Most people spend way too much time sitting down every day. Whether you spend your days working behind a desk, drive to work for long commutes, or are stuck in the bus or subway for your ride to or from the office, there’s a chance you spend more time than you’d like to sitting down. You’re not alone in feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it, and, because of these habits, you might find that hip and lower back pain are pretty common.
The hip flexor muscles attach at the top of the femur and connect at the inside of the knee. When we spend a lot of time sitting down, these muscles tighten, which causes stiffness and discomfort. Worse still, this can cause referred pain elsewhere in the body, making everything feel even more uncomfortable and even painful.
One way to manage and even prevent a tight hip flexor is to learn some stretches for your hip flexors. Let’s take a closer look at what these muscles do, then talk about yoga for hip flexors and 12 specific stretches you can use to put together a routine to take care of them.
Why Stretch the Hip Muscles?
The hip flexors are sometimes overlooked, but they can have a big impact on how you feel, especially if you sit too much or are not exercising them properly.
There are five different hip flexors around the hip joint. They are:
- Iliacus muscle: The iliacus muscle is responsible for rotating the hip. It lies deep into the pelvis and has a flat, triangular shape. It attaches the pelvis to the femur.
- Pectineus muscle: Not only does this muscle rotate the thigh, but it also flexes the hips and pulls your legs back together.
- Psoas muscle: This deep muscle connects the spine and leg, running from your lower pelvis to the front of your hip where it attaches to the femur.
- Rectus femoris muscle: You can feel the rectus femoris muscle work when you do squats and lunges. It’s part of the quadriceps and attaches from the pelvis to the patellar tendon of the knee.
- Sartorius muscle: The sartorius muscle flexes the knee and is the longest one in the body. It’s long and thin, running from the pelvis to the knee.
When you have hip tightness, it affects your posture, range of motion, and mobility which throws everything out of whack and can lead to discomfort from your back to your feet. Over time, chronic pain, tingling, numbness, and limited mobility can result.
Hip Opener Stretches
Exercises that stretch and strengthen to alleviate hip flexor tightness are essential for countering the results of spending too much time sitting down. Here are some poses to try if you’re interested in yoga for hip flexors.
1. Assisted Kneeling Stretch
This is a good stretch to start with because it’s suited for beginners but works well for anyone who needs to loosen their hips. To do it, get into a half-kneeling position. Hold a stick in front of you, and push it into the ground to engage your core. Keep your body facing forward, and squeeze your buttocks, bringing the pelvis forward. Then, lean forward at the hips for two deep, slow breaths. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs and do 10 more reps.
2. Deep Squat Hip Stretch
While this is a very effective hip flexor stretch, you have to do it right. Squats fully engage the hip flexor muscles, but make sure you avoid putting too much pressure on your lower back. To do it, stand with your feet wide apart, and squat at low as you can, keeping your weight on your heels. Your buttocks should be at the level of your ankles. If you need to adjust your stance, move your feet further apart.
Press your palms together, and put your thumbs at the center of your chest with your elbows between your knees. Glance forward, and take a few slow, deep breaths. Then, look right, and push your left elbow to your right thigh for a few breaths. Then, repeat on the opposite side.
3. Frog Pose
This is a wonderful pose to open your hips, but make sure your ankles and knees are strong and pain-free before you try it. Get down on your hands and knees on your yoga mat, palms pressed against the floor. Slowly widen your stance so your knees are further apart until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs.
Make sure to keep your ankles and knees in line and flex your toes. Next, lower your forearms while keeping your back straight with your head facing forward. Breathe, and hold for 30 seconds.
4. Happy Baby Yoga Pose
This is a simple hip flexor stretch for the inner and outer hip, and can easily be adapted to many different skill levels and flexibility. To do this stretch, lie on your back, stretching out your body. Then, bring your knees up to your chest. Put your hands on the outside of your feet then open the knees and hips wide. To create and control resistance, press your feet into your hands while pulling down on your feet. Hold for 30 seconds.
5. Head-to-Knee Stretch
Here’s another one that you can tailor to your needs, deciding how deep you need to go to feel the effects without experiencing discomfort. Sit with your legs out in front of you and your back straight. Then, bend your knee, and bring your left foot to the inside of your right thigh.
Tilt your pelvis inward, pulling your buttocks back and straightening your back. Lift your arms above your head and exhale, bringing your chest toward your legs and bending the hips. Then, rest your hand on your foot, ankle, or shin. Hold, then switch sides and repeat.
6. Hip Flexor Mobilization
The best thing about this stretch is that you can control how much weight you put into it. Use foam rollers to help stretch the muscles which allow you to increase the hip’s range of motion. Press the roller into the crease of your hip, and lie in a prone position. Allow your weight to sink onto the roller, then move your body back and forth, massaging your muscles. When you find a sore area, focus on it by continuing to roll back and forth until you feel some relief.
7. Kneeling Stretch with Raised Foot
This is a common stretch for athletes who want to eliminate or prevent hip flexor pain or stiff hips. Start in a kneeling lunge position, left leg behind you with the knee, shin, and top of the foot on the mat and the right leg bent in front of you with the knee in line with your hips and back.
Then, bend the left knee, bringing your foot up behind your back and grabbing it with both hands behind your back. Keep your back straight, engaging your core, buttocks, and the tensor fasciae latae muscle in the thigh. Hold for a few breaths then switch sides and repeat. You can deepen this stretch by pulling up the back foot if necessary.
8. Lizard Pose
The Lizard pose is a really great way to loosen hip tightness as well as stretch the hamstrings, inner thighs, and quadriceps. If you need to, you can use yoga blocks to support you.
Begin by resting on your right knee, then walk your left foot forward and away from your hips. Bend forward, lowering your upper body onto your elbows and forearms on the ground. Pay very close attention to the position of your left knee. It should be at the height of your shoulders and in line with your ankles. Your feet should point straight ahead and your left elbow should be close to the inside of your left foot. To deepen the stretch, shift your right knee backward. Hold this pose for a few breaths, then repeat on the other side.
9. Pigeon Stretch
This is also called the pigeon pose and it is a little advanced, so don’t attempt it until you’re ready. Overdoing it can cause injury so it’s important to be careful.
Start on your hands and knees on the yoga mat. Then, bend your left knee, bringing the ankle to your right hand with your knee centered between your hands if you can. Slide the right leg back, making sure to keep your hips somewhat level and in line with your wrists. Inhale, lengthening the spine and lifting the chest. Hold for a few breaths, then switch to the other leg and repeat.
Again, this pose is a little challenging, so take your time working your way up to it to prevent injury. Once you get there, though, it’s an amazing way to facilitate hip opening.
10. Spiderman Stretch
This sequence of stretches is a great way to deter hip pain after sitting at your desk all day. Start by sitting on your knees on your yoga mat. Bend the hips, and bring your right knee forward, keeping your left knee and toes against the floor.
Step forward using your front foot, and place your hands beside it on the ground. Relax the back leg, bringing the knee to the ground. Hold your breath, and slowly but forcefully lower your left hip to the ground. Then, bring your right hand to the outside of the right foot, and lower yourself so you’re sitting on your left thigh, straightening your right leg as you do, and hold.
Go back to your main position, and turn your chest to your right knee. Hold again. Then, return to the main position again, and repeat on the other leg.
11. Square Pose
This is a pretty advanced move that is also called the double pigeon. If you’re just learning this pose, it might help to use a yoga block, blanket, or another yoga prop to support your leg or foot when you’re in the pose.
Begin by sitting cross-legged on your yoga mat, then adjust your right leg so your shin is parallel with the front of the mat. To make sure you don’t put too much stress on your knee, keep the right foot flexed throughout the pose.
Next, bring the left foot over to the right knee. Try to push your left knee to meet your right foot, which should be directly below it. If you cannot, place the block or blanket under your left knee. Once your hips stretch, remove the prop, and try again. You can also lean forward if you want to deepen the stretch. Hold for a few breaths, then switch legs, and repeat.
12. Sumo Squat to Stand
This one not only stretches the hip flexors, but it’s also a great lift for the hamstrings. Start in a deep squat, keeping your back straight, chest up, and hold onto your toes to balance as you slowly stand up, bending over at the hip. The hip flexors and hamstrings will work together to keep the pelvis stable, and your weight should be on your heels.
Push your knees back and bring your head and shoulders down toward the floor, still holding onto your toes. Repeat five to 10 times.
Final Word on Yoga for Hip Flexors
These 12 poses are excellent for stretching your hip flexors and keeping everything loose. While some of them are a little advanced, most are easy enough for beginners. If you have trouble with any of them, try using a yoga block or bolster for additional support.
Try to do stretches for about 20 minutes every day to keep your hips from hurting while you’re at the office or stuck sitting down on a long commute to or from work. As you practice these stretches, your hips will get looser and more flexible, and you might start to notice you feel much better at the end of the day.