Tight hips can be the culprit for many fitness-related injuries and can lead to not only hip pain, but pain in the lower back and knees as well. Regular hip stretching can relieve pain and tension, improve your posture and improve your fitness performance. Incorporate stretches at the end of your workouts when your muscles are the warmest, and hold each stretch for 30 seconds to one minute.
Since it's best to warm muscles before you stretch them, moving hip openers are a great way to begin to stretch your hips and legs. Exercises like deep walking lunges, standing cross-legged side bends, and leg swings create heat within the hip muscle that can lead to a freer range of motion for deeper stretches. A series of yoga sun salutations is also a wonderful warm-up as you begin to open your hips through lunges and one-legged downward dogs.
Seated Hip Stretches
Seated hip stretches can be as simple as sitting cross-legged and leaning forward or as complex as the full lotus yoga pose. Regardless, it is important to sit up straight, engage the core and challenge the stretch without pain. As your hip flexibility increases in your cross-legged position, try bringing the knees closer together until they eventually line up with each other. Be sure to stretch both hips by changing the knee that is on top and hold each side for at least 30 seconds.
Yoga Hip Openers
Whether standing, seated or lying down, yoga poses can do wonders for hip and outer leg flexibility. Standing poses such as the triangle, revolved triangle, eagle and warrior III provide a deep stretch while challenging balance and strengthening the core. Lying poses like happy baby and pigeon are more restorative and can provide a nice cooldown after a strenuous workout. Seek the advice of a trained yoga instructor if you are trying challenging poses for the first time; she can guide you to the correct alignment and protection from injury.
Regardless of the stretches you choose, props can be quite helpful to deepen a position or pose without losing the integrity of the stretch. Blocks should be used for standing yoga poses to assist with balance and increased range of motion. You can also sit on the block or a towel to achieve proper alignment in your spine during seated stretches. Yoga straps or towels can be wrapped around your feet when you are unable to reach your feet or legs during prone or standing stretches.
Vicki Vara has been a fitness professional for more than 15 years, working in health clubs, studios and schools. She is certified as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, holistic nutrition consultant and Pilates instructor. Vara holds a bachelor's degree in exercise science from the University of Delaware.