Hip mobility allows us to squat deeper, move with ease, and jump higher. It gives us the fluidity we need to stay vital, mobile, and active. Since tight hips cause low back pain, a mobility protocol that targets the hips can be of great help. It leads to better posture, prevents low back pain, and improves strength and athletic performance.
- Quick Hip Anatomy
- Unlock Your Hips
- The Benefits of Hip Mobility
- Three Components of Hip Mobility Training
- Hip Mobility Exercises
Quick Hip Anatomy
The hip joint is a complex ball-and-socket synovial joint that attaches the torso to the leg through the pelvis. It’s comprised of numerous bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
The pelvis has an acetabulum acting as a socket for the ball, which is the head of your femur (leg bone). They’re both covered with thick articular cartilage that acts as a shock absorber. Lining the acetabular rim is the acetabular labrum, soft circular tissue helping to maintain fluids for lubrication.
Ligaments attach bones to bones and provide additional stability. There’s the intracapsular femur ligament, and 3 extracapsular ligaments on the outer hip joint surface, connecting (femur and pelvis) and stabilizing the hip joint.
We’ll cover the main muscles that assist hip movement, but keep in mind that many torso and lower back muscles highly affect movement and mobility in the hip.
- Gluteal muscles – the three main are maximus, minimus, and medius
- Adductors – the inner thigh muscles like adductor longus, brevis, and magnus
- Abductors – the outer thigh muscles like the piriformis, sartorius, and gluteal muscles
- Hip flexors – the main being Iliopsoas, along with sartorius, iliacus, and psoas
- Quadriceps – the largest, 4-headed muscle in the body hosting the rectus femoris
- Hamstrings – rear leg muscles like the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus
The hip joint connects the torso with the lower limb, through the ball-and-socket articulation between the pelvic acetabulum and femur head. Numerous muscles around the hip stabilize the joint and help with movements like flexion, extension, rotation, and ab(d)uction.
Unlock Your Hips
Most sedentary people lack hip mobility which translates to low back pain, poor posture, and fatigue. There’s a reason why keeping the ability to squat ass to grass can benefit us. It allows us to maintain mobility, stabilize the pelvis, and jump higher. But most of all, it helps us be active and move more, which has numerous benefits.
- Flexion: occurs when you bring the knee to your torso – it helps us lift the leg when walking or running, and provides lumbar spine stability. Without it, you can’t take a step forward, nor kick a football like Messi.
- Extension: occurs when we extend the leg back – it allows you to stand up, push off the ground, push back from the squat, and run. Plus it stabilizes the pelvis reducing low back pressure.
- Abduction: occurs when you lift the leg away from the midline – helps you stabilize the core, it allows you to correct left-to-right balance, stay stable when the bus stops, and balance when walking or running.
- Adduction: occurs when you pull the leg toward the midline – assists hip rotation, keeps you balanced, stabilizes the pelvis, and controls posture. Helps keep left-to-right balance, walk, run, and stand straight.
- Internal Rotation: occurs when the hip rotates internally – while it assists in throwing a good knee kick, it’s a must for walking. Every step or unilateral push-off the ground requires IR to lengthen the stride. It supports knee and back health.
- External Rotation: occurs when we extend the leg away from the midline – it’s crucial for lower body stabilization, and to properly position the pelvis to reduce hip, ankle, and knee strain. It stabilizes the femur, preventing internal rotation and pressure on the knees.
Why is it important to have good mobility and flexibility?
So you can correct your posture to sit and stand correctly. It’s also important for being active and mobile. Being able to squat deeper, extend overhead and do any sort of functional exercises necessary for strength and physical health, the right way. Oh, let’s not forget injury and pain prevention too.
What are the best hip mobility exercises?
Some of the best hip mobility exercises include the 90-90 transition, deep squats, superman lunges, hip flexor stretches, pigeon stretch, hip circles, and lateral lunges.
The Benefits of Hip Mobility
Mobility suffers with age, making us stiff and less active. Immobility causes tightness which doesn’t allow us to reach an optimal range of motion. To prevent locomotion limitations, we need to move more, specifically do more mobility-targeted training. (1)
Hip mobility also improves athletic performance, as a full hip extension is essential for running faster and jumping higher. Improved joint fluidity lets dancers rotate, jump and twist easily. (2)
Hip stiffness causes muscle imbalances that increase the risk of injury in athletes. Better ROM also improves skill execution and motor performance. (3)
For most people with an anterior pelvic tilt – low back pain is guaranteed. It seems that stretching the hip flexor can release the pelvis in an optimal position, to prevent low back pain and correct posture. (4) (5)
Stable and mobile hip joints are associated with better lumbar strength and dynamic balance. Training that emphasized proprioception on a Bosu or Swiss ball can reduce the risk of falls and injuries. (6)
Hip mobility can improve posture, reduce low back pain, and makes us more mobile. This translates to more activity, better performance, deeper squat, and higher strength. It’s also associated with dynamic balance, reduced risk of falls, joint health, and movement fluidity.
Three Components of Hip Mobility Training
Flexibility – to be able to squat deep with a correct form, you need the muscles around the hip to be flexible enough. It’s the ability of a muscle to lengthen out, to allow you to access a deeper range of motion. An essential part of mobility.
Strength – you need strong enough muscles to sustain and control the movement. Doing the splits or the squat isn’t enough, you should be able to push through. By strength, we really mean a combination of balance, muscle endurance, and tensile properties.
Mobility – it’s what combines strength and flexibility. It’s the ability to tense the elongated muscle, such as in a deep squat. It’s the strong muscles you need to stabilize the joint and the flexible ones that let you enter that full ROM.
Mobility is the functional range of motion you own and can control. Without flexibility, you’re not able to enter a deep squat, knees go inward, and heels lift up. Without strength, you’ll fall flat on your back, unable to stabilize the movement.
Hip Mobility Exercises
To loosen the tissues around your hip, it’s best to raise your body temperature first. I’d always recommend an easy 2-4 minute cardio like stepping up and down a box, light jog, or some rowing to warm up. This improves viscoelasticity and nourishes the joints.
Once you’re warm, you start doing some specific stretches to loosen up some muscles around the hip. Glutes, calves, and adductors usually cause limitations in our squat. We target this so we can squat deeper, jump higher, and properly position the pelvis.
1. 90-90 Stretch
The 90-90 is a complex stretch that is great for stretching multiple muscles and mobilizing hip joints. The 90-90 transfer help you stretch muscles like the hip flexors, lateral and medial muscles like adductors and abductors. It even stretches the piriformis and gluteal muscles.
- get seated, position one leg up front, another on the side
- both legs are flexed in the knee at 90 degrees
- once in the 90-90, you hinge forward to feel the stretch
- once in, you hold for 2 seconds and if it feels comfortable you go even deeper for 2
- after 4 seconds, you transition to the other side, ideally without supporting yourself back with your arms.
- 2 sets of 16 reps in total, 8 right / left side with 4 sec. holds
2. Iliopsoas Stretch
The Iliopsoas stretch is what most sedentary people need to fix their anterior pelvic tilt and potentially reduce back pain. You already know, hip flexor flexibility is the main target of this exercise. Potentially this can lower back pain as it allows you to position the pelvis in a way that doesn’t put as much pressure on the lower back.
- set yourself in an alternative lunge, rear (L) leg’s knee rests on the mat.
- by tilting your pelvis posteriorly, you immediately stretch out the hip flexor.
- if you feel the stretch you can breathe deep and relax here
- if not, lift the (L) arm on the rear leg side, extend overhead
- position the other arm on your (R) hip and bend the torso (R) to stretch it deeper
- Do 4 repetitions on each side, with 10-second holds.
3. Ankle Dorsiflexion
If you’ve seen Olympic lifters pushing through the calf-stretch, there’s a reason for it. They need the deepest squat possible, and tight calves make this impossible. If you bent the knee you isolate and stretch the soleus muscle independently. If you decide to do it on a wall, with a straight knee, you’re stretching the gastrocnemius more. It’s a great stretch for runners, lifters, or those who hike a lot.
- either kneeling down, or step on an elevated surface – point your front knee forward
- push your knee forward while the heel stays on the ground
- you should feel a deep stretch (in) slightly above your Achilles tendon in the soleus muscle
- Hold it for 20 seconds, gently rocking forward and back.
- Do 4 repetitions on each side, holding (and rocking) for 20 seconds.
4. Deep Squat
The deep squat is probably the most important one of all. It’s so essential for our physical health to be able to squat deep. It’s the ultimate mobility test. The squat is the most movement-specific mobility exercise because it really targets what you need, to literally squat deeper. In most, it stretches the adductors, the inner portion of the tight, and the calves. Depending on how tight you are it can stretch calves, glutes, and even back muscles.
- position your feet slightly wider than your hips – the most natural stance for most
- toes look outward 20-30 degrees, squat down by lowering your hips
- push your knees outward in the direction of your toes, weight distributed through the full feet
- reach the deepest squat where the heel stays on the floor, spine is relatively straight
- stabilize the movement for 3 seconds, activate your glutes, and push back to stance
- repeat 3 sets of 10 repetitions, remember to hold the deepest squat for 3 seconds
Squat as deep as you can until non of these occur – you start bending forward, knees go inward or heel lifts off the floor. These increase pressure on your joints and can increase the risk of injury.
5. Spiderman Lunge
The spiderman lunge is a combination of lunge + twist which additionally stretches the gluteus muscle and adds torso rotation. It combines hip and thoracic mobility, but also is effective at stretching the gluteus and hip abductor muscles. And no, you won’t become spiderman afterwards, but you might rotate easier and loosen up your glutes.
- in an alternative lunge with your right leg forward, bend forward
- position your left hand on the floor next to the right foot
- slowly twist your torso to the right, extending with the right arm overhead
- if you’re secure and stable (advanced) you can position the right foot on the lateral side for a deeper stretch.
- hold for 2-3 seconds then get back and repeat again, connect it dynamically
- Do 2 sets of 8 repetitions in total, with 3-second holds.
6. Elevated Pigeon
The pigeon is one of the greatest glute stretches I know of. It stretches out the full portion of the outer side, so abductors like the glutes, piriformis, and sartorius. These are tight in those who sit a lot, so stretching helps reduce tightness and tension. The elevated version is more optimal for the knee, as the regular pigeon is uncomfortable and may put pressure on the knee.
- position an elevated surface like a box or bench in front of you
- place your hands on to support your weight
- bend the right knee bringing your leg up on the surface, such so the shin is horizontal
- align the hips so there’s a straight line knee-to-hip joint
- if the knee is unable to touch the surface, put a block below it, as it should rest down
- control the weight with your arms, slowly lower down until you feel a light stretch
- hold for 20 seconds, feel the stretch, and go a bit deeper for 10 seconds.
- Do 2 sets of 30 second, holds on each leg
- no forcing, no pushing, and no discomfort in the knee, if so, discontinue the exercise
7. Cossack lunge
The Cossack lunge is probably the deepest inner thigh stretch you’ll experience along with the need to stabilize on the other leg. It’s one of the top hip mobility exercises. The lateral lunge stretches the inner tights – muscles like adductor longus, magnus, and brevis. It also activates a large portion of the muscles around the hip on the stabilizing leg, like the glutes and quads. Increasing the flexibility of your inner tights prevents medial knee pressure as these are the muscles that pull your knees inward during a squat.
- feet wide apart we perform a lateral lunge on the right side
- go as low as possible without the heel lifting, hip hinging, or spine bending forward
- left heel is on the floor, most of the weight goes on the right leg
- stay there for 3-4 seconds and switch to the other side
- repeat 2 sets of 16 in total, alternating between left (8) and right (8)
- for extra support, maybe grab a chair in front of you, or do it with your back against the wall (easier version).
8. Hip Rotations
A lot harder than it looks. The hip rotations add more stability than flexibility. It’s about rotating the hip while keeping your core tight and not shifting the pelvis. So many core muscles, especially the obliques work alongside the glutes and abductors. It adds functional stability that connects both the core and the hip.
- get on all fours, knees below the hips, wrists below the shoulders
- short inhale, tighten your core and slowly lift the right leg laterally with the knee bent at 90 degrees
- from here, slowly rotate the hip forward in a full range of motion without the pelvis shifting or core bending
- activate your core and shoulders, squeeze the glutes, and really access the full ROM you can while keeping it stable
- Do 2 sets of 7 rotations on each side
9. Glute Bridge w/ Band
Hip thrusts are for strength. By extending the hips we strengthen our glutes, and without arching the back we improve lumbar stability. Additionally, we’re adding a band that makes it a bit harder, as it targets the external rotators. You really want to feel the burn in your glutes and lateral muscles. This comes in handy for better pelvis stability, core strength, and gluteus medius muscles – key for proper posture.
- lying down on your back, knees bent at 90 degrees hip-width, feet on the floor
- tie an elastic band around your knees, so short that it’s tense in the starting position
- slowly lift your hips (glutes) and push your knees outward (external rotators) *think about pushing up and outward diagonally
- at the endpoint don’t let the hips fall, hold the contraction for 2 seconds
- then slowly go back until your butt touches the floor, without rest push back up again
- we do 3 sets of 15 reps, with 2-second holds
10. Deep Squat + Rotations
This is quite an advanced one, which you shouldn’t enter until you’re able to go in a deep squat correctly. It’s one of my favorite full-body mobility ones, inspired by Ido Portal. The deep squat rotation, besides mobilizing the hip joint and activating glutes, quads, and other hip muscles – it stretches our side torso muscles and inner thighs.
- feet hips-width apart, squat as deep as you can without the heel lifting
- push your knees outwards (toe direction) and straighten your spine
- from here you position right hand on the floor, while the elbow is positioned (pushing) on the inner thigh or the right knee
- twist your torso so that your left arm reaches up, look towards the sky. Hold for 2-3 sec, then switch on the other side
- do 2 sets of 10 repetitions, alternating between right (5) and left (5)
Hip mobility is vital for physical health. It improves posture, thus preventing low back pain and injuries. Helps us squat deeper, lift heavier and it correlates with better athletic performance.
The hip is a complex joint hosting numerous muscles that assist in movement. The hip moves in flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal and external rotation.
Three components: Flexibility – the ability of the muscle to lengthen to allow us to enter a deep range of motion. Strength – strong muscles stabilize the joint and provide balance. Mobility – the combination of both, the ability to tense the elongated muscle and control the movement.
The best exercises for hip mobility include: 90-90 Stretch, Iliopsoas Stretch, Ankle Dorsiflexion, Deep Squat, Spiderman Lunge, Elevated Pigeon, Cossack Lunge, Hip Rotations, Glute Bridge w/ band, and Deep Squat Rotation.