Sit all day in an office, behind the wheel, and in front of the TV and you end up with tight hip flexors. You might also develop lower back pain, a shorter stride, poor circulation in your legs and less range of movement -- not much of a contribution to your vital, attractive appearance and general fitness. But a few dynamic stretches to open your hips will counter a sedentary lifestyle and release any tension in your pelvic region.
Warm Up with Dynamic Stretches
Dynamic stretches are controlled, continuous movements through the complete range of motion you use in a sport or daily activity. You don't hold these stretches -- static stretching is safest after you exercise. But you breathe evenly as you do them and feel the muscle stiffness melt away as you work. It doesn't take long to open a workout with a few dynamic stretches, and it will lower both stress and your risk of a muscle tear during exercise or your weekly tennis match. Dynamically stretch your hips any time you've been sitting too long at work or have a few minutes between activities during your day.
Hit Your Hip Flexors
Hip flexors allow you to raise and lower your leg, bend at the waist, stabilize your spine, run, kick, climb stairs and rock dance aerobics class. Loosen them up and keep them healthy with hip circles -- stand with feet wide apart, hands on hips and rotate your hips in a circle clockwise and counterclockwise, 10 reps each way. Then twist any tightness away by holding arms out to the side and twisting your hips and torso to the left and right -- six to 10 twists in each direction. A kneeling lunge targets your hips and thighs: place one knee on a cushion with the opposite leg bent 90 degrees, foot in front of you. Engage your core, keep the back straight and lean forward, feeling the stretch in the kneeling leg and hip. Alternate legs. Stretch the outside of your hip and thigh by crossing your right leg over the left at your ankle, raising your right arm and reaching to the left. Alternate sides.
Shift from Warrior II pose to Lizard pose to open your hips before a daily yoga session. Stand with feet wide and parallel, tighten your abs and glutes and turn the right foot out, left foot in as you bend the right knee to 90 degrees in Warrior II. Hold both arms extended to the sides, press thighs back and sitting bones forward to lift your spine as you turn your head to look over your right hand. Then tackle Lizard pose: from a parallel stance, step the right foot forward, bend the knee 90 degrees as you stretch the left leg behind you, balancing on your toes. Bend forward, placing palms and then forearms on the floor inside the right leg. Continue to lift the left thigh to increase the stretch for three to five breaths. Switch sides.
Balance Ball Stretches
Exercise is more fun -- and more challenging -- on a balance ball, also called a stability ball. Hit those hip flexors with a hip rotator stretch reclining on the floor, knees bent, heels on the ball. Cross your right leg over your left and place the right ankle on the left knee. Grab the back of your left thigh and pull the leg toward your chest as your left heel remains on the ball. Switch sides. Then lie on your stomach across the ball, balanced on your hips, legs extended, supported on your hands, and roll back and forth from pelvis to thighs. Keep the back as straight as possible by engaging your core muscles, and work to hold your legs parallel to the floor.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .