Most of us deal with tight hips – especially when sat down all day. Here’s how to release that tension.
It’s a pretty easy statement to make that stiff and sore muscles are annoying, but that’s never more true than when it’s your hips. That’s because you can’t get away from it, with sore hips making even walking, let alone other forms of exercise, very painful.
What we refer to as the ‘hips’ are actually lots of different muscles, joints and bones. A ball and socket joint that attaches the femur (or the thigh bone) to the pelvis is what we usually talk about when discussing the hips, but your glutes, abductors and adductors also come into it too. Then there’s your hip flexor: it’s this guy that can cause the tight pain down the top, front of your legs that we often associate with sore hips.
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“Hip flexors are not only responsible for moving your legs around but they also belong to your ‘core’ muscles that stabilise your hips and spine,” explains Ruth Woodside, personal trainer, strength and movement coach and founder of calisthenics studio MOVE Hackney.
Why do our hips get tight?
Ok, this is a big question. There are so many reasons why our muscles and joints might be tight, from arthritis to an injury, but the most likely cause when it comes to hips is the amount of time we spend sat down, says Ruth. “This leads to shortening of the hip flexors, which often goes hand in hand with weak glute muscles, leading to postural problems, low back issues and knee pain.”
Women in particular can find that they get sore hips, and they may find that inflammation in the pelvis or reproductive organs during their menstrual cycle impacts the joint and muscles.
But another reason for soreness might be stress, as there is a school of thought that says we hold a lot of “negative emotional energy in our hips,” says Ruth. “My personal understanding is, as humans, we hold tension everywhere in our bodies when we are stressed, whether it’s physical or emotional. When our muscles are tensed for long periods of time, your body responds with pain to tell you to stop. If we already have an imbalance in the hip area, we may feel pain there.”
Should you stretch tight hips?
As short hip flexors can lead to pain, stretching them out is important in order to release tension. “But it is equally important to strengthen those muscles too,” says Ruth. “Stretching without strengthening can lead to further imbalances and injuries.”
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She suggests starting to mobilise and strengthen the muscles and joints by holding a few minutes in a resting squat, allowing the psoas (or primary hip flexor) to relax fully. “Some good strengthening drills I like are dead bugs, hip bridges, leg raises and squat variations. I mean who doesn’t love squats?” she says.
The best hip flexor stretches
Finally, we can get to the stretching. Ruth suggests doing “maintenance stretches” – designed to return the muscle back to their pre-exercise length. These include:
Coming into a low lunge, rest the back knee on to the floor. Keeping the hips tucked under so as to not arch through the spine, push the hips forward so you feel the stretch through the hip flexor of the kneeling leg.
Kneeling quad stretch
In the same kneeling lunge position, grab the back leg and pull the heel in towards your glute. Squeeze those bum muscles as you do it to really enhance the stretch in the front of the leg.
Sometimes we lock up through the front because the hamstrings are tight – especially after a big leg day that includes RDLs and hamstring curls. Some simple hamstring stretches include a standing forward fold, using your hands to pull your head towards your shins, and seated hamstring stretch, sat with your legs extended straight out as you fold your head towards your legs.
Remember that we need to work into the glutes, too. Coming into a lunge, bend the front leg so that the foot comes to rest on the floor next to the opposite hand. Drop your body over the front foot to take the stretch further.
“With any mobility work, I would recommend doing it every day. It doesn’t have to be hour long sessions, a little each day makes a lot of difference,” Ruth says.
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