wide leg stance with both feet pointing outward 45 degrees).
13. Perform steps 2-12 to repeat on your opposite side.
Take the balance challenge: When this progression feels easy, try performing it without planting your hands on the ground. When the hands-free progression feels easy, try performing it with your eyes closed.
Kettlebell Jiu Jitsu Roll
This exercise recruits the entire body to squat, roll, kneel, and lunge, providing a total body warmup that improves hip flexibility while also stretching the IT bands (outer thighs) and lower back. Perform this exercise without any weights, or use a kettlebell to more actively recruit the arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back.
1. Stand in an athletic position, feet hip-width distance apart.
2. Lift and hold a kettlebell at chest height, elbows tucked to your sides.
3. Bend your legs, sit back, and slowly lower into a deep squat.
4. Keep lowering until your glutes touch the ground.
Note: The transition between deep squat (3) and sitting on the ground (4) will be limited by ankle, hip, and lower back flexibility. Perform this entire routine regularly to improve overall range of motion, and your transition from squat-to-sitting will grow smoother and more controlled over time.
5. As your glutes touch the ground, round your entire spine into a C-shape. Begin by rolling your tailbone toward your heels (rounding your lower back), then crunch your abdominals (rounding your mid-back), collapse your chest (rounding your upper back), and finally, tuck your chin (rounding the back of your neck).
6. Roll backward along the curve of your spine. When your shoulder blades touch the ground, allow your momentum to shift, and roll forward.
7. As you roll forward, bend and place your right lower leg across the ground in front of your groin, parallel to your hips.
8. Bend your left leg 90 degrees and plant your left foot on the ground.
9. Allow your momentum to carry your hips up and over your right leg, until you are kneeling on your right knee (lower leg is still parallel with hips).
10. Gently lunge into your left leg.
11. Allow your momentum to shift backward, and slowly lower your glutes to the ground.
12. Perform steps 5-11 to repeat on your left side.
Rotational Half Pigeon
Half Pigeon is a yoga pose that delivers a deep stretch to the hip flexors, increasing external range of motion from the hip socket. This progression takes Half Pigeon a step further, adding additional rotational movement and a seated forward fold to stretch the lower back and IT bands of both legs.
Note: This is a complex movement that demands patience, smooth movement, and moderate-to-advanced levels of flexibility. While moving through steps 1-3 below, take a moment to scan your hips and forward knee for feelings of discomfort. If you sense tightness, burning, or dull or sharp pain, do not perform the rest of the progression.
1. Begin in plank position (top of a pushup).
2. Lift your right leg and bring your right knee toward your right wrist.
3. Bend and place your lower leg across the ground, creating a “7” shape.
4. Take your gaze over your left shoulder; straighten your left leg and press all 5 toes into the ground.
5. Return your gaze forward (you are now in Half Pigeon, on the right side).
6. Square your hips and shoulders.
7. Slowly sink into your hips, and try to touch your right glute to the mat.
8. Pause and take 1 deep breath.
9. Slightly shift your weight into your right side.
10. Lift your left foot, keep a microbend in your knee, and sweep your leg in a semi-circle to the left. Continue circling until your left leg is forward.
11. Bend your left leg 90 degrees and place your left foot in the crook of your right knee.
12. Square your hips forward and adjust your posture so both glutes are flattened into the ground.
13. Keep your back straight, hinge from your waist, and reach forward with your arms.
14. Plant your palms, keep your gaze down, and take 1 deep breath.
15. Lift your left foot from the crook of your right knee and place it on the ground in front of your right leg.
16. Lift and straighten your right leg, then sweep it in a semi-circle back and to your right.
17. Continue circling your leg until it is extended fully backward (you are now in Half Pigeon on the left side).
18. Perform steps 4-17 to repeat on your left side.
Mobility Tools for Hip Flexibility
In addition to the exercises listed above, hip mobility and flexibility can be dramatically improved through regular myofascial release. By releasing tension from myofascial tissue, individuals of all ages can improve total body strength, mobility, and agility. Readers are invited to visit our mobility tools online store to shop our collection of innovative rollers and mobility equipment, all of which can be used at home, at the gym, or on the go.
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