The hip is a very complex joint that involves many different muscles, including large muscle groups like the glutes, hamstrings and quads. Our joints naturally stiffen up a little as we age. However, when an older client tells me their hips feel stiff or that they have sore hip flexors, it’s almost always due to disuse, not the aging process.
3 Stretches for Tight or Sore Hip Flexors
1. “90/90” Stretch
This two-part move targets many different muscles of the hip, including the glutes. This stretch is meant to be dynamic, meaning that you’ll slowly rock back and forth in and out of the stretch. It’s excellent for those of us who spend a lot of time sitting and is a much more effective way of maintaining hip mobility as we age compared to most static stretches.
Sitting on the floor with your right leg in front of you and your left leg to the side, bend both knees to 90 degrees. Your right heel should be in line with your left knee. For the first part of the stretch, lean forward over your right leg, feeling a deep stretch in your right glute and hip muscles. For the second part of the stretch, you’ll be working on your left leg. With your hands on the floor behind you, lean back, away from your right leg. Now rotate your torso to the left, trying to get your shoulders square with your left thigh. Aim for 10 “repetitions” (rocking back and forth) in each of the two positions.
If needed, sit on yoga blocks or a few pillows to elevate your hips and glutes off the floor.
2. Alternating Spiderman Stretch
This stretch works both hips at the same time: you’ll stretch the hip flexors in the back leg, as well as the glutes and adductors in the front leg. I use this stretch with all my older clients to improve overall hip mobility, especially for increasing their range of motion for squatting movements.
Start on your hands and feet in a plank position, with your hands placed directly under your shoulders. Your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should be aligned. Lift your left leg off the ground, bending at the knee and stepping your left foot to the outside of your left hand (or as close as you can get it if you don’t yet have this level of mobility). Touch your right knee to the floor. You should feel a stretch in your left hip flexors and left glutes and adductors. Hold for a few seconds, then switch sides. Repeat for a total of 5 stretches on each side.
If this version is too difficult, elevate your hands. Place your hands on a sturdy chair pushed up against a wall, or on the end of a weight lifting bench at the gym. The leg movements remain the same.
3. Side-Lying Clamshells
Clamshells are a simple way to strengthen the external rotators of the hip and improve overall hip mobility. It’s also a great recovery exercise if you’ve had hip replacement surgery, once you’re able to comfortably lie on your side. Clamshells are a very commonly prescribed exercise in both physical therapy and athletic training, and for good reason: they work! Use our tips to make sure you’re performing them with correct form.
Lie on your left side with your knees bent, supporting your head with your left arm. Place your right hand on your right hip. Exhale and bring your right knee toward the ceiling, rotating at the right hip. Go as far as you can and make sure there’s no movement in your low back. You should feel your outer glute muscles working. Slowly return to the start position and repeat for repetitions, then switch sides. Once you can perform 2 sets of 10 controlled repetitions on each side, start adding a small resistance band (looped just above the knees) for additional resistance.
These three exercises can be performed daily to help you improve your hip mobility. One or two sets of each are enough to start seeing improvements in a week. Try them in the morning after getting out of bed, or as a warm-up before your regular physical activities.