Mobility is one of the most important skills that an athlete can develop and maintain throughout their life. Good mobility can help to protect you against injury and ensure that you maintain good core strength and overall balance and health in the body. Luckily, there are many simple, at-home stretches and exercise conditioning programs that you can do on a regular basis in order to increase your mobility, as well as maintain it for years to come. While individual needs will vary, nearly everyone can benefit from integrating a mobility exercise practice into their everyday life.
Mobility For Athletes: The Importance of Stretching Exercises
While mobility is a commonly-used buzzword, you may not fully understand what the term refers to. Essentially, mobility refers to the usable range of motions for the physical human body. Developing and maintaining good mobility is a key part of healthy athleticism.
Individuals can practice mobility stretches and exercises on a regular basis in order to develop the full range of motion possessed by the most highly mobile people. In its most comprehensive sense, mobility exercises will increase flexibility and build muscle and joint strength, as well as increase the individual’s control over their body, and joint movements in particular.
Anyone can benefit from mobility exercises — in fact, a rigorous mobility practice often forms the basis of most exercise conditioning programs. However, mobility exercises take on an additional level of importance for athletes. Due to the regularity of their physical exertions, athletes are often at a higher risk for physical injury due to a lack of proper mobility.
As such, it is crucially important that athletes seriously consider their mobility as an integral part of their regular conditioning routine. Mobility exercises can not only help to prevent injury in the first place, but they can also help you to rebuild strength and flexibility after an injury.
For mobility exercises to be as effective as possible, they must address both joint flexibility and muscle strength. Hip mobility in particular can play a big role in preventing injuries and ensuring physical safety as you engage in other, more intensive physical activities.
Whether you are a competitive runner, regular gym-goer, student, professional athlete, bodybuilder, triathlete or simply someone who enjoys moving their body — incorporating hip mobility and flexibility exercises into your routine can greatly benefit both your physical health and your mental confidence.
Common Hip Mobility Exercises: What They Are and How They’re Done
The exact hip mobility exercise regimen that works best for you will likely vary depending on a number of different factors. These factors can include your age, height and weight, the intensity of your physical activities and previous injuries that you have sustained, as well as your natural flexibility and overall medical and family histories. For a specialized hip mobility plan, consult with a medical professional who specializes in sports medicine, including muscle and joint care.
However, a specialized mobility exercise regimen, tailor-made to your specific body and needs, is not a necessity for the average person. In most cases, the average person can greatly benefit from relatively simple mobility exercises, nearly all of which can be done from the privacy of your own home. Some of the most common hip mobility exercises include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Hip CARs
Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) exercises gently take your hip joints throughout the entirety of their full ranges of motion. The Hip CARs exercise is a wonderful exercise to incorporate into any warm-up routine. As such, this exercise is very important in order for you to fully warm up your hip joints, as well as assess how your hip joints are feeling in the moment. In order to perform this internal hip rotation exercise, follow these steps:
- Stand with both of your arms outstretched. One arm should hold onto a bar, railing or other support.
- Engage your core muscles and keep your body rigid.
- Press down through your inside leg, while keeping your knee locked.
- Bend the knee of your outside leg, and raise it, bent, as high as you can up to your chest. Keep your inside leg straight and grounded.
- While keeping your outside knee bent, turn the outside leg away from your body. Your foot should also turn outward. Make sure that both of your hips remain square throughout this step.
- Turn the foot of your outside leg so that your heel faces up to the sky. Make sure that you only twist your outside foot and leg as high as you can without moving your hips.
- Lower the outside leg so that your bent knee is directly under your hip.
- Reverse the entire motion, then repeat on the other side of your body.
For maximum impact, repeat two to three reps per side, at least three to five times each.
2. Hip Flexor Stretch
A classic hip flexor stretch can be a great addition to any hip mobility regimen. This stretch can increase both joint flexibility and muscle strength. As such, it can be much more impactful than a simple flexibility stretch alone. To perform the hip flexor stretch, follow these steps:
- Begin by kneeling on one leg with your other leg bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep the leg that you are kneeling on lined up with your hips and shoulders. Your other knee should remain in line with the ankle and heel of the front foot.
- Place your hands on your front knee, and apply gentle pressure. This will engage your core muscles.
- Tuck in your hips and tailbone underneath your body.
- Tightly squeeze your glutes and abs to protect your spine throughout the exercise.
- Lunge forward slightly, until you feel it in your hips. Hold this position for about two minutes.
- Then, press your back foot into the ground as your knee tries to push forward. Hold this for about 30 seconds.
- Relax back into the original position and hold for another 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat the entire process on the other side of your body.
3. Hip Rotator Stretch
The hip rotators are crucially important to ease of mobility — they help your body to move smoothly and distribute weight away from your pelvis, which aids with balance and overall strength. The hip rotator stretch can be done while sitting in a chair, which makes it a great exercise to do while watching television or taking a break at your work desk.
- First, sit up straight in a chair with your behind close to the chair edge.
- With your right leg bent at a right angle, cross your left leg so that your left ankle lies across the top of your right thigh.
- While holding this position, take your left hand, and gently but firmly press down on your left leg.
- Once you feel resistance, hold your legs in this position. Slowly lean forward from your hips, while keeping your chest forward and your spine straight.
- Hold this position for about thirty seconds. Then, repeat the entire process on the opposite side.
The butterfly stretch is one of the most popular hip mobility exercises. It can be very relaxing, and a gentle way to engage your muscles and joints in a low-impact way.
- Sit on the floor with your back straight and your core muscles engaged.
- Bend your legs such that the bottoms of your feet are pressed against one another.
- Hold your feet firmly with both hands. While pressing down with your hands on your feet, slightly bend your hips forward.
- Hold this position for about thirty seconds, then release and repeat, if desired.
5. Traveling Butterfly
The traveling butterfly stretch is similar to the standard butterfly stretch. However, this version of the exercise is slightly more dynamic and challenging. It is a great option for anyone who wants the relaxing benefits of the butterfly while engaging your muscles in a slightly more intense way.
- As with the traditional butterfly, begin the traveling butterfly by sitting on the ground with your back straight and your hips square.
- Extend your legs so that they are straight out in front of you. With your hands on the floor behind your hips, press down while lifting your hips off the ground and pushing forward towards your heels.
- This movement will take you into the butterfly position as your arms support your body weight.
- Briefly hold the position. Then, return to the start and repeat from the beginning.
6. Standing Piriformis Stretch
The piriformis is a flat muscle located in the buttocks. It plays an important role in overall movement and mobility, along with the glutes and hamstrings. Stretching and strengthening the piriformis can help to prevent muscle spasms and strains that often occur with athletic activities such as long-distance running. The standing piriformis stretch is simple and easy for the average person to perform.
- Stand with your back flat against a wall. From this position, walk both of your feet forward, about two feet away from the wall.
- Next, lower your hips to a forty-five-degree angle to the floor.
- While holding this position, lift your right foot up and place your right ankle so that it rests on your left knee. You should feel the stretch in your buttocks.
- Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. Then, return to the starting position and repeat the process on the other side.
7. Frog Stretch
The frog stretch is one of the more intensive stretches that one can perform in order to increase hip mobility. As such, it is also one of the most effective. This stretch is performed on the ground and you will begin on your hands and knees.
- Situation your knees so that they are as far apart as possible while still being comfortable. Picture a frog’s legs — this is roughly the position you are aiming for.
- Then, gently rock your body back and forth while holding the position.
- Throughout the stretch, your feet should remain on the ground with your toes pointing outward.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat as many times as you would like.
8. Bear Sit
The bear sit is both an active and passive stretch. When done consistently, the bear stretch can improve the strength of your inner leg muscles — the hip adductor muscles.
- First, begin with the passive stretch. Sit on the ground and with your feet out in front of your body.
- Turn your feet and knees outward, while maintaining a straight line from knee to heel.
- Reach out and take hold of each ankle, while pulling your knees away from one another.
- Gently flatten your lower back, and then hold the position for about one minute. As you hold, inhale and exhale slowly and deliberately.
- To transition into the active stretch, release your grip on your ankles and stretch your arms straight out in front of your body. Make fists with your hands while pushing your shoulder blades flat.
- Engage your core muscles, breathing deeply, and hold this position for about 15 seconds.
- Return your hands to your ankles and rest in the passive position for about one minute.
- Repeat the active stretch for several more reps.
9. Leg Swings
Leg swings are effective, gentle and relaxing mobility exercises. Leg swings can often make a great wind-down stretch at the end of a workout or conditioning routine. They are simple to perform, and you can easily do them while watching television or multitasking in other ways.
- First, stand up straight with your hips square. With your left hand, hold on to a railing, chair, counter or another stable item for balance.
- Cross your left leg over your right leg, then slowly raise your left leg as high as you can — ideally, parallel to the floor. This should be a smooth, fluid motion rather than an aggressive kick.
- Hold your leg in the air briefly, then lower it.
- Complete at least ten reps. Then, switch sides and repeat the entire process.
Get Relief for Your Hip Pain From Dr. Gombera
As an athlete, you may wish to seek out specialized care and tailored exercise regimens throughout the duration of your career. In nearly every case, an experienced medical professional will be the best resource for muscle, joint and mobility strengthening.
In case of some injuries, such as those to the shoulder, hip and knee, you will likely need to seek out more intensive care. With your health — and perhaps your career — at stake, you will undoubtedly want to entrust your care to an experienced physician with a proven track record of positive results and patient satisfaction.
Mufaddal M. Gombera, M.D. is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, specializing in sports medicine, arthroscopy and the treatment of shoulder, hip and knee injuries. With years of experience, including at the professional sports level, Dr. Gombera has the experience and expertise to treat sports injuries and other athletic concerns. A native Texan, Dr. Gombera is proud to serve his patients from his Houston-based practice with Fondren Orthopedic Group and Texas Orthopedic Hospital.
Dr. Gombera and his team seek out innovative, evidence-based treatments that will return athletes to their healthy and active lifestyles as safely and quickly as possible. Contact Dr. Gombera’s office today to schedule an appointment and learn more about your healthcare options.