One of the most common areas for riders to experience tightness is in the hip region - hardly surprising when you consider the position that we sit in the saddle. Tightness in this area is usually the result of long periods of time sitting, whether that be in the saddle, at work or in the car. The majority of the population spend more time sitting than in other position throughout the course of the day.
I've talked in length in a previous post about the psoas muscle and how it can affect your seat, you can read this post here.
Tightness through the hips, in particular the hip flexors (including the psoas) can have a direct link to low back pain. In the clinic I see many riders present with low back who have tight hip flexors, particularly those who do jumping or eventing. So improving hip mobility can go a long way in helping resolve ongoing low back pain.
Poor hip mobility in turn affects hip strength and control. We need our muscles to be balanced in order for them to allow optimal joint function. In our group pilates classes, the area most riders need to work on in terms of flexibility is through the hips. Those who struggle with poor hip flexibility are also the ones who tend to have decreased strength in their hip and pelvic stabilising muscles, demonstrating poor balance and lack of control on functional exercises.
Outlined below are 3 simple hip opening stretches you can perform at home. Aim to complete these stretches several times per week in order to notice an improvement in your hip mobility.
*If any of these stretches cause you pain, stop immediately and seek the advice of your health care professional.
1). Deep lunge
Start by placing your right leg in front of you and to the right-hand side of your mat. Turn your toes out slightly. Extend your left leg back behind you, allowing your knee to drop down on the mat. Keeping your hips square, reach forward to place both hands on your mat, with your right hand to the inside of your right foot. Use your right arm to gently push your right knee outwards, creating a stretch in your inner thigh. Lean your weight forward onto your hands, keeping your back straight. You should feel a stretch in your right inner thigh and the front of your left hip. Continue to breath deeply into the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
2). Kneeling hip flexor and quad stretch
Start in a kneeling position. Step your right foot directly in front of you. Place your weight forwards onto your right foot as you come into a lunge position, tucking your tailbone under and pushing your hips forward to create a stretch in the front of your left hip. Ensure you keep both hips and your trunk pointing forwards. Lift your left foot from the ground, and if you are able, reach around behind you with your left hand to pull your left foot up towards your bottom. You should feel the stretch in your left thigh and front of the hip. Continue to breath deeply throughout the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
Not everyone has the flexibility to be able to reach your foot with your hand! Another option for this stretch is to place your left foot up on a step or against the wall to create a similar stretch.
3). Bent knee triangle stretch
Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing forwards. Turn your right foot outwards 90 degrees, and ensure that your heels line up with one another. Bending your right knee, slide your right hand down your right leg to place your hand to the right-hand side of your right foot. Keep your left leg straight. If you are unable to reach to the ground, rest your hand on your shin or knee.
Rotating through your trunk, reach your left hand directly up the ceiling, rotating through the neck to look up at your left hand (if this causes neck pain keep your gaze directed down at the floor). Try and keep your back as straight as possible. This stretch targets a range of muscles and fascia, and you'll likely feel a stretch in many different areas!
Continue to breath deeply into the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds both sides.