3 Drills for Better Hip Mobility

Hips feeling tight? Try these mobility drills on their own or as a warm-up before your workout.
By Ann Wendel
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Hip soreness and tightness are quite common and, if left unaddressed, may hinder your performance and even lead to injury. But if you’re searching for information about stretching, muscle tightness, mobility, or performance enhancement, you’ve probably noticed there’s some debate about what stretching does — and whether or not it’s even necessary.

In this article, you’ll learn more about what hip tightness is and what stretching really does. I’ll also share three hip mobility drills (plus video demos) that can help reduce that feeling of tightness.

What Makes Our Hips Feel Tight?

The common current belief is that often what may feel like muscle “tightness” is not tightness at all, but rather muscles stiffening around a joint that may be experiencing weakness or lack of stability.

If you think you have tight hips, that feeling of tightness in the hip flexor muscles may actually signal the need to strengthen the muscles surrounding your hip. Many times, my patients are surprised to find that as they increase their strength, stability, and mobility, they actually start to feel less tightness.

Other Contributors to Hip Tightness

Weakness in your pelvic floor and deep central stability system can also lead to a feeling of tightness and may increase your risk of injury to the low back, hips, and legs. That’s why in addition to mobility work, it’s crucial to include exercises for deep central stability in your training programs.

What Does Stretching Really Do?

Some experts propose that although it may seem like stretching increases your flexibility, what’s more likely to have increased is your nervous system’s tolerance to moving into a new range of motion.

Because mobility drills increase available or usable joint range of motion, they can be considered a form of stretching — and when performed dynamically, they’re also a great way to warm up for your workouts!

To help you better understand how the drills in this article can help with hip mobility, let’s first briefly review the anatomy of the hip.

Interested in learning more about why you have tight hips and what you can do about it? Here are four practices that may help with hip stiffness.

Anatomy of the Hip

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. The “ball” is the head of the femur, and the “socket” is the acetabulum of the pelvis.

Diagram showing the bony anatomy of the hip joint

The muscles in the front of the hip are collectively referred to as the hip flexors, and they’re listed here in order from greatest contribution to smallest contribution:

  • Psoas major and Iliacus (often referred to as Iliopsoas)
  • Rectus femoris
  • Sartorius
  • Tensor fascia latae (TFL)
  • Pectineus
  • Adductor longus
  • Adductor brevis
  • Gracilis

Diagram of muscular anatomy of hip joint

The muscles in the back of the hip are referred to as the hip extensors. They are:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus (the hamstrings)

Diagram of hip and posterior thigh musculature

3 Hip Mobility Drills

Now that you have a little more information about your hip anatomy and why you may be feeling hip soreness or tightness, let’s talk about these three hip mobility drills.

While you can perform these drills on their own, they’re a great complement to your workouts and can be included in your dynamic warm-up, assuming your strength training program also includes deep central stability (core and floor) work.

Spend as much time as you like on each one. Respect your body’s joint mobility rather than forcing yourself into ranges that don’t feel quite right, and keep in mind that some days you may feel more tightness than others, which may impact your range of motion. Perform each drill within your comfort level, moving slowly and listening to your body.

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Remember: Stretching something that hurts isn’t always the answer. You shouldn’t feel any pain in your hip or knee, and if you do, it’s a good idea to see a licensed physical therapist for a consultation.

Shin Box/90-90 Drill

The shin box drill, also called the 90-90, focuses on external and internal hip rotation. In this video, you’ll learn a few progressions of the shin box as well as a little more about how the unique configuration of your hip bones may affect your hip mobility, which can sometimes be confused for tightness.

Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Glute Activation

The half-kneeling hip flexor stretch with glute activation works on mobility and stability of the hip joint. Remember that sometimes what feels like tightness isn’t tightness at all, but rather a need for more stability in the end range of motion. As you practice this drill, try not to overstretch.

Mobility Flow: Hip External Rotation and Deep Squat

This drill is more of a flow (similar to a yoga flow). You’ll alternate between external hip rotation and a deep squat, switching from one side to the other. You can do this drill barefoot or with socks (if you’re on a hard surface such as wood or laminate, socks will help make your transition a little smoother).

As you practice these drills, pay attention to how the movements feel. Don’t push yourself or overstretch. Stay in a comfortable range of motion and stop if you feel any pain.

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About the author:  Ann Wendel

Ann Wendel is an internationally-recognized women's health Physical Therapist (PT), a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC), and a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist (CMTPT). In addition to owning and operating Prana Physical Therapy in Alexandria, VA, Ann writes, travels, speaks, and consults with other physical therapists and business owners. You can connect with Ann on Facebook and Twitter.

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