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How To Do The Figure-4 Stretch To Release Sticky Hip Tension

June 8, 2022

If you're plagued by tightness and discomfort in your hips from sitting at a desk all day, stretching is an excellent way to release tension and improve flexibility. The figure-4 stretch is particularly effective for providing relief from hip pain, opening up the joints, and ridding the body of the stress it may hold on to throughout the day.

Fit for all levels of flexibility, the figure-4 stretch is a great pre-workout hip opener but also fits easily within your daily routine to rid your body of workday irritation. Here's how to do the stretch effectively as demonstrated by certified Pilates instructor Helen Phelan, as well as a modification to practice at your desk for improved flexibility as you release negative emotions

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How to do the figure-4 stretch.

Image by Helen Phelan

Demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

  1. Lie all the way down on your mat with your knees bent and the soles of the feet rooting down. 
  2. Cross your right ankle over the left knee. 
  3. Interlace your hands behind the left thigh. 
  4. Hug the knee in toward your chest. 
  5. To take it deeper, gently press your right elbow into your right inner thigh as you flex the left foot. This will increase the stretch you feel in the glute and side of the hip. 
  6. Stay here for 7 to 10 breaths and notice the physical sensations present. 
  7. Before you move to figure-4 on the other side, lie all the way down with the legs extended and see if you can stay present with the release that happens in the hips. 
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Form tips.

"This [pose] is great for stretching the hips, which we often hold so much tension in. It can be held statically or can also be used to rock gently side to side matching your own breathing pattern," Jessica Moy, DPT, notes.

Phelan also adds this pose can have additional benefits beyond stretching the hips: "The deep rotator muscles are actually part of the pelvic floor as well, which is why figure-4 stretch is also so great for helping relieve back pain."

While you get a deeper stretch doing this pose from a prone position, there are also a number of variations, like standing. If you're doing this stretch in a standing position, it's important to brace your core in order to maintain balance and ensure you're engaging your entire body. In single-leg movements, it's common to lose balance when focusing on digging deeper into your flexibility, but holding your body taut will allow you to open the hips without tipping over. 

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Modifications & variations.

Standing Figure-4

Image by mbg creative
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Demonstrated by Phyllicia Bonanno.

  1. Come into a standing position on your mat.
  2. Ground down through your left leg. Lift your right knee, and plant your foot onto the thigh.
  3. Flex your foot, hinge at your hips, and lower into a chair pose.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.

Seated Figure-4

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Demonstrated by Juanina Kocher.

Stretching at the office or your desk doesn't have to be a big production, and a figure-4 can actually be done from your chair to open the hips and release undue tension throughout the day.

  1. From a seated position, bring your right ankle up to your left thigh.
  2. I like to lift up my left toes and gently press my hand onto my right knee to enhance the hip stretch
  3. Breathe in, then slowly fold the torso forward as far as you can over the right shin as you exhale.
  4. Hold for a few breaths, and repeat on the left side.

Add it to your routine.

While figure-4 can make for a great solo practice, it's also well suited to a yoga flow targeting negative energy and releasing tension from the hips. Breaking up the day with some light stretching can also loosen up the body, and this seated flow from certified yoga instructor Juanina Kocher is the perfect midday treat for discomfort.

Stretching to kick-start your morning will also allow you to start the day off on the right foot, and this gentle five-move combination from Moy will set you in the right mindset for the coming hours, all while mitigating hip pain and discomfort.

Merrell Readman
Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor

Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.