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The hips are supposed to be the powerhouse of the body – but for many of us, they’re stiff, weak, or downright uncomfortable. Learn time-efficient strategies to get the most out of this crucial area.

Priorities, Yo!

We’re all living busy lives. It’s true that a lengthy and extended passive stretch, followed by strengthening at end range is the most effective way to increase both mobility and stability — but it’s just too much time for most of us to commit to on a daily basis. Instead, here are some strategies that move from pretty generic to very personalized.

If You’re Making a Comeback

If you are extremely stiff, you may well need some mobility prep in the form of myofascial release — and please note: this type of release is best thought of as a temporary measure.

You will also need to be at least aware of the principles of diaphragmatic breathing so that you can apply them during your mobility practice. Another note on the myofascial bit: diaphragmatic breathing will not only help you do it better, it may reduce the time required if you are able to ride out some cramping once you get to the actual mobility part. (Although never force through actual joint pain!)

Finally, it’s highly possible that a little core work and/or practice with neutral spine is required to ensure that you are actually using your hips and not passing all of the work onto your low back.

If You Could Only Do One Hip Exercise…

My money would go on hip CARs (“controlled axial rotations”). These should be available in some form to every single body, and rotation is often the best starting point (see below, under “default: rotation”). They are a great warmup, and done with full intention, they definitely provide strength training as well.

For Strength Work Without Having to Even Think About It

During your regular activities, and in particular those with any amount of hip extension (see below, under “flexion vs extension”) or sideways/lateral travel, a loop band can be fastened around either the thighs (easier) or ankles (harder) to add in a real stabilization component.

This ties in very easily with performing glute-specific moves such as hip thrusts and glute bridges. It’s also a great way to connect with the lower body stabilizers staying “on” as you perform upper body moves such as bar rows or overhead presses. Finally, you can even amp up side stepping or even martial arts footwork practice. Click here to see examples of all of those. You can even throw on some loop bands if you’re a fan of the rowing machine.

Just be sure to not overdo either the length of time or the degree of band tension as you ease into this one. (If you end up accidentally overdoing it, you may want a stretch for the outside of your hips (the aBductors – see below). Try a windmill (click here or here), or this quick targeted stretch.

Equipment-wise, check your bands occasionally to make sure they are not getting white or “whiskered” looking, as they are made of a natural material and do have a shelf life. Finally, every time you tie a knot in a band, you should assume that it could well stay that way permanently, so you may prefer to invest in a dedicated size. Most of them aren’t that expensive, and you can always layer on more overtop of each other as you get stronger.

The Weird but Good Reset

I’m borrowing this one from the Ground Control system, which helps to effectively re-program your brain and body. Can’t deny that it may seem a little weird…but for many people, it can do a lot of good!

This position is originally named “see-saw,” but based on one client’s comments, I’ve renamed it as the “bamboo sway.”

It consists of directly facing a wall (rather closely) for ever-so-gentle fingertip support. Spend one full inhale/exhale cycle on each foot, truly rooting down into the foot and remaining actively stacked through your bones while on that leg, all the while maintaining good parasympathetic breathing and good posture. Cramping may arise! If so, hopefully you can use that long exhale to ride it out and remain relaxed throughout. The goal is to get yourself into many minutes of this at a time – as in, first a few, then maybe even (who knows?) eventually up to 20 minutes.

A Couple of Fun Ways to Get Everything at Once

Humpty Dumpty pathway

Start in half pinwheel position. (It seems like almost anything can be called a “90/90,” so I’ve come up with this term instead.) Rotate the trail leg by first picking up the back knee – hip stays facing forward as long as possible! – then rotate your torso backwards as what will become the new trail leg starts driving into the ground as long as possible until you really find your max – and ta-dah, we’re sitting a little bit splatted down like Humpty Dumpty. Transfer the new lead-leg side knee toward the ground to reach a half pinwheel in the other direction, and only then does the (new) trail leg leave the ground. (Then reverse, natch.)

Shinbox switch plus

This one and the following variant are only if your knees permit! (And if they don’t, click here). You’ll probably want a comfortably padded surface under your knees. It starts like the Humpty Dumpty one above, but now we rise up onto the lead knee for the shinbox switch. The “plus” part is that you can step into a half lunge and even add a little bonus dynamic hamstring stretch.

Squat pathway

No big surprise, you’re still starting in a half pinwheel position. Tighten up the knee angles by lifting the front foot and pulling it closer to the thigh; the back foot also pulls into the hip. Shift the trail-side hip toward the ground to maximize internal rotation. Raise your lead knee until the foot is flat, and creep your foot outwards a bit to make it more do-able. Shift weight onto your forward leg, rotate the back knee up, and ta-dah, it’s a squat! To reverse it: Drop your rear knee to the ground, then your hip. Bring the lead foot in, take both legs into 90-degree angles, and ta-dah, you’re back in half pinwheel.

If and when they feel easy? Slow it down even more, and don’t use your hands for support anymore.

Click here for video demos of the above three moves.

Behold, the Scientific Method: What’s your Benchmark?

To get really methodical about what YOUR own hips need the most, you must establish your own test move. After that, spend some time up front to make your daily minutes of practice really count: check your move, try the intervention, re-test the move.

This lets you compare if you feel any improvement (even slight, and yes, it may perhaps regress somewhat immediately, but that’s okay, it means it’s the right move). If so, it’s a keeper. If there’s no improvement, or conversely if you feel even slightly worse after the intervention, it’s not the move for you, at least at this time.

As an example of my own test moves, when I was training Muay Thai, it was how high I could kick a roundhouse in relation to my coach’s face. These days, every time a powerlifting meet looms ahead, I have to revisit hitting legal squat depth easily.

You may already know exactly what that move is for you personally. Some people, it’s as simple as can they get into the car without pain or without whacking one shin. Ideally it will be something measurable to show improvement, and it should be something you can do safely “cold,” for example as a pre-training check-in. How about squat depth? Spidey scaling the wall?

Personalizing your Practice, Bit by Bit

I would love to say otherwise, but contrary to, say, our cardiovascular system responsiveness, mobility truly isn’t a fast gain.

The good news, though, is that this is where consistency really comes into play, because even a few focused minutes a day really will yield impressive results. The real trick is in finding the right minutes, and this is where some initial fiddling has to happen.

And this is why it’s so helpful to have a barometer that can be measured objectively so you can see improvement (or lack thereof) over time: establish a plan, work the plan, re-evaluate in a few weeks.

To establish your own personal plan, again, you may already have chosen your test move. The next step is to figure out the joint action that needs the most improvement and the variant that gives you the best “feel” for it. I’ll admit, this can take a little fiddling, but you will get that nice “aha!” moment once you find what works best for you.

(And if you’d like more help establishing your plan, please be in touch! Or consider jumping into an on-line Unwind class.)

Pretty Darn Personalized

If you are already clear on your test move, get yourself to a passive end range that is slightly more than what you can sustain and work on strength in that end range; isometrically is often a good way to go.

For example, say stepping up onto a curb is difficult. For that, please see below in “Flexion vs Extension.”

Conversely, hip extension is challenging for the majority of bodies in our modern world, with the many hours of sitting that we do. Please see the same “flexion vs extension” section if you are an office worker or if you drive a lot.

Back to my months doing Muay Thai: my coach had me spend 15 minutes a night gently pushing into a wall to open the inner thigh with the goal of eventually pancaking into the wall. It was effective, granted, and I didn’t know anyone else in Thailand at the moment so I had lots of time to burn when I wasn’t training, but now I know that it would have been far more effective had I added a strength component. (See below in “The Ductions” for the frog example.)

For squat depth, now I occasionally spend time in a squat position from supine/face up, pushing my feet hard into the wall to reinforce a good isometric groove and full-body linkage.

The Default Setting: Rotation

If you’re not sure what joint action to go with, then your default setting will be to start with rotation, i.e. the top of your femur/thigh bone moving within the hip joint socket.

For simultaneous mobility and stability training, you really can’t lose with hip CARs. The acronym stands for “controlled axial rotations,” and it’s a way to move the hip joint in the socket through as many directions as possible. They’re great as a warmup, an in-betweener during training, and a finisher. (Hint: the side to back portion is usually the toughest one.)

The variants below ascend from easiest to hardest as far as keeping the low back out of things and also requiring more hip strength:

  • Side-lying
  • Four-point
  • Standing

Another of my go-to rotation variants is the half pinwheel, known to many as the 90/90 position. If your knee is not having a good time with this position, try a “screwdriver” of the femur/thigh bone in the hip socket, either from standing on an elevated surface with the working leg dangling or seated on the ground with the working leg straight out on the ground.

I typically focus on external rotation (“ER”), because I find this is where most people get stuck and/or need it the most. This is the direction that we expect to see more movement than internal rotation (“IR”). To make ER easier from the half pinwheel, elevate the front hip with something like a yoga block or padded wool blanket. To make ER harder, elevate the front shin on something like a bench.

The half pinwheel is also a great way to work IR on the rear or trail leg. If that’s not feeling great on your knee, for example, supine/face up with the outside leg on the wall is a nice option.

Click here for demos of the above drills.

The Curious Case of Flexion vs Extension

Flexion means using the hip to bring the leg toward the front line of the body (one mnemonic device could be using the letters “F – F”), whereas extension is about using the glute (hopefully!) to send the hip behind the body.


Flexion is pertinent, for example, if you’re the person who has difficulty stepping up onto a curb. For flexion to stay purely in the hip joint, we don’t want the low back / lumbar spine to round. As always, neutral spine is key.


Hip extension is about sending the hip behind the body. We aren’t built to go nearly as far into extension as flexion, especially when it’s purely hip-driven rather than coming from the low back.

What’s So Different About These Joint Actions?

Thing is, we’ve (d)evolved ourselves into a state where most of us spend the majority of time awake in a seated position (desks, cars…), so the hip flexors are stuck for all of those hours in 90 degrees of flexion. Not only does this perfectly embody the concept of muscles being simultaneously tight and weak, it ties in with much of the chronic low back pain that we collectively experience.

This is why I always recommend to anyone who will be flying that they do a half-kneeling hip flexor stretch as soon as they can after disembarking the plane. It’s why I also recommend to office workers that they do the same throughout the day if possible, or if not that they at least incorporate this easy stretch into their workday frequently.

An All-in-One Fix?

My current thought on the most time-effective way to get both extension and flexion is that ideally we’d have an easy way to climb up a 45-degree incline. (In my own “when I get filthy rich” daydream scenario, I would actually purchase a Jacob’s Ladder cardio machine.) Barring that, however, a slow crawl with both an exaggerated knees to chest portion (flexion) and push-off (extension) should do just fine – if a neutral spine can be maintained (and the wrists and shoulders don’t complain – and if they do, you could consider taking up Indian clubs).

Unfortunately, though, maintaining a neutral spine through hip flexion and extension is actually extremely difficult for many people. Important: this is a major player in how many of us end up with low back issues. For example, hyperextending the low back / lumbar spine when the hips “should” be doing the work, which often happens in something like a deadlift or a kettlebell swing (which, sorry, I will never demo on-line; I only teach these in person), is extremely common.

Or a More Joint-Action-Specific Approach

One flexion drill is to rig up any way that works for you where it’s easy to put your hip into a position that’s a slightly sharper angle than what you can accomplish easily (such as on a high bench), and aim for some active holds (brief, and frequent) at that angle.

To really target hip extension, it can help to lock out the low back so it can’t contribute.

The first option is a leg lock bridge.

If you aren’t quite feeling that one, a yet more constrained option is lumbar-blocked hip extension from a partial forearm plank position while tucking an object between the heel and glute of the non working leg. (Please be aware that some of the test on this one is, “Does your hamstring cramp up on you?,” so practice a hamstring stretch beforehand to be ready if that does happen.)

Click here for video demos of the above drills.

(Again, feel free to hit me up for personalized attention, or join a class to make sure you have those moves dialled in if they are included in your training arsenal. They can look so darn basic, especially when you watch a toddler do a perfect deadlift, but they often require a lot of input and focus).

The “Ductions”: aB and aD

Abduction is the one that will help you kick higher to the side; it’s about taking your leg away from the body’s midline (that “taking away” part can prompt remembering that the joint action is aBduction). Adduction is its opposite: bringing the hip inwards across the body’s midline.

One of my favourite time-savers to get both directions simultaneously is the frog setup.

Whew, Lots of Info! Now What?

Okay, not gonna lie, this article has been a biggie, with a lot of information to digest. I hope it will help you identify the investment time that will give you the most bang for your buck, as it were.

You may feel that you want to seriously prioritize your mobility and devote a whole bunch of time to it through the week. (Back when Covid hit, that was me — not always good for the ego, but great for expanding the range of what my body can do these days without getting constantly injured.)

If so, the best approach is to start with lengthy passive stretches (as in, 2:00 per muscle group being stretched), possibly even following some myofascial release and definitely having already settled into a good breathing rhythm. This sets the stage for the best focus, and it helps us “let go” of the myotatic stretch reflex, i.e. a muscle contracting in response to being stretched. My mobility guru is Leanne Kedrosky, and she uses this Kinstretch approach in her hip module to help you get down into the minute details.

Stabilizing and even strengthening once the muscle group has reached its end range is crucial to maintain any gains.

For the full playlist of videos regarding this article, please click here. If you would like some guidance in applying all of these principles to yourself, please do consider taking an Unwind class.

And otherwise, as always, keep in touch!