The desire to stretch is a natural reaction to muscle tension. But did you know that in most cases tightness is a mask for weakness?

Tight hips. It’s an all-too-common complaint associated with modern lifestyles that have us sitting for hours on end—at work and at home. As a result, it’s natural to want to stretch out, “free” or open up our hips. Stretching tight muscles (as good as this may feel), however, is often not the best solution.

The reality is that the more stable and strong our hips are, the more flexible they will be. So when we stretch out our hips rather than work on making them mobile and strong, we risk destabilizing them and compromising hip health.

We need an incredible amount of support for our hips in order to walk, run, jump, squat and even sit. Without this, tension can develop in the hip joint as can weakness and misalignment. Over time, misalignment can lead to all kinds of hip and back problems, and it can contribute to osteoarthritis, increasing our chances of needing a hip replacement later in life.

So, the next time you feel compelled to “open up” that tight hip, you might want to reassess your approach and start with exercises that build a balance between mobility and strength.

How to know if you should stretch or strengthen your hips

One rule of thumb to follow: if you’ve been stretching out an area of your hip for a few months and it doesn’t feel any different, it’s actually begging for support—asking you to build strength in other muscles rather than stretch out what feels tight. For example, you may feel tight in the back of your hips deep in the buttock area. Instead of focusing on the sensation and trying to relieve it through stretching, try to figure out the pattern of weakness that’s masquerading as tightness. There’s often an underlying weakness in the hip abductors (gluteus medius and minimus). Once addressed with specific exercises and careful execution, the deep ache in the back of the hip starts to dissolve.

How to strengthen your hips properly

Building strong, healthy hips that have ample support and stability means evenly working all three areas or compartments of the hip joint: the back/outside, front and inside. If you do a lot of repetitive movements or exercises, make sure you assess what you’re doing and ask yourself: “Is my routine helping to provide balanced support throughout my hips?”

When you focus on balancing strength and flexibility in all three areas of the hip you end up with increased function, more comfort and a renewed ease of movement. This in turn allows you to move safely in your daily life, sports and exercise routines for decades to come!


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Hip exercises to get you started

Here are six exercises you can add to your home exercise practice or any workout regimen to make sure that you’re conditioning your hips in a way that supports them in their optimal range of motion:

1) Standing hip hinge

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart and hands on hips
  • Pull up tall in your torso, without feeling strain, and hinge forward at your hips
  • Lean forward to about 70º and then return

This exercise works the back of the body and particularly the back of the thighs, buttocks and lower back. These muscle groups work together on the way down and up from the hinge.

Suggested repetitions: 6 to 10

Caution: If you feel strain or compression in your lower back try tightening your midriff as if wearing a corset. Or, reduce your range of motion.

2) Standing hip hinge with crossed arms

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart and hands folded in front of your chest
  • Pull up tall in your torso without feeling strain, and hinge forward at your hips
  • Lean forward to about 70º
  • Press your arms forward and up toward your face gradually
  • Return to tall standing

This exercise works the back of the body just like the hip hinge. Adding the arm motion puts more demand on the muscles of your lower back, so it is common to feel more engagement there.

Suggested repetitions: 6 to 10

Caution: If you feel strain or compression in your lower back try tightening your midriff as if wearing a corset. Or, reduce your range of motion. Or, omit the arm motion.

3) Standing side lean with leg lift

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart and hands on hips
  • Shift weight onto left foot. Simultaneously, lean torso left and gradually reach right leg out to the side and up

The height of the leg lift can vary. The key is continuous movement and engagement along the outsides of both hips and both sides of the torso.

Suggested repetitions: 3 to 4 on each side

Caution: Make sure to keep your body and legs aligned beside each other. Avoid sticking your buttocks out behind you or your ribs forward. These are balance strategies but compromise how you execute the exercise.


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4) Skate squat

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart and hands on hips
  • Bend into a mini squat and as you return to tall standing, shift weight onto one foot while reaching the other leg to the side-back, just like skating
  • Alternate side to side and avoid using momentum

This exercise is dynamic and uses tons of muscles in the lower limbs. As you squat feel for buttocks and front thigh muscles. In the skate, feel for buttock of the lifted leg.

Suggested repetitions: 6 to 10 (alternate sides)

Caution: Make sure knees are aligned in parallel for the squat. Make sure lower back does not compress during the skating action.

5) Knee raise

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart and arms hanging at sides of torso
  • Shift weight onto left foot, tighten midriff and gradually raise right knee above hip height. Hold for up to 15 seconds
  • Then, lower the leg and switch sides

This exercise works a deep hip stabilizer you cannot feel. So, when this exercise feels easy to do, you’ve mastered it!

Suggested repetitions: 3 each side

Caution: If your hip flexors (front hip crease) cramp or it’s impossible to raise your leg above hip height, go only as far as you can.

6) Lunge with rotation

  • Stand in a lunge position, left leg forward, right leg back and arms out to a “T” position
  • Point both feet forward and lift back heel slightly off floor
  • Gradually rotate torso toward forward leg while leaning forward slightly

The idea is to rotate to the point where it looks like the back leg and torso form one long diagonal line. Feel for buttock muscles (especially on the forward leg side) and a winding/unwinding in the spine.

Suggested repetitions: 4 to 6 reps each side

Caution: Make sure forward knee aligns over the ankle throughout the exercise. This helps keep it stable and comfortable.


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