If a quick post-workout stretch isn’t cutting it, try these exercises to loosen up tight hips and glutes.

I hear about low back and hip flexor issues all the time in my work with athletes. They come to me complaining of lower back pain but the problem is often with hip flexors, glutes and hamstrings, which can wreak havoc on your back when they become too tight.

The aptly named hip flexors are a group of muscles that work together to flex the hip. The Psoas attaches to the lower back, whereas the Iliacus attaches to your hipbone. Sitting down puts these muscles in a shortened position, and as a result leaves them pretty tight. Because the Psoas attaches to the lower back,  it can pull your back forward, causing a lot of pain. A tight hip flexor may also inhibit your glute activation, which means whatever work you are doing to strengthen your glutes may not be working effectively.

The piriformis muscle helps to stabilize the hip. This muscle is important for athletes who participate in running sports that require sudden changes of direction. The piriformis works along with other hip rotators to turn the hips and upper legs outward. Strong and flexible hip rotators keep hip and knee joints properly aligned and help prevent sudden twisting of the knee during quick side-to-side movements, lunges, or squats.

The iliotibial (IT) band is a group of fibers that run along the outside of the thigh and stabilizes the entire leg while running or stair climbing. It begins at the hip and extends to the outer side of the shin bone (tibia) just below the knee joint. This area is exceptionally tight on most athletes and will inhibit proper form and range of motion and cause pain due to inflammation and irritation of an inflexible IT band.

To begin loosening up these muscles, preform these Pilates-based exercises for tight hips. Each of these can be done every day with just a few props.

3-way strap stretch for hamstrings, IT band, and adductors

Grab a yoga or stretch strap. Lie supine (on your back) and place the strap around the ball of your right foot. Extend that leg up to the sky as straight as you can. Your left leg should be extended out in front of you flat on the floor. Your head and shoulders should be relaxed on the floor and your eyes should be at your knee.
  • Hamstring Stretch- Take the ends of the strap in your hands and walk your hands up towards your ankle. Hold the strap tightly as you slide your hands back down, so that you create tension in the strap. Continue sliding your hands down until your elbows rest on the floor. The distance between your shoulder and elbow, and elbow to wrist should create a 90 degree angle. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. While keeping your leg straight, exhale as you draw your leg closer in to you and inhale as you move your leg out. Take 4-6 breaths here.
  • IT Band Stretch- Take both ends of the strap in your left hand (your right leg is still in the air). Cross your right leg over your body, but make sure to keep your right glute on the floor, and your hips level. Your head is still neutral and eyes still toward your knee.  Flexing your foot back towards your face and reaching your heel outward will increase your calf stretch.  Take 4-6 breaths here.
  • Adductor Stretch- Open the right leg outward towards your right side and bring both ends of the strap to your right hand. Work to keep your hips level. Take 4-6 breaths here.

Repeat  all three stretches on the other leg.

Lunge with side bend- to stretch your hip flexors

  • Lunge forward with your left foot, bending your left knee 90 degrees and press your left leg straight behind you, so that your heel is reaching towards the wall behind you and keep your knee straight for the duration of the stretch.
  • Tilt pelvis forward until you feel mild resistance in the front of the right hip.
  • Raise your right arm overhead, and side bend reaching to the left side- palm down over your head.
  • Keep your head and torso in one line so your body stays erect.
  • Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Return to start and repeat on opposite side.

Low Lunge – for hip flexors and hamstrings

  • Remain in lunge position from above with your left foot forward and your ankle, knee, and hip forming a 90 degree angle. Place your hands flat on the floor with your palms pressing down, and your fingers forward on either side of your front foot. If you are too tight to have your hands flat on the floor, elevate your palms by using one block (or a book) under each palm to raise the floor to you, and make it easier to get into this stretch. Make sure your shoulders are down and relaxed away from your ears.
  • Gently bring the knee of your stretched out right leg to the floor with the top of your foot pressing into your mat.
  • Inhale and lengthen your spine slightly forward and up until your feel a stretch in your right hip flexor. Exhale and shift your weight back, stretching your front leg straight until your toes pull back to your face. Keep reaching your glutes back until you feel a hamstring stretch in your front leg.

Standing Quad Stretch

  • Stand with your toes forward and feet about 4” apart from one another. (You may place your palm at a  wall for support if you need it for balance.) Draw your navel to your spine, and head up so eyes are at “eye level”
  • Bend your right knee and reach behind you to grab the top of your foot. Bring your foot as close to your glutes as possible. Make sure your body remains balanced so that you are not leaning.
  • Keep your right thigh close to your left thigh. Keep your knee pointing down towards the floor. Make sure your leg stays in line, so that your femur is straight up and down. As you inhale reach the knee down towards the floor, and as you exhale draw your foot closer to your glute. Maintain breathing and hold position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Seated Figure 4-Piriformis Stretch
  • Sit upright in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor and ankles, knees and hips in 90 degree alignment.
  • Cross your right ankle over your left knee, allowing your right knee to point out to the side as your thighbone rotates in your hip socket.
  • Maintaining good posture, hinge forward at your hips until you feel the gentle stretch in your right hip. Place your right elbow at the inside of your knee joint and press your thigh out and down toward the floor creating what looks like a figure 4. Your other hand is under your foot pressing it up towards the sky. This will create a counter balance for your stretch.
  • Make sure your shoulders stay relaxed throughout your stretch. While breathing normally, hold this position for 30 seconds, using your exhale to go deeper into the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

The best athletes know the importance of adding a flexibility routine to their workouts.  For more information and more advanced Pilates stretches and exercises please contact Amy, Co-Founder of BEYOND MOTION at info@go2beyondmotion.com.

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