I know a lot of runners have an aversion to stretching. It’s something we do half-heartedly in the car park after a run. But ignoring those hip stretches can seriously mess with your running stride.
Tight hips lead to muscle imbalances and the consequence is a risk of injury. Running, sitting at a desk all day, and those on-the-couch Netflix marathons all contribute to shortening your hip flexor muscles.
Tight Hip Flexors
So what are hip flexors? These are the muscles that allow you to flex your hip joint.
The main group of muscles in your hip flexors is the iliopsoas, connecting your spine to your femur. Every time you lift your leg to run, the iliopsoas muscles contract, bringing your thigh in and up towards your body.
When these muscles overly tighten it affects the range of motion in your hips and throws off your natural gait. This can trigger not just hip pain but also knee pain and lower back pain.
Sitting all day reduces our hip mobility, so when we try to run our bodies just aren’t ready.
Warm-Up Your Hip Muscles
I like to warm up before running with some dynamic stretching. Nothing complicated.
- Circle your hips a few times in one direction, change direction and repeat.
- Raise your right knee in front of you so your thigh is parallel to the ground. Move your right knee out to the side keeping your thigh at 90 degrees to your body, hold and release. Aim for 10 to 15 reps, then repeat with your left knee raised.
- Raise your right knee then let your knee drop so your right leg swings back behind you. Repeat 10 to 15 times, then again with your left leg.
Warm-up drills also make good hip openers to prepare your body for running. High knees, side shuffles, butt kicks, running backward, and my favorite monster walks!
If you haven’t tried monster walks before they’re great fun but you’ll get some funny looks if people are watching!
- Take diagonal steps forward and away from you with your knees bent at about 45 degrees. Keep your back straight and hips level so only your legs are moving.
Monster walks are also good for firing up your glute muscles. You can’t have good hip flexion with weak glutes. Hip flexors pull your knee up and forward, your glutes stabilize the pelvis and pull your leg backward.
Weak glutes and tight hip flexors account for a lot of low back pain.
7 Yoga Poses For Tight Hips
Yoga provides some of the best hip stretches. It’s a good reason for runners to do yoga. These static stretches are good to do after your run or as a separate stretching session during the week.
#1 Easy Pose
Easy pose is a good starting position especially if you’re new to yoga. It’s basically sitting cross-legged on the floor with each foot below the opposite knee. Your legs should form a triangle.
Calling it easy pose is a little deceptive. Sitting in this position, with your back effortlessly straight, can be hard with tight hip flexors.
It helps to sit on something – a folded-up blanket, pillow, or yoga block. Remember to breathe!
#2 Fire Log (Double Pigeon Pose)
This pose seems impossible the first time you try it but you can adjust the pose by using a blanket or cushion to cope with inflexible runners’ legs!
Sit on the floor evenly on both hips. Flex the left foot and align the shin with the edge of the mat. Unlike easy pose, the shin will be away from the body.
Keep the left foot flexed, take the right foot and cross it over the top of the left thigh. Your right ankle will sit just over the left knee and the right knee drops down.
A lot of runners will find their knee only drops a little way and sticks up in the air. (Mine does).
The solution is leaning back on your hands and maybe propping the gap with a blanket to make yourself comfortable.
The pose targets the muscle groups of both your outer hips and your glutes, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Repeat on the other side.
#3 Bound Angle Pose (Butterfly Pose)
This is a classic pose for stretching out the inner thighs, the adductor muscles that stabilize the hips and thighs.
Start in a seated position with both legs in front of you. Press the soles of your feet together.
Grasp your feet with your hands and shuffle your butt inwards so your groin is as close to your feet as possible.
Keep your upper body long and your back straight. Relax into your hips letting your knees drop down towards the floor.
#4 Runner’s Lunge (Low lunge)
Another classic for hip flexor stretches is the low lunge or runner’s lunge. I like to access the pose from a standing position. Sweep into a downward-facing dog pose, then bring your right foot up to the inside of your right hand.
Your right knee should be at a 90-degree angle, with your knee directly above your ankle. Legs squeeze towards one another to engage the thighs.
Activate your core and pull your chest forward and up. You’re aiming for a straight line from your back heel to the tip of your head. Repeat on the other side.
#5 Deep Squat (Garland Pose)
The deep squat or garland pose is an excellent hip-opener. It can feel very strange getting onto this pose for the first time.
Start standing with your feet a little bit wider than your shoulders. Point the toes out diagonally and bend the knees so the knees track over the toes and crouch down.
If your heels pop up off the floor, roll up a towel and place it under the heels.
Keep the hips heavy and lengthen your back. Your core will activate to keep you stable.
Bring your elbows to the inside of your knees and gently push your hips open. Bring your hands to your heart center and lift up through the crown of your head.
#6 Supine Pigeon Pose
This is my favorite way to relieve any pain in my lower back from sitting at my desk all day. It’s one of the best stretches for targeting the piriformis muscle.
Roll onto your back with your feet down and knees up. Take your right ankle and place it over your left thigh. Bring your left leg up towards you, interlacing your hands around your leg.
Breathe deeply. For a deeper stretch pull your lower body towards your upper body. Repeat on the other side.
#7 Extended Child’s Pose
Start on all fours in a tabletop position. Walk your hands forward and bring your two big toes together.
Press into your palms and bring each knee in turn to the edge of your mat. Inhale and look forward. Exhale and send it back so your sit bones kiss your heels. Keep your arms extended out in front of you.
Hip Strengthening Exercises
Hip stretches are just one part of avoiding tight hips. Good hip mobility also relies on strong hip flexors and glutes.
Lunges, one-legged bridge lift, and the skater squat are good exercises to make sure you avoid muscle imbalances.
NOTE: If you have any persistent niggles or more serious injuries, make sure you get checked out by a physical therapist.