How to Stretch Your Hips After Sitting for a While
Plus, why it’s so important to relieve hip tightness.
Your hip flexors are the all-important muscles in front of your hips, around your groin. They’re part of your pelvis and they are essential for movement, helping you pick up your legs so you can move forward. Your hip flexors are also integral to posture and core stability. The main hip flexors, the iliopsoas muscles, connect to the lumbar spine, travel through the pelvis and attach to the inside of your femur, near the hip joint. This makes your iliopsoas the only muscles that connect the upper and lower halves of your body.
Our hip flexors do a lot for us, so if we don’t stretch them and build their strength, the muscles get fatigued, tighten up and weaken over time. When we sit for too long (say, in front of a computer), the muscles become shortened, which can lead to tightness and pain in the groin and lower back areas. In fact, even if you’re outrageously active, you might still experience tightness in the hips: Repetitive motion (like cycling or running) can also cause hip tightness.
Weak glute muscles, caused by a lack of movement, may also be a culprit. “When your glute muscles are weak, your hip flexors take over and absorb the load,” says Surabhi Veitch, a Toronto-based physiotherapist. “Some of the contributing factors for tightness in the front of the hip is weakness in the back of it, in the glutes.”
Luckily, there are easy-to-do hip flexor stretches that can help relieve hip tightness, whether it’s from sitting or exercising. A simple, familiar one that you probably already know is a lunge. “This can be a low lunge [with hands] on the floor, with a pillow or pad under your knee for support,” says Veitch. Or, make it into a more upright lunge by resting your hands on a chair or bench if you can’t reach the floor while lunging. The goal with a lunge, she says, is to rest in that position, and not struggle to hold yourself up.
Knee hugs are another simple hip stretch, and, as a bonus, you can do this one in bed after a long day or when you first wake up. “For people who are really flexible, they might not feel much,” explains Veitch. “But if you have a lot of muscle tightness, just hugging one knee to your chest will cause you to feel tightness in the other, outstretched hip and get that nice stretch.” Veitch notes that knee hugs are especially good for elderly people or people with mobility difficulties, as it doesn’t involve getting down to the floor and getting back up.
But once you are down on the ground—or in bed—try a lying quad stretch. While this move stretches out your quads and legs, it also opens up the front of your hips. “You can do it in a standing position but doing it on your side takes some of the gravitational load off,” says Veitch. Lying on your side will help you relax your muscles (instead of tensing them to try to maintain balance on one foot), allowing you to fully focus on the hips and quads. “These [lying down] stretches are a great way to loosen up in the morning,” she says. “You’re already in bed, so why not do a couple hip stretches?”
Aside from stretching, taking breaks from sitting is really important, says Veitch. “Try getting up every hour or 30 minutes, whenever your body starts to feel stiff and gives you that sign to move,” she explains. “Getting up changes the position of the muscles, and walking promotes an extended or stretch position, which allows the hip flexors to be stretched through their full range of motion.” So even if you don’t have time to work through an entire stretching or exercise routine, getting some movement in, even if it’s just a walk around the house, can help loosen up your flexors and cut down on pain.
Ready to get started? Try these hip flexor stretches:
Image: Meaghan Way
With one knee on the ground, get into a lunge position. Then squeeze your bum and push your hips forward to get a nice stretch in the front of one hip. Switch sides. Create more sensation by raising the arm on the side of your lowered knee.
Image: Meaghan Way
Lying down, raise one knee to your chest and stretch the other leg out. Hug your knee to your chest and feel the stretch on the extended hip. Keep your extended leg glued to the floor/bed. If it lifts, lessen the hug on the bent knee. Switch sides. If you’re on a bed, you can leverage gravity for a deeper stretch: Dangle your straight leg over the bed and let the weight of it pull your hip out.
Image: Meaghan Way
Lying quad stretch
Lie down on your side. Then, reach your top leg back, grab onto your ankle and pull it toward your bum (imagine you’re doing a quad stretch, but horizontal). Switch sides.