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5 Stretches to Loosen Your Hips for Long Runs
Tightness in the wrong places can mess with your gait, a challenge for runners putting in the miles. These moves can help.
Just a guess: You’re sitting down this very second. You’re in good company, as research suggests that the average adult spends at least 6.5 hours a day sitting. You sit behind a computer, in your car and on the couch.
But sitting, as it turns out, is problematic. Research has linked too much sitting with heightened risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a shorter lifespan. Yet there’s a sneakier impact of sitting, and it’s one that especially impacts runners: tight hips.
“Tight hips restrict a runner’s stride length,” says Brad Walker, a sports coach, stretching expert and founder of StretchCoach.com in Wallington, NJ. “Any time you’ve got tightness in the hip area, it’s going to limit just how freely your legs move while you’re running. And obviously stride length is one of the most important factors in being able to run well and run fast.”
Tight ligaments in your hips pull on bones and joints, says Walker, which messes with your running gait. It can also lead to a tear in your hip flexors, joint inflammation and excessive tightness of the deep hip rotators. In addition, when the hips are tight, they can be yanked out of alignment. “This puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, and it brings the spine out of its natural curvature,” says Walker. Moreover, tight hips can domino into shoulder pain, neck pain and even knee pain.
The solution? Sit less, stretch more. In an ideal world, Walker suggests slipping on comfortable clothes and committing to a 30-minute stretching and mobility regimen five days per week. But even if you don’t have time for the full routine, these easy stretches before your runs will help keep the hips loose, curb the risk of injuries and improve your stride—all in about five minutes. Follow these steps to make stretching a habit before every run.
Kneeling Hip Flexor
Kneel on your left knee, and place your right foot in front of you, toes pointed forward, right leg bent at 90 degrees. Push your hips forward. Stretch for 5 to 10 seconds; switch sides. “This focuses on the upper part of the hips,” says Walker. It can help your posture, and more importantly for runners, it will boost your ability to drive your knee forward and kick your leg backward, improving your stride.
Standing Quad and Hip Stretch
This one’s a classic. Stand on your left foot, bend your right knee and lift your right foot behind you. Grab it with both hands, and gently pull your heel up towards your glutes. Keep your knees together while pushing your hips forward. Switch sides and repeat. Not only does this stretch the hips, says Walker, it will “focus on the quad muscles which will help with stride length.”
Lie on your back on a yoga mat. Clasp hands together and pull your left knee towards your belly. Bend your right knee out to the side, allowing your right foot to rest on top of your left thigh. (If you look like a pretzel, you’re doing it right.) Switch sides and repeat. This is great for rotational hip movement, says Walker, and will loosen ligaments deep within the hips.
Standing Leg Tuck
This is similar to the last stretch, but you do it from the standing position. For this you’ll need a chair. Stand in front of the chair, left side facing chair seat. Reach over and hold the back of the chair with your left hand. Bend right knee and cross your right foot in front of your left leg, so that the outside of your right foot rests on the chair seat. Lean forward. Bend left knee and gently lower yourself towards the ground, feeling the stretch in the glutes as well as the hips. “It’s beneficial for everything,” says Walker.
Reach Up Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand tall. Take one small step forward with your left foot, left leg slightly bent, right leg straight. Reach up to the sky with both hands, clasping them together over your head. Push your hips forward. As with all of these pre-run stretches, hold it for 5 to 10 seconds, then switch sides. “This will target the high hip muscles and loosen the upper part of your hips,” says Walker. “It will help to open up your posture.”
There are many ways to perform pre-workout stretches and warmups. But remember: Easy and gentle trumps pushing to the point of pain every time. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is to stretch too hard,” says Walker. Athletes are especially guilty of this, as they’re accustomed to pushing limits and testing boundaries. “Stretching is the opposite,” he explains. “The easier and gentler you do it, the more benefit you get.”