Hip mobility is the active movement of the hips within its range of motion, such as the ability to kick a soccer ball inside your foot by externally rotating your hips. On the other hand, hip flexibility is the passive movement of the hips, such as a dancer doing the splits while pushing against the ground. Flexibility and mobility work together to influence your range of motion.
3 Different Types of Movement Groups for Hip Flexibility
There are three main movement groups of the hip: hip flexion and extension, abduction and adduction, and internal and external hip rotation. We’re going to take a look at each one in more detail!
Hip Flexion and Extension
Hip flexion and extension are involved in moving the hips forward and backward. Hip flexion occurs when you move your knee towards your body (such as lifting your legs towards your chest in boat pose). Hip extension is when you are extending your thigh backward away from your pelvis (such as doing a bridge pose).
Hip Abduction and Adduction
Hip abduction and adduction are used when moving your legs side-to-side. Hip abduction is when you move your legs outward (such as sitting in butterfly pose). Hip adduction is when you move your legs inward towards the center of your body (such as crossing your legs to opposite sides in scissors exercise).
Hip Internal and External Rotation
Hip rotation starts at the hip joint and is movement from the joint to the knee to the toes. Internal rotation is maintaining this line internally towards your other leg. External rotation is maintaining this line externally and away from your body.
5 Main Muscles & Muscle Groups in the Hip
Five main muscle groups affect the mobility and flexibility of the hips: gluteal muscles, adductor muscles, iliopsoas muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
The gluteal muscles are located at the back of the hip (also known as your glutes of buttocks). The glutes help move the hip joint, stabilize the pelvis, and assist in abduction and adduction of the thighs.
The adductor muscles are located along the inner thighs on the inside of the femur. They help with the adduction of the thigh.
The iliopsoas muscles come together in the pelvis and run forwards over the front of the pelvis, across the front of the hip, and join onto the upper part of the femur. They are used to propel the body forward during activities like running and walking.
The quadriceps are made of four muscles running along the front side of your femur between your pelvis and knee. They help keep your kneecap stabilized and assist in everyday activities like running, walking, and squatting.
Your hamstring muscles are made of three skeletal muscles used to walk, run, and squat, among other leg movements. They help bend, extend, and rotate the hip joint.
5 Hip Flexibility Exercises to Positively Affect Mobility
We’ve come up with five different exercises to help increase your hip flexibility and overall mobility. You should NOT be feeling any joint pain for any of these exercises. Make sure to stretch safely to avoid injury.
1. Frog Pose
In frog pose, move your knees out as wide as your flexibility allows, point your toes outwards, open the feet a bit wider than the knees, sit back towards your heels, and then come down onto your forearms. This is a more intense stretch that mainly targets external hip rotation of the adductor muscles.
2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Lunge
To move into the kneeling hip flexor lunge, you’ll align your body into the lunge position, engage your core, and send your hip and glute forward on your kneeling side. This stretch targets your hip flexor muscles and iliopsoas.
3. Hip Sleeper Stretch
Sitting with both legs straight on the ground, you’ll bend one knee and walk it out to the side. Gently bring the same knee down towards the ground. It should be parallel to your opposite leg. When both legs are parallel, bring your knee back up. Keeping your feet in the same position, lie flat on your back, bring your bent knee back down to the ground, and place your opposite foot on your bent knee. This position can increase mobility for internal hip rotation.
4. Half Front Split Pose
In a forward fold, bend down towards your toes. Move one leg back into a lunge position, drop your knee, and untuck your toes (padding the knee can increase protection and comfort). Make sure your front knee is stacked above your front ankle with your toes pointing forward. Shift backward and straighten your front leg, keeping a slight bend in the front knee. This pose can increase mobility for your hip flexors, groin, and hamstrings.
5. Pigeon Pose
If possible, begin in downward dog. Keep your hips up and back, lift your left leg up, and bring your left knee behind your left wrist. Walk your right leg back and untuck your toes. Keep your leg “active” by slightly pressing into the top of your right foot. Repeat on your right side. See the video provided for additional variations and support. Pigeon pose can increase mobility and flexibility in your thighs, groin, lower back, and iliopsoas muscles.
Additional Tips and Recommendations
It’s important to seek a professional opinion and advice- especially if you are attempting to increase mobility and flexibility due to discomfort or injury.
Contact Idaho Sports Medicine Institute to learn more about how you can increase hip mobility and flexibility!
*Please always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.