If you’re lucky, you won’t notice your hips are tight until you’re trying to do the Half Pigeon pose in your yoga class. But if you’re not so fortunate, your tight hips are making themselves known every time you so much as walk to the bathroom or sit on the couch—expressing themselves in the form of lower back pain and muscle stiffness. Tight hips can even shorten your stride, slowing your 5K goal time!Wondering if you have tight hips? Here's a simple test: Stand and look down at your feet. If your toes point outward rather than straight ahead, your hip muscles are probably overworked and need to be stretched. It’s a common issue, says Prevention advisor Rob Danoff, director of family and emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health in Philadelphia. "For people who sit a long time at work, the hip flexors and rotators become tight, and the gluteal muscles become weak," he says. "This combination negatively affects our ability to walk, maintain proper posture, and the stability of our spine." New York City-based yoga teacher Amanda McDonald agrees that tight hips are a widespread issue: "Hip openers are actually the most-requested moves in my yoga classes." If you never move in certain directions, she says, you’ll reduce your range of motion over time.The following yoga poses target each of the four primary directions of hip movement, with modifications for whatever level you’re starting at. Try to commit to doing some of these feel-good stretches three or four days a week, and you'll notice a major difference in how your hips feel soon enough!
Happy Baby Pose
Target: Inner ThighsLevel: GentleLie on your mat and pull your knees to your chest. Place hands on outsides of feet, opening your knees wider than your torso. Press your feet into hands while pulling down on feet, creating resistance. Breathe deeply; hold for at least 30 seconds.
Reclined Bound Angle Pose
Target: Inner ThighsLevel: ModerateLie on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring soles of feet together and let knees fall out to sides. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Target: Inner ThighsLevel: IntenseIf most inner-thigh openers feel too easy (and your ankles and knees are injury-free), try Frog Pose. Get down on all fours, with palms on the floor and your knees on blankets or a mat (roll your mat lengthwise, like a tortilla, and place it under your knees for more comfort). Slowly widen your knees until you feel a comfortable stretch in your inner thighs, keeping the inside of each calf and foot in contact with the floor. Make sure to keep your ankles in line with your knees. Lower down to your forearms. Stay here for at least 30 seconds.
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Thread The Needle
Target: Outer ThighsLevel: GentleLie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place left ankle right below right knee, creating a “four” shape with left leg. Thread left arm through the opening you created with left leg and clasp hands behind right knee. Lift right foot off floor and pull right knee toward chest, flexing left foot. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Target: Outer ThighsLevel: ModerateStart in a runner’s lunge with right leg forward, right knee over right ankle and back leg straight. Walk right foot over toward left hand, then drop right shin and thigh to the floor, making sure to keep right knee in line with right hip. Allow left leg to rest on the floor with top of left foot facing down. Take a moment to square your hips to the front of the room. Hold here, or hinge at hips and lower torso toward floor, allowing head to rest on forearms. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side. You want to feel a moderate stretch in the outside of the right thigh, but if this pose hurts your knees or feels too uncomfortable, stick with Thread the Needle.
Target: Outer ThighsLevel: IntenseSit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Target: Hip FlexorsLevel: GentleStart in a runner’s lunge, right leg forward with knee over ankle and left knee on ground with top of your foot flat on the mat. Slowly lift torso and rest hands lightly on right thigh. Lean hips forward slightly, keeping right knee behind toes, and feel the stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold here, or for a deeper stretch, raise arms overhead, biceps by ears. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Target: Hip flexorsLevel: ModerateStart in a low lunge, then straighten back leg, coming onto the ball of your back foot. Hold here for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Target: Hip flexorsLevel: IntenseStart kneeling on your mat with knees hip-width apart and hips directly over knees. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the mat. Bring your hands to your low back, fingers pointing down, and rest palms above glutes. Inhale and lift your chest, and then slowly start to lean your torso back. From here, bring your right hand to rest on your right heel and then your left hand to your left heel. (If you can't reach your heels, turn your toes under; it will be easier to reach your heels in this modification.) Press your thighs forward so they are perpendicular to the floor. Keep your head in a relatively neutral position or, if it doesn't strain your neck, drop it back. Hold for 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips and slowly, leading with your chest, lift your torso as you press the thighs down toward the floor.
Target: Hip flexorsLevel: IntenseThis yoga-based move opens your chest and shoulders and improves your balance while stretching your hip on each side.Stand on one foot, then lift and bend the other into a hamstring curl. Grip the raised foot from the inside (palm facing out) with the same-side hand. Press the top of your foot firmly into your palm and lift up. The higher you lift, the deeper the stretch will feel.
Supported Back Bend
Target: Hip flexorsLevel: IntenseThis exercise strengthens your lower back as you open your hips. Because the head falls backward, it is not recommended to try this move if you have low blood pressure. (Also note, if you have high blood pressure and take medication, you could experience dizziness coming out of this pose and may want to avoid it.)Kneel with a wall or pillar behind you, knees hips-width apart and toes touching the wall. Arch your back to lean back while keeping your hips stacked over your knees. Take your arms overhead and touch your palms into the wall behind you. This bend does not need to be extremely deep to feel a great stretch in the hips and strength in the lower back.
Target: Hip flexorsLevel: IntenseThis move uses the bones in your forearms to prop your hips up. If you need even more leverage, prop a couple of pillows under your elbows.Lay supine (belly up) on the ground with knees bent and feet grounded, hips-width apart. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Place your hands at your lower back, just above your butt, and keep your elbows grounded. Relax your body weight on your hands to sink into this hips stretch while gently strengthening the lower back.
Target: Hip flexorsLevel: IntenseLike the name suggests, this move uses the weight of your body to keep all other parts hunkered down while you pry a tight hip open on one side (then repeat on the other).Lay prone (belly down) on the ground with arms out at shoulder height, palms facing down. (Keeping your arms out will help to glue your body to the ground as you twist. Lift one leg, bend your knee, and reach that foot towards the outside of your hip on the other side.Tip: If you find it difficult to keep the other hip grounded while prying in laying position, try this move on all fours.
Hero Pose With Block
Target: Internal RotationLevel: GentleKneel on your mat with thighs perpendicular to the floor and tops of of your feet facing down. Place a yoga block between your feet. Bring your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart so they are slightly wider than your hips, and press the tops of your feet evenly into the mat. Slowly sit down on the yoga block. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward. Allow the backs of your hands to rest on your thighs. Hold for at least 30 seconds.Tip: For a moderate variation, simply remove the block.
Reclining Hero Pose
Target: Internal RotationLevel: IntenseKneel on your mat with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and tops of your feet facing down. Bring your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart so they are slightly wider than your hips and press the tops of your feet evenly into the mat. Slowly sit down between your feet. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward. Then, lean back onto your forearms and slowly lower torso to floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Jessica Chia is an Assistant Editor at Prevention.com and is completing her aromatherapy certification level 1.