You brush your teeth every day. You shower every day. You don’t forget to eat every day. But do you remember how important stretching is to overall health and a pain free life? This daily stretching routine, if practiced consistently, is a great way to loosen up your hips and give you more overall comfort and ease in life.
Let’s look at the structure of the hips. There are really four different major muscle groups that make up the hips region. Glutes/outer hips, hamstrings, quadriceps/hip flexors and inner thighs. We’re going to do one stretch for each area of the hips, so we can find freedom all the way around these important overused and under-loved joints.
These four stretches should be done every day, preferably when your body is warm. If you like to stretch first thing in the morning, make sure to do some walking or stationary biking to warm up your muscles. They stretch better that way. The whole routine will take you just 5 minutes – 30 seconds for each stretch on each side. All you need is a yoga mat or other soft surface. (For a quick video of these tips, click this link)
Kneeling Lunge. This is a great way to open up the tightest part of your hips. With all of the sitting and driving we do, our hip flexors are usually chronically tight. Stretching them not only helps us stand taller, it takes pressure off the lower back. Start by placing one foot on the mat in front of you and then softly lower your back knee to the ground. You can fold the mat or add padding under your back knee as needed. Begin to lower your body forward coming down onto fingertips. If that doesn’t feel good, you can place your hand on a block or stack of books. Now, just let your hips open up across the quadriceps and the hip flexor. Allow your hips to sink a bit with each exhale. For more sensation, place one hand on the front thigh and lift your torso up higher. After 30 seconds, or 5-10 deep slow breaths, switch sides.
Hamstring Stretch. From the lunge position, you can slide back into a hamstring stretch. This stretch is lengthening the muscle group that runs from the hips across the back of the knee, and down into the lower leg. Tight hamstrings are common, and are another contributor to low back pain. As you stretch your hips back, gently pull your toes back toward you, activating the stretch lower in the leg. You can keep a slight bend in the knee if that helps. Think of reaching forward, toward your toes as opposed to down to your knee. Again, hold this stretch for 30 seconds, or 5 to 10 slow, deep breaths and then switch sides.
Butterfly Pose. Come down on your seat, and bring the soles of the feet together. Press your sitting bones into the earth, and lengthen your spine. With your hands on your ankles, gently begin to hinge forward at the hips and press your elbows into your legs. This is a nice stretch for the adductors or inner thighs. As you breathe here for 30 seconds, or 5-10 deep, slow breaths, try to maintain a long spine, reaching forward more than down.
Figure Four Stretch. When you think about how much time we spend sitting, our backside is often stretched and our front side is often contracted. You would think that would make us more flexible here, but it’s not necessarily so. Our glutes and deep hip rotator muscles tend to get bound up just like the rest of our hips so this is a great stretch to end on. Sitting, with both feet flat on the ground, lean back into your hands, with fingers pointing toward your hips. Pick up one foot and place it on the opposite thigh, just above the knee. Make sure to flex the foot to protect the knee. For more sensation, you can push the top knee away from you a bit. You should feel a nice deep stretch in your glutes, namely a little muscle called the piriformis. As you breathe here for 30 seconds, or 5 to 10 deep, slow breaths, make sure to say “ahhhhh.”
Your hips love you.
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