Hip Stretches for Mobility and Strength

Keep your hips happy and fit for a lifetime.

Hip stretch illustration

Among the hundreds of joints in your body, the hips just might be the most essential for quality movement.

“Mobile, stable, strong hip joints are the keystone to both avoiding injury and achieving optimal function,” says Dean Somerset, CSCS, an Edmonton-based exercise physiologist who specializes in injury prevention and rehab.

When the hips are working well, you move them in a wide variety of ways as you exercise or go about everyday tasks.

These days, however, optimally functioning hip joints are a rarity. Sitting for hours at a time has left many people with hips that are inflexible, unstable, and weak. This can cause pain and immobility in the hips. (Learn more at “Healthy, Happy Hips”.)

But the bad news extends beyond just the hips themselves. “Injuries in the lower back and knees often result from hip joints that aren’t strong enough or don’t move well,” says Somerset.

Try the following mobility moves for better function and improved performance. Do them once a week for every decade you’ve been alive (four times per week if you’re in your 40s, for example), even on days when you aren’t doing any other type of exercise.

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Hip Strengthening Moves

Unlike when you perform the mobility drills, you won’t complete the strength moves as a circuit — complete all sets of each exercise before moving on to the next. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Hip Thrust

Hip thrust

  • Sit on the floor with your back leaning against the long side of a padded weight bench, feet parallel, shoulder-width, and flat on the floor in front of you.
  • Keeping your knees aligned over your heels, lift your hips off the floor, finishing with them a few inches higher than your knees. Pause at the top.
  • Slowly lower your hips, stopping when your glutes are a few inches off the floor. Repeat.

Sets and Reps: Three sets of eight to 12.

The Finer Points: Control the pace throughout the exercise, and squeeze your glutes together hard at the top of the movement. Once you’ve mastered the body-weight version, hold a padded barbell across your lap for additional resistance. “Unlike conventional squats and dead lifts,” says Somerset, “the hip thrust works the glutes with minimal strain on the lower back.”

Speed-Skater Squat

Speed skater squat

  • Stand upright and shift your weight onto your left foot, bending your right knee 90 degrees, so the foot is behind you and off the floor.
  • Keeping your left knee tracking over your standing foot, bend your left knee, hip and ankle, slowly lowering your right knee — and your entire body weight — toward the floor (your position will resemble that of a speed skater at full tilt).
  • When you’ve lowered yourself as far as you can, reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Finish all the repetitions on your left leg before shifting sides.

Sets and Reps: Three sets of six to eight on each leg.

The Finer Points: Somerset recommends using a mirror your first few times doing this exercise to make sure the knee on your standing leg doesn’t collapse inward, a sign that your hip rotators aren’t pulling their weight. “Only perform the movement as far as you can while keeping your knee tracking above your foot. Over time, you’ll gradually be able to sink into a full squat with the knee still tracking directly over your foot.”

Weighted Single-, Stiff-Legged Dead Lift

Weighted single-leg and stiff-leg deadlift

Perform this lift as described in the mobility circuit above, but this time holding two dumbbells or kettlebells in your hands. Instead of extending your arms overhead, allow them to extend downward as you perform the movement (but don’t allow your back to round!).

Sets and Reps: Three sets of six to eight on each leg.

The Finer Points: For tight-hipped people, Somerset prefers this version to the more popular two-leg version: “Most people have naturally better form on the single-leg dead lift than they do on the double-leg version — that extended back leg helps people use their glutes properly.”

Instead of using two dumbbells, you can also hold a single heavy dumbbell in the hand opposite your standing leg (i.e., the left if you’re standing on your right). This creates an additional challenge to rotational strength and stability for your standing leg and hip.

is an Experience Life contributing editor.

Illustrations by Kveta

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