Athletes often talk about needing to open up their hips. But what does that even mean? Here’s the thing: Your hips are capable of a dynamic range of motion, but your typical forward-oriented movement neglects most of it. When you walk, run or cycle, you only flex and extend your hips.
Meanwhile, movement like rotation (turning out and in) and abduction and adduction (moving out to the side and back in) are rarely used, and as a result the hip muscles responsible for driving those movements become sleepy and tight. Ultimately, it’s a balance of hip flexibility and strength — mobility and stability — that will help you prevent an array of injuries.
Problem: Limited hip mobility leads to strain in other areas.
Your body will compensate for hip stiffness in all kinds of less-than-ideal ways. Aside from the general feeling of “booty lock,” aka super-tight hip and glute muscles that impede your range of motion, lack of mobility is a common culprit behind everything from iliotibial band (IT band) pain — which usually leads to knee issues — to low back pain.
Solution: Mitigate booty lock.
When it comes to hip mobility, it’s use it or lose it. Optimal range of motion requires regular maintenance. Since most movement is forward-oriented (think walking, running, cycling ... even sitting!), you’ll benefit immensely from giving extra attention to your non-habitual movement patterns such as rotation and moving side to side. And once you get some relief and enjoy more mobile hips, you’ll be motivated to continue doing the consistent work that mitigates booty lock.
1. Lie on your back and extend your arms along your sides, palms up.
2. Bring the soles of your feet together and drop your thighs toward the floor.
3. Feel the stretch along the inseam of your upper legs and into your hips — if it’s too intense, move your feet farther away from your body.
4. If your knees are uncomfortable, stick blocks or pillows underneath your legs so that your knees have more support.
1. Lie on your back and extend your arms open to the sides about shoulder height, palms up.
2. Bring your feet wider than hip-width (about as wide as your mat if you’re using one) and drop your thighs together into a triangle shape.
3. See if you can take your feet another inch away from each other, so the knees might not even be touching, and feel the space that’s created in your hip joints and around your low back.
Reclined Windshield Wipers
1. From Reclined Hero, separate your knees.
2. Drop your knees to one side and turn your head to look to the opposite side.
3. Lift your knees back to center, then drop them to the other side and look in the opposite direction.
4. Continue, just like windshield wipers moving side to side.
1. Lie on your back and extend your arms open to the sides at shoulder height, palms up.
2. Bring your feet wider than hip-width apart and drop your thighs to one side.
3. Put your foot on top of the other thigh, using the weight of that leg to encourage the thigh to rotate farther in the hip joint and drop toward the floor.
4. If it feels too hard to keep your foot on the other leg or if either of your knees are uncomfortable, just rest your foot on the floor instead.
5. Keep both feet flexed.
Knee Into Chest
1. Begin with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
2. Hug one knee into your chest while keeping your waist level — if you feel your spine start to side bend, back off until you can level your hips and maintain a neutral spine.
Half Happy Baby
1. Keeping your grounded foot where it is, move your lifted leg farther to the side, away from your body, and grab the calf, ankle, or inner arch of that foot with your hand on the same side — find an angle where you feel a stretch down the inseam of that leg.
2. Keep your lifted foot flexed.
3. Keep your hips as level as possible rather than shifting your weight to the side you are stretching.
1. From Half Happy Baby, cross your ankle over the opposite knee, keeping the foot flexed.
2. Stay here or pick your legs up, interlacing your fingers around your bottom leg hamstrings or shin.
4. Add a little rock side to side. It’s small. Notice how the stretch changes as you change the angles. Use that small movement to encourage more fluidity around the hip joint.
1. From Figure 4, cross one knee over your other knee.
2. Hug those crossed legs into your chest, holding whatever you can reach and keeping your butt as level as possible against the floor.
3. Keep both feet flexed. If you feel it in your knees, back off, or if it’s a struggle in general, return to Figure 4.
1. Hug your knees into your chest.
2. Separate your thighs wide apart and grab your calves, ankles, or inner arches of your feet — whatever you can reach while keeping your feet flexed.
3. Turn the soles of your feet so they point toward the ceiling.
Used with permission of VeloPress from “Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes” by Erin Taylor. Learn more at www.velopress.com/hitreset.
The views are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.