Tight hips can be the culprit for not only hip pain, but pain in the lower back, and knees as well. Stretching the hips on a regular basis can relieve pain and tension, as well as improve your posture and make your exercise routine much more enjoyable.
Prolonged sitting and activities like jogging or cycling can lead to tight hip flexors and muscle imbalances that contribute to low back pain. When our hip flexors are tight, they create an anterior pull on the pelvis, otherwise known at the anterior pelvic tilt. This modifies our posture and can inhibit the gluteus maximus, leading to muscle imbalances. Trigger points can then develop in the overused and tight hip flexor muscles, while leads to all sorts of pain responses.
In addition, when the hamstrings are too tight, they also prevent the pelvis from tilting forward in a smooth manner, simultaneously with the back when bending forward to neutral. Tight hamstrings are very uncomfortable to stretch, and we may often find ourselves trying to avoid it as much as possible.
To reduce discomfort in the lower back, relieve tightness in the hips and pain in the knees, your hip flexors and hamstrings need to be stretched every day, or every second day. You may feel relief 10-20 minutes after stretching, or it may take a couple days for the effects to kick in. Starting sooner than later is key, because the longer you put off stretching, the more your body will suffer in the long run.
8 Best Stretches to Loosen Tight Hips and Hamstrings
As with all stretching sequences, do them once your muscles are the warmest (like after a workout or other cardio-related activity), and remember to breathe, and never push to the point of feeling sharp pain. Take your time in each stretch and remember that you need to start somewhere to get to the fullest expression of a stretch.
1. Seated Straddle Stretch
A great stretch for the adductor muscles in the inner thighs, as well as the hamstrings.
1. Sit on the floor with your legs in a wide “V” position. Sit upright, with your spine straight, and head aligned with your spine.
2. Reach your arms tut in front of your body and place your palms flat on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, use a ball (or yoga wheel as demonstrated in the video above) to ease into the stretch.
3. Make sure you keep your back flat, and prevent the spine from rounding. Hold for 15-30 seconds, relax and return to starting position.
4. Repeat 2-4 times.
2. Extended Wide Squat
This relaxing stretch targets both hips at once while opening up the lower back.
1. Stand with your feet a bit wider than your hips. Bend your knees and lower your hips toward the ground. If your heels don’t touch the ground, roll up a towel and place it under your heels.
2. Bring your palms together in front of your chest and firmly press your elbows against the inside of your knees. This will help to further open the hips.
3. Hold for 5 deep breaths, slowly return to standing and repeat another 2 times.
This simple stretch works on your inner thighs, hips and groin. It helps increase flexibility in the hip flexor muscles.
1. Sit on the ground, and bend both knees. Bring your feet together and use your hands to open up your feet like a book. Use your leg muscles to press your knees down toward the floor.
2. Keeping the spine straight, relax the shoulders and then slowly fold forward, while breathing deeply. Remember to keep the spine straight. If you can only bend forward a few inches, that is fine, sit here and breathe.
3. If you want a deeper stretch, extend the arms out in front of you on the floor. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, and then return to starting position.
4. Happy Baby
This calming hip opener also stretches your lower back.
1. Lay flat on your back and bend both knees, holding the outside edges of your flexed feet with your hands. Keep your arms on the outsides of your legs.
2. Use your upper body strength to press both knees to the floor below your armpits if you can. Don’t tense up your shoulders while doing this, try to keep everything relaxed and use gravity in your favour.
3. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, rest, and then repeat 2 more times.
5. Figure Four
This stretch is used to help mobilize and lengthen the muscles in the hips like the glutes and piriformis. It also helps relieve lower back pain.
1. Laying on the ground on your back, cross the affected leg over the other with the ankle resting on the opposite knee.
2. Reach and connect your hands behind the hamstring of the non-bent side.
3. Gently pull the hamstring towards your belly and feel a stretch to the opposite side on the affected leg.
4. Breathe deep, hold for 60 seconds, and release. Repeat on the other side.
6. Pigeon Pose
This is one of my all time favourite poses, because it is a very effective hip opener. It allows you to focus on one hip at a time.
1. Sit with your right knee bent and your left leg extended behind you. Pull the right heel in toward your left hip, or if you are more flexible, inch your right foot away from you. Always be sure that the left hip is pointing down toward the mat. If it starts to open up toward the ceiling, draw your right foot back in toward your body.
2. Stay in this position, and rest your hands on your right thigh or your hips, or walk the hands out in front of you, allowing the torso to rest over the right knee. Hold here, and breathe into any tight areas (at least 5 deep breaths).
3. Repeat this pose with the left knee bent.
7. Outer & Inner Hip Stretch with Towel
Exactly as it is written, this stretch helps relieve tightness in the inner and outer hip and thigh area.
1. Lay on the floor and tie resistance band or towel around the right foot. Bend the left knee and place the left foot on the floor for support.
2. Grab onto the opposite end of the towel and bring your right leg out as far to the right as you can. If it hits the floor, that is great. Hold for 30 seconds.
3. Now, bring the leg over your body, keeping the leg straight, and feel the stretch across your outer hip. Hold for 30 seconds.
4. Repeat with the other leg.
8. Open Lizard
This stretch is a great one for the hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hip) as well as the outer hips.
1. Coming into a lunge position with your right knee forward, lower your left knee to the floor and rest your hands on the ground under your shoulders.
2. Gently lower your right knee to the right so your resting on the outside of your flexed right foot. Keep the arms straight, pressing the chest forward to increase the stretch.
3. Hold for 5 deep breaths, and then repeat on the left side.