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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
Achy, tight hips? We've all been there. By improving the mobility of your hips, you'll greatly improve your quality of life. Mobility of all joints, especially the hips, is crucial for your body’s health and ability to function pain-free. The best part is, it's not difficult, you just have to do it! So, with that in mind, we are going to teach you what you need to know about mobility, specifically for the hips, and the best ways to incorporate hip mobility exercises into your routine.
Mobility is the ability to move in your environment freely, without restrictions or pain. Specifically, joint mobility is defined as the degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet) can move before being restricted by surrounding tissues like tendons, ligaments and muscles. It is also commonly described as the range of uninhibited movement around a joint.
Mobility of a joint is important to allow proper movement patterns, especially when loaded with resistance. Joints need to be mobile enough to withstand muscular demands so they can do their job properly. With joint stiffness comes a decreased ability of the muscle to move the joint through its full range of motion. When the joints move well, efficient muscles are built.
It is easy to confuse mobility and stretching, both terms are used interchangeably on a regular basis. A great distinction between the two is: stretching is the ability to passively achieve extended ranges of motion while mobility is the ability to actively achieve extended ranges of motion. Stretching alone does not improve hip mobility. Mobility exercises that incorporate both stretching and strengthening can help improve active range of motion.
Mobility is simply a usable range of motion. Adequate ranges of motion, strength through ranges and control within individual joints helps maximize performance. Pain, stiffness and any sort of restrictions can limit mobility and lead to compromised movement patterns. Having proper hip mobility is essential for a functional lifestyle along with increasing athletic ability by moving through full ranges of motion. Compromised hip mobility can affect overall movement patterns.
Individuals who experience limited range of motion and a lack of strength through the hips may start to load surrounding muscles like the lower back. This can lead to repetitive loading and injuries if the root cause, compromised hip mobility, is not addressed.
A sedentary lifestyle is truly a culprit for poor mobility in all joints and especially in the hip joints. Prolonged sitting leads to shortening of the hip-flexors and weakening of the glute muscles. In addition, weakness in the hip stabilizers (glutes, hip external rotators, adductors, hip flexors) can cause the sensation of tightness within the hips.
It is crucial to not only fixate on stretching the surrounding muscles but to incorporate strength within the joint to improve its range of motion. Another factor that plays into poor hip mobility is a potential exaggerated position of the pelvis. In an excessive pelvic tilt, the surrounding musculature that is attached to the pelvis, femur and spine are placed in either lengthened or shortened positions. These positions can limit this muscle group from stretching and/or contracting optimally.
These two mobility tests are a great starting point to assess whether or not you have adequate range of motion through the hips. These two tests are not the only way you can assess your hip range of motion, follow several methods to assess your hip functionality.
Hip Flexion Test:
Start by laying on your back with your legs straight and together. Keep your arms at your side and your spine flat to the ground. Lift one leg up towards you, as far as your hips allow you to move.
Hip Internal & External Rotation Test:
Sit tall in a 90/90 position. Maintain a neutral spine while shifting your weight onto your heels and switching sides in your 90/90 position.
Click here for a follow-along of the above hip mobility tests.
Note: Regardless of passing or failing the hip mobility “tests”, maintaining and/or improving hip mobility with the following hip mobility exercises can benefit your movement patterns.
Here are some more mobility tests for your other major joint complexes.
Here are the different hip exercises and the order that you'll use them in the routine further below. In addition to these mobility moves, make sure to prioritize strengthening the hip external rotators and internal rotators to make your hips even healthier.
1. Hip CARs (Controlled Articular Rotation):
Moves the hip joint through its full range of motion.
2. Standing Hip Flexion (Passive/Active):
Targets the strength of the hip flexor muscle:
3. Hip Flexor Stretch:
Stretches the hip flexor and quadriceps muscle.
4. 90/90 Holds (Forward and Backward):
Targets both internal and external rotators of the hips.
5. 90/90 Front Leg Lift:
Strengthens external hip rotators.
6. 90/90 Back Leg Lift:
Strengthens internal hip rotators.
7. 90/90 Back Leg Rotating Stretch:
Stretches the internal hip rotators.
8. Bear Sit (Passive and Active):
Stretches the adductor muscles and strengthens the hip flexor muscles.
9. Cossack Hovers:
The cossack squat is a great move that stretches and strengthens the entire hip complex. It does this through a dynamic movement that translates directly to lunge, squat, and hinging patterns.
Viola, say hello to buttery hips!
Incorporating mobility work into your weekly routine (3-5x per week) is essential for the health of your joints. Hip mobility exercises can either be incorporated in your full-body mobility routines or done separately if you prefer to focus on a few joints at a time. If you feel that your hips need extra love, especially if you are sitting for the majority of your day, incorporate a few hip mobility exercises on a daily basis. It is also recommended to incorporate hip mobility drills prior to big lifts like squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. This is an accessible way to efficiently prime the hip complex.
Improve your quality of life by improving the mobility of your hips. Utilize mobility drills to not only stretch the hips but to strengthen them too. Find the culprit of why your hips may be tight, assess your mobility, start to incorporate mobility drills and implement a consistent mobility routine.
Make sure to throw several exercises for hips into your routine, in addition to a few strengthening exercises for hip flexors, so your body will be both stronger and more mobile. Start feeling and moving better with strong, buttery hips!
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