After six marathons, my hips just aren't as jazzed about running as they used to be. Emotionally, I'm excited to get out there and log some long runs. But about 6 miles in, my left hip starts to speak up. It's as if it's saying, "Remember me?!" Over and over again, the tightness seems to amp up as the miles do. In an effort to loosen things up down there, I've been on the hunt for the best hip stretches for runners—plus some insight into why this tightness is so common among runners in the first place. (Related: 5 Things Physical Therapists Want Runners to Start Doing Now)
For starters, your hip flexors' main purpose is to bring your thigh forward and up toward your stomach—a movement that's pretty critical to running. Every step forward requires a contraction of your hip flexors, so miles and miles of running will really put them to work. Neglect stretching them post-run, and they'll stay in a shortened (read: tight) position. (Here's everything you need to know about tight hip flexors.)
Running isn't the only thing to blame: "The simple act of spending too much time in a seated position (which is all too common in today's modern world) wreaks havoc on the average runner's hips," says Brad Walker, director of education at StretchLab, a Los Angeles–based assisted stretching studio. "Excessive time behind a desk or steering wheel leads to poor posture, which in turn creates strength and flexibility imbalances within the muscles around the hip joint."
According to Walker, these imbalances put unnatural and uneven tension on the hip joint, which in turn forces the muscles within the hip joint to tighten up (ow, no thanks). And if the runner has faulty biomechanics? Or poor running form? The problem is amplified.
If this all sounds familiar, you're in luck. Here, Walker shares seven essential hip stretches for runners to loosen up and strengthen the hips. (Also try these yoga poses for tight hips.)
How it works: The order of the following stretches is very important. Do the first four to loosen up the large muscle groups around the hip joint, and then do the others to focus on the smaller muscles located deep within the hip. Hold each of the below for between 30 seconds to a minute before moving on to the next.
1. 90-90 Hip Stretch
A. Sit on the floor with the right leg bent at a 90-degree angle, with the outside of the right leg on the floor and thigh extending straight forward from right hip. Position the left thigh at a 90-degree angle from the right thigh, pointing straight to the left, with knee bent at a 90-degree angle and inside of the leg on the floor.
B. Placing hands lightly on the floor on either side of the right leg, gently lean forward over right leg. Hold for 2 seconds. Sit up straight then lean back, placing hands lightly on the floor behind hips. Hold for 2 seconds. Continue leaning forward and back for 30 seconds.
2. Standing Quad Stretch
A. Stand with feet together. Bring the right heel up toward the right glute.
B. Balancing on the left leg, hold the right ankle and keep knees together while pushing hips forward. Hold on to something for balance if needed. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Kneeling Hip and Quad Stretch
A. Start in a half-kneeling position with the right leg forward and foot flat on the floor, and the left knee on the ground. If needed, hold on to something to keep balance, then push hips forward. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. (Related: 9 Running Stretches to Do After Every Single Run)
4. Rotating Stomach Stretch
A. Lie facedown on the floor with hands underneath shoulders, palms pressing into the floor. Keeping hips on the ground, look forward and press into palms to straighten arms. (This will resemble an upward dog with hips and feet still on the ground).
B. Then, slowly bend one arm and rotate that shoulder toward the ground, while gazing over the opposite shoulder. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
5. Standing Leg-Under Abductor Stretch
A. Stand behind a chair or in front of a bench. Lean forward, holding onto the chair or bench for balance.
B. Cross the right foot behind the left, and slide that foot to the side until there's a deep stretch up the right side of the body. Make sure to keep the right leg straight, slowly bending the left leg to lower into the stretch. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
6. Supine Figure-4 Stretch
A. Lie faceup with both feet flat on the floor. Lift the left leg toward the torso, crossing the left ankle over the right thigh so left knee points to the left.
B. Loop hands around the back of the right thigh and draw knees in toward torso. Keep both feet flexed. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
7. Seated Rotational Hip Stretch
A. Sit on the floor with the right foot in a butterfly position. Position left leg so the thigh presses into the bottom of the right foot, with the inside of the left leg touching the floor.
B. Lean backward toward the right leg. Rotate torso to the left, lightly resting fingers on the floor for balance. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.