davedraper.com home

First Things First

Before you get distracted by all the great options you're about to find here, please sign up for Dave's free weekly newsletter so he can continue to encourage and motivate you toward your fitness goals.
Chris M writes:
"You blend plain-spoken wisdom, motivational fire and wry humor into a weekly email jolt that leaves me itching to hit the gym. Whether I'm looking for workout routines, diet tips or a friendly kick in the butt, the Bomber comes through every time." ... Read more...

How to get hip mobility

At our IOL Bash event last weekend in Scranton, PA, folks who knew I’d spent the first part of the year with hip mobility being one of the top goals wanted to know more about the process. Once I discovered there was a problem, what did I do to fix it?

It was a priority, thus we’re talking about a lot of effort, meaning doing hip mobility work at least a couple times a day. Patience is key, because with immobile hips, there’s not much movement, and the exercises feel, er… stupid. I went from locked down hips — about as immobile as one can be and still be walking — to fairly mobile, and in the process rid myself of chronic back pain and at the same time regained joy of movement. It was more than worth the effort, a great payoff and highly recommended.

One thing before we get started: The mental aspect is a big component often forgotten. Many of us hold our lower abdominal region tight — suck in your gut, right? — and that certainly contributes to our pelvic immobility. You’ll have to purposefully relax your pelvic region in order to get your hips mobile when you’re walking down the street.

Another key to help you get started: Learn where you hips are. If when told to put your hands on your hips you find your hands on the sides of your waist, you’ve got it wrong. The hip joints we’re working on with our mobility programs are at the top of the leg, where the long femur bone rests in the hip socket. This is not to say we don’t need pelvic mobility; we do. The thing is, you’re going to get pelvic mobility out of hip mobility work, but if a beginner at mobility targets the top of the pelvis, what’s probably going to happen is lumbar rotation, not pelvic or hip mobility. So focus on the actual hip joint and save yourself a backache as you’re starting down the mobility path.

To make sure you keep this up long enough to see some progress, and to grab a little pre-workout activation in the process, do some of your hip mobility exercises before your workout. And absolutely do some hip mobility along with some foam rolling on your non-workout days to keep things progressing. Those readers with desk jobs will get double benefit by doing hip and thoracic spine mobility work after sitting all day, and if it’s possible to do a little at other times during the day, so much the better. Sitting is the absolute worst possible thing for optimal hip mobility.

If you combine strengthening the small muscles with stretching the tight ones, for example using the arms-overhead lunge stretch, your hips will begin to loosen up within a couple weeks. You really will feel the difference.

My full list of hip mobility exercises used to free up locked-down hips follows. Why don’t you pick four different exercises and do them daily this week; pick another four for daily use next week and continue changing weekly until you’ve tried them all. By then, two things will have happened. First, your hips will be more mobile and there’s a reasonable change your nagging backache will be gone. Second, you’ll know which exercises were hard for you; those are the ones you’ll want to keep after until the movement is fluid and easy.

One of my favorites is one-leg hip circles. Stand tall; stick one leg across the body to the opposite side and make small circles with the foot outstretched to the side, then reverse direction. Move the foot to the front and repeat; shift the foot to the outside and repeat; continue to the back and repeat the circles on both directions. Change legs and do it all again.

As you begin, the circles will be small and the hip will fatigue quickly. Happily, these small muscles strengthen fast. Hip circles were originally suggested by Dr. Eric Cobb over at Z-Health, and are also taught by other joint mobility proponents.

Your other selections follow:

Hurdle stepovers from the front, facing the bar
Hurdle stepovers from the side, side to the bar

Side-lying leg swings, forward and back
Hockey groin stretch

Lunges, lunge backs, side lunges
Dynamic kneeling hip mobility

Step-ups, step-downs
Single-leg deadlifts, hands supported

Standing leg swings, front to back
Standing leg swings, side to side
These are done standing near a counter top where the hands are placed for balance; the swing is small — not energetic; if the low back moves, the swing is too long.

Hip rockers
Hip bends
Hip circles
Hip thrusts

Holds at the bottom of the squat, done at the corner of the kitchen counter, one hand supported on each side

Stability ball side to side hip extensions
Medicine ball Heismans
Quadraped hydrants

Internal and external hip rotation: side-lying clams, hip abduction/adduction (feet against wall, body on floor), a femur rotation move with the legs upright against the wall, and a pilates move: body on floor, legs raised with a small ball between the feet, opening and closing at the knees

Pelvic clock, a Feldenkrais movement pattern

Another great full hip motion for which I have no name: From a side-lying position with the left side on the floor, put your right foot upright, a “standing” position on the inside of the left leg. Lift the leg straight up a bit, the knee moving toward the ceiling. Then begin to turn the leg over toward the left — it feels a bit like unhinging at the hip socket. Continue lifting and turning in a coordinated effort until you touch the top of your right knee to the floor next to your left leg. Then reverse sides and try with the left leg over toward the right side. Note if both, either or neither knee touches the floor, and if the movement is smooth or jerky.

Some of the hip range of motion exercises – leg circles being a great example, or the pelvic clock – may have a part of the circle “missing” – your circle isn’t round. It’ll feel stupid and you’ll want to discontinue the exercise, but if you stick with it, the smaller muscles will strengthen, you’ll gain more control of the movement and the circle will round out. Bravo! It’s small things like this what will contribute to that miraculous day when your back pain goes away for good.

The most unusual and perhaps most effective thing I’ve learned in all this is to slow down and to make the movement smaller. That’s how we can really feel what’s going on, where the action starts and ends, where there’s a hesitation or a “dead spot,” and then we can start sorting out the origin of the problem.

That’s the thing with hip mobility — there are so many things going on that allow, stop or create movement. We think of it as a ball moving around a socket and forget all the muscles, tendons and ligaments that contribute to making the motion happen.

The hardest part is figuring it out. Fixing it is easy, sometimes ridiculously easy.

If you’re a visual learner and want to see some of this in action, I got a good introduction to hip mobility from John Izzo’s Free the Hips dvd. Here’s a preview:


Be sure to read Mike Boyle’s Understanding Hip Flexion, too.

Bonus material:
* Listen to Caroline Blackburn explain some of what we’re working on fixing here.

* Run yourself through Boris Bachmann’s hip and hamstring mobility drills

* Rope or band stretches: Hamstring, groin, IT Band (cross body), quad (facedown, pull back), ankle, calf and knee

5 Responses to 'How to get hip mobility'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'How to get hip mobility'.

  1. Matt Metzgar said,

    on December 23rd, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Not sure about the Caroline Blackburn video. Esther Gokhale advises that the pelvic SHOULD have a natural tilt.

  2. on April 2nd, 2010 at 3:06 am

    One of my must do streatments for hip mobility issues is to do AIS (Active Isolated Stretching) for the entire hip complex. You want mobility…oh man this will give it to ya.

  3. John said,

    on June 9th, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Matt, I don’t think she’s suggesting that you remove the tilt entirely. She is correcting an over-tilted pelvis. When she has the client activate her lower abs you can see there is still a natural spinal tilt but one that is, well, natural. It’s subtle but profound especially with regard to its effects on spinal health.

  4. on July 26th, 2010 at 7:26 am

    I’ve never heard of AIS before. Where can I get more info ?

  5. ldraper said,

    on July 26th, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Here’s where to get started on AIS (active isolated stretching), a technique developed by Aaron Mattes.


Post a comment