Good balance and stability are essential for daily activities, sports performance, and overall health. However, many people struggle with hip mobility issues that can lead to poor balance and loss of stability. Having a good range of motion in the hips is essential for maximizing speed, power, agility, and flexibility. Luckily, there are steps you can take on how to increase hip mobility for better balance and stability. Here, we will explore common causes of reduced hip mobility, as well as exercises and stretches that can help improve it.
Basic Anatomy of the Hip
The hip joint is a complex structure that connects the lower body to the spine. It has three main movements – moving the leg backward and forward, moving the leg out to the side, and rotating the leg in a circular motion. Muscles in the area include:
- Gluteal muscles: bring your leg out to the side
- Adductors: help with inward movements like crossing your legs
- Abductors: aid in outward motions such as stepping wide.
The joint itself is surrounded by a capsule filled with lubricating fluid that allows for smooth movement. All of these components work together to allow us to perform daily activities, such as walking and running.
What are the Problems with Tight Hip Flexors?
Tight hip flexors can be a huge issue for many people, especially those who spend long periods of time sitting at a desk or in a car. When the hip flexors are tight, they can cause pain and discomfort, as well as decreased mobility and stability. This can lead to poor posture, which can in turn lead to further health issues, such as back pain.
Tight hip flexors can also limit physical performance and decrease range of motion, making it harder to perform certain activities of daily living. If left untreated, tight hip flexors can lead to chronic conditions such as tendonitis. To avoid tight hip flexors, it is important to regularly stretch the hip flexors in order to maintain healthy mobility and balance.
Common Causes of Limited Hip Mobility
Reduced hip mobility is common in people who are required to sit for long periods of time and in those that are overweight. However, there are other causes of limited hip mobility, too, including:
- Poor posture
- Sitting with your legs crossed for long periods of time
- Not stretching regularly
- Forgetting to warm up before a workout
- Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking or excessive drinking
- Injury or surgery
If you find yourself with limited hip mobility, one of the best things you can do is become aware of your habits and work to change them. For example, if you sit for long periods of time, perhaps you make it a goal to get up every 30 minutes and do some simple stretching exercises. Another great goal would be to go for a quick, 15-minute morning or evening walk. These little things can add up big time over the course of your day and greatly improve the overall strength and stability in your hips.
Hip Mobility Tests
Hip mobility tests, which can be performed at home, can be a great way to make sure your hips are functioning properly and to identify any areas of tightness or weakness. It's important to perform these tests regularly in order to keep your hips healthy and prevent injury.
Range of Motion Test
The first hip mobility test you should do is a simple range of motion test. This involves standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, then raising one knee as high as it will go without arching your back. You should feel a stretch in the front of your hip when doing this. You can also do this while lying down. Lift one leg up as high as you can – if you can lift your heel above your bottom knee, you pass the test. It’s important to note, though, that the ideal range of motion when lying down is to lift the leg to a 90-degree angle with the hips.
To perform the squat test, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your shoulders back. Squat down as low as you can while keeping your back straight. If you notice discomfort as you move downwards, there are hip mobility exercises you can do to improve your flexibility and mobility in your hips.
Hip Internal and External Rotation Test
This test requires you to lie on your side on the floor and rotate your top leg inwards and outwards as far as possible without causing any pain. If you have difficulty moving your leg, this may be an indication of tightness or weakness in the muscles around the hips like the glutes, abductors, adductors, and rotator cuff muscles.
Single-leg Bridge Test
This test is a bit more advanced, but serves as both a hip mobility test and is a great way to stretch your hip flexors. To start, lay on your back with one leg bent at the knee. Lift the other leg off the ground, then push through the heel of that leg until both hips are elevated off the ground. You should feel a stretch through both legs during this exercise.
Best Exercises to Increase Hip Mobility
Improving hip mobility can help you stay active and healthy, so it's important to find exercises that will benefit your range of motion. Here are some of the best exercises you can try to increase hip mobility:
This is an excellent exercise for warming up the spine and hips and improving mobility in both areas. Start on all fours and arch your back like a cat. Then, round your spine like a camel, tucking your chin towards your chest as you do so. Repeat this 5-10 times.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor shoulder-width apart. Tighten your glutes and press down through your heels as you lift your hips off the ground until they form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold for 5 seconds before releasing back down to the floor. Do 3 sets of 10 reps for maximum benefit.
Step into a wide stance with both feet pointing forward, then step one foot out to the side while keeping the other foot stationary, bending at the knee and pushing through the heel of the leg stepping outwards as you go lower down into a lunge position. Push off through that same heel as you come back up to complete one rep, then switch sides and repeat 10 times on each side for maximum benefit.
Start in a low squat position with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. From there, keep your chest up and push your knees out as you lower down into a deeper squat. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times for maximum benefit.
Lying Hip Rotations
To do this exercise, lie on your back and draw both knees into your chest. Place one hand on each knee and gently press them down while rotating at the hips in a circular motion. You can go clockwise or counterclockwise – whichever feels most comfortable. Do 3-5 circles in each direction, taking it slow and focusing on breathing deeply throughout.
A classic internal rotation exercise is the clam shell. Begin by lying on one side with your knees bent and feet together. Slowly lift your top knee up while keeping your feet together – this will help to engage the gluteus medius muscle. Hold for a few seconds before slowly lowering back down, then switch sides for an even stretch. You can also add a resistance band around your thighs to increase the intensity of this exercise if needed.
Seated Hip Flexor
Begin by sitting tall in a chair with one leg crossed over the other. Gently lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in the back of the crossed leg’s thigh. You should hold this position for about 30 seconds before releasing it. Repeat on the other side for an even stretch.
Foam rolling can be an effective way to increase hip mobility and reduce muscle tension. To do this, sit on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you. Place a foam roller under your hips and roll up and down for about 30 seconds. You can also roll the outer thighs by starting at the hip joint and rolling outwards towards the knee.
Improving mobility and flexibility in your hips can be done in just a few minutes throughout your day. By adding these stretches to your daily routine, you should notice improved balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, and mobility in your hips in a matter of days. As these stretches become easier and you notice your hip mobility improving, you can start incorporating resistance bands and strength training into your lifestyle. We can’t reverse the aging process, but we can definitely take steps to make the journey more comfortable as we go.