We all do it—we stretch in the morning to get our blood flowing, we stretch our legs after a long drive, and we stretch our shoulders after sitting at our desks for hours. Stretching is an intuitive movement, not only for humans but for animals as well. (Try doing some yoga on your living room floor without your dog or cat coming by to stretch alongside you!) We stretch because it is a simple and effective way to loosen our muscles and invigorate our bodies.
Stretching is not only for athletes and yogis. Anyone who wants to improve their flexibility and range of motion should consider performing a few stretches every day. People with sedentary lifestyles, in particular, should stretch daily to help improve their mobility. Sedentary individuals are generally more prone to injuries because their tight muscles aren’t acclimated to sudden or jerky movements and tight muscles lead to mobility restrictions in our joints.
Muscle strains may then be a further hindrance to exercise, perpetuating the cycle of inactivity and leading to an even greater decline in mobility. As we get older, our muscle mass naturally decreases and our activity levels decline. A scientific review on the biology of aging1 noted that muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.
Inevitably, muscles grow weaker and joints stiffen up. Stretching can help reverse that aging process. Whether you are young or old, athletic or sedentary, stretching is a great way to improve your fitness and agility.
Our hips tend to get extra tight from all the sitting and walking we do, and they need a lot of extra love after a long day. There's a reason we sleep better when we open up our hips before bed! Here are eight hip stretches to incorporate into your daily practice. It is important to remember to not stretch into pain. If you are unsure of your ability to get into one of these poses, seek guidance from a professional:
1. Extended four-limbs staff pose.
This stretch targets the adductors, opens the hips, and stretches the outer length of the legs and hips. Begin on all fours, with your palms flat on the floor and your toes raised behind you. Extend your right leg straight out to the side, resting your right foot flat on the floor. Press your hips down toward the floor to increase the stretch. Hold this pose for 30 seconds before releasing and performing with the other leg.
2. Horizontal split, reclined side angle.
This stretch targets the adductors, opens the hips, and lengthens the hamstrings, improving flexibility and mobility. Lie on your back with your legs extended straight up from your hips. Reach your hands upward to grab hold of either foot, and spread your legs wide apart. Gently pull down on your feet and hold for 30 seconds.
3. Single-leg prone split.
This stretch targets the adductors and deeply opens the hips and groin while lengthening the hamstrings. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Keeping your right leg straight, extend it up to your side, reaching hold of your ankle with your right hand. Continue to pull your leg higher up to your right side, into a half-split pose. Hold this position for 30 seconds before releasing and attempting with the opposite leg.
4. Kali squat, extended side-revolved hands.
This stretch targets the adductors and opens the hips and groin while lengthening the spine and improving balance. Start by stepping your feet wide apart and bend both knees, lowering your torso into a wide squat. Fold your arms behind your back and slowly bend forward at the waist, dropping your head down toward the floor between your legs.
5. Leg extension elevation.
This stretch opens the abductors and deeply opens the hips and lengthens the adductors while improving balance. Stand straight, holding the back of a chair at your left side. Lift your right knee into your chest, and grab hold of your foot with your right hand. Slowly straighten your leg up along your side, into a standing split. Keep your hand on your foot and lean your torso to the left. Hold this pose for 30 seconds before alternating sides.
6. Pigeon stretch, fingertips modification.
This stretch targets the adductors while opening the hips and lengthens the quad muscles, increasing strength and flexibility in the upper legs and hips. Begin by kneeling upright. Straighten your right leg out behind you, keeping your knee on the floor. Place your fingertips on the floor on either side of your knees and push your hips lower toward the floor, so your groin approaches your left foot. Hold this pose for 30 seconds before repeating on the opposite side.
7. Straddle stretch, forward finger.
This stretch targets the adductors while deeply opening the hips and lengthening the hamstrings. Begin by sitting on the floor, legs far apart and toes flexed upward. Clasp your hands together, palms facing outward, and extend your arms overhead. Lower your torso forward and rest your forehead and hands on the floor. Hold this pose for 15 seconds.
8. Ballet stretch with band.
This stretch targets the glutes while opening the hips and groin. Start standing up straight; bend your left knee, and bring your foot up behind your hips. Attach a resistance band around your raised foot and hold the ends of the band with both hands. Raise your arms up and over your head as you straighten your bound leg out behind you. Attempt to pull your leg down toward the floor against the resistance of the band. Perform this exercise for 15 seconds before alternating legs.
Based on excerpts from 1,500 Stretches: The Complete Guide to Flexibility & Movement by Hollis Liebman, with the permission of Black Dog & Leventhal, Copyright © 2017.
Need more tips for opening up your hips? Here are a few ideas.