Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
30 Apr

How to Regain and Maintain Hip Mobility

Yesterday, I made a case for the necessity of good hip mobility in, well, everyone. Athletes will get faster, stronger, and more powerful. Lifters will be able to lift more weight and squat heavier without rounding the lower back. Regular folks will spare their lower back from the stress of chronic sitting and bending over to pick things up. Extensive hip mobility will improve your love life (seriously, think about it – hip thrust, range of motion!), your deadlift, your Grok squat, and your posture. If you own a set of hips, the ability to traverse their full range of motion will improve your life in many ways. They are the fulcrum upon which most activity depends. Treat them well, keep them well lubed and tuned up, and you will reap the benefits and reduce your chance of injury. That much is pretty clear by now.

So, how do you do it? How do you get hip mobility, and how do you maintain it?

Before you launch into a series of drills and exercises, it’s important to understand exactly what I mean by hip mobility. I briefly went over it yesterday, but here’s a short exercise you can do right now to get the feeling for your hips.

Stand up (or remain standing if you’ve taken my advice to heart and set up a standup workstation).

Pick an object on the ground, or place one there. A shoe, a hat, a piece of paper, anything will work.

Now, pick up the object. But wait – don’t squat down to pick it up, and don’t just bend over at the waist. Erase the word “bend” from your vocabulary. You aren’t bending; you’re reaching back with your hips.

Stick your butt backwards, as if you were reaching for a stool to sit down. All the while, maintain a tight lumbar spine. Keep your back straight, in other words. Don’t round your back. Keep your legs nearly straight, too, just enough to unlock your knees.

Stick your hips back until you can grab the object. Grab it, then come back up by reversing the hip motion. Thrust your hips forward, as if you were performing a NSFW activity, Um, yeah. Thrust your hips forward by pulling against the ground with your heels. Squeeze your glutes for good measure, too. Feel that pull in your hamstrings and glute muscles as you draw power from your heels planted firmly against the ground?

That’s how you use your hips, and half the battle is won. Simply visualizing this usage of your hips will get you pretty far and improve your hip mobility (because now you know what using your hips feels like), but you can go even further. You can’t have too much hip mobility.

Soft Tissue Work

Next, get your hands on a foam roller and a tennis ball, baseball, golf ball, or a lacrosse ball. You’re going to do some soft tissue work to loosen up the muscles that are keeping your hips tight. Unless you’ve got a live in masseuse, these are essential items for any active person anyway, and they’re cheap, so there’s no excuse not to have them. Do these after a workout, in the morning, or, if you’re super tight and in a ton of pain, every day.

Foam Roll Your IT Band (VIDEO)

Tight hips often correlate with tight iliotibial bands, those infamous strips of connective tissue that run along the outside of our upper thighs. Start at your hip and roll down to just above your knee, pausing on any painful spots. Try slightly different angles to hit different aspects of the band. Fifteen rolls per leg.

Foam Roll Your Hip Adductors (Inner Thighs) (VIDEO)

You’ll sort of have to straddle the end of the roller to get your legs in position. It may look a bit obscene, but that’s okay. Fifteen rolls per leg.

Foam Roll Your Hamstring

If you desire a bit more pressure, do one leg at a time while keeping the off leg in the air.

Piriformis Myofascial Release (VIDEO)

Follow the directions in the video. Targeting the piriformis can be tricky, and this is the most reliable method I’ve found.

(Note: this isn’t really hip mobility, but it’s related, and I recall a commenter asking for help with piriformis pain. Try this. )

Otherwise, just generally foam roll the entire area – quads, hamstrings – and look for really tight spots which you can target with the ball.

Mobility Drills

These are classic mobility drills, essentially designed to explore the full range of motion in the hips. When you’re working these drills, think about starting out small. Instead of big circles right away, make controlled circles. Just make sure you’re actively using your hips in a controlled manner.

Front-Back Leg Swings (VIDEO)

Keeping your leg straight, hold on to a stable surface and swing your leg from front to back. Generate the power from your hips – from where the leg meets the hip socket – rather than from your thighs. To ensure hip engagement, keep your lumbar spine tight and still. If you find your lower back moving with each swing, swing a little shorter. Fifteen each leg.

Side to Side Leg Swings (VIDEO)

Similar to front-back leg swings, only performed from side to side. The urge to rotate your torso will be even greater with these, so be firm and lead with the hips, not the pelvis. Fifteen each leg.

Squat Stands (VIDEO)

Take a rather wide stance, touch your toes while keeping your legs straight, drop into a low squat position (elbows on the inside of your knees, knees shoved out and tracking over your toes) with a strong lumbar curve, throw your hands overhead, and come up. Make sure you maintain that lumbar curve and never round your back, because a rounded back means tension is taken off your hips. Repeat ten times.

Fire Hydrants (VIDEO).

On your hands and knees, make big (big – the video doesn’t really convey the range of motion) circles in the air with your knee by rotating at the hip. Do ten in each direction for each leg. These can be performed while walking upright (VIDEO), walking backward, (VIDEO) and briskly in reverse (VIDEO).

Reverse Lunge with Twist (VIDEO)

Take a big step backward (as far as you can). Drop to one knee and rotate your torso to the opposite side. Ten, each leg.

Mountain Climbers

Instead of going quickly and turning it into a workout, try to get your feet flat-footed on the ground, outside of your hands – and hold that position for a second or two before switching feet. Really feel the stretch. Make sure you maintain torso and hip position; don’t go flailing around with your whole body. See the third exercise in this video for an example (also shows fire hydrants, as well as some other great hip mobility stuff). Do ten of these for each leg.

Hip Thrusts

Sit on the ground, with your upper back resting on a bench, your feet on the floor and your knees up. Plant your feet firmly and thrust your hips forward by squeezing your glutes, creating a sort of bridge with your torso. Kinda like this, only without the absurd amount of weight. Light to no weight is also effective.

Hip mobility is nothing new. Trainers are increasingly aware of its importance, and there are some fantastic programs out there. Joe DeFranco’s “Agile Eight” hip mobility warm-up is a notable – and extremely effective – example. Consisting of eight basic drills, the Agile Eight hits all the basics of hip mobility. It’s perfect for maintenance, and it’s designed for daily use by experienced to semi-experienced athletes (or weekend warriors). It takes about seven or eight minutes to complete, perfect for the guy or gal who wants to stay mobile without turning it into a workout in and of itself. StrongLifts has another great dynamic stretch system for hip mobility that’s worth checking out.

Exercises and Activities That Support (and Require) Hip Mobility

Once you’re comfortable with your level of hip engagement, try some of these exercises. You’ll be amazed at how crucial the hips are in pretty much everything.

But first a word of warning: Some of these are advanced moves. If you don’t execute these with proper form you are putting yourself at risk of injury. My advice is to start light, use a coach for guidance and remember that this is more about form than it is about weight.

Deadlifts (VIDEO)

You know, that exercise in which you move more weight than any other exercise? That’s all hip extension, the most basic, powerful manifestation of strength we have at our disposal.

Box Jumps (VIDEO)

A bench will work, or even just a basic vertical leap to see how high you can touch on the wall. Only this time, pay close attention to your hips when you jump. What do you notice about jumping? It’s just an explosive hip extension! Steps and stairs are great for beginners.

Sprinting or running? Each stride is a single-legged hip extension. Try skip-sprinting (VIDEO), only explode with mini hip extensions on each step.

Kettlebell Swings (VIDEO)

Hip snap/extension.

Throwing a Punch (VIDEO)

Plant your foot, generate power and throw your body into it with a hip rotation.

My favorite way to engage the hips and nail the hip extension has always been the Romanian deadlift (VIDEO). After leaving the endurance world, the RDL was my breakthrough hip engagement exercise. It was eye-opening, because it let me know just how stiff and tight my hips were after decades of running with a limited range of motion (the marathoner’s plod). If you’re tight back there, it’ll do the same for you. It’s easier than the classic deadlift for newbies to grasp, and you use lower weights, making it fairly safe. And because it’s a mostly straight-legged move, it’s pure hip extension, whereas the classic deadlift is also about knee extension. The RDL is basically the drill mentioned above, only holding a barbell. Reach back with the hips, maintain lumbar curve/straight back, keep your legs barely unlocked, and lower the bar just past the knees. Come back up by extending/thrusting the hips forward, pulling your heels against the floor, and making sure to maintain skin-bar contact. You can go even lower with the bar as long as you maintain your lumbar curve. That’s the purest, simplest test of hip mobility. Most people off the street, if they can even grasp the nuance between hip extension and lower back extension, won’t be able to lower the bar lower than the knees unless they lose the straight legs and opt for bended knees. You know why? They suffer from tight hips that have never been used correctly.

Picking a Program

The good news is that there are many paths to fixing hip mobility. There are hundreds of drills, exercises, and stretches – both static and dynamic – that will help.

The bad news is that there are many paths to fixing hip mobility, almost too many. Faced with an array of choices, some people freeze up. If that’s you, fear not. I’m not an expert on mobility, but I’ve been there and I have an idea or two about what works best. I’ve suffered from limited hip mobility in the past and I learned how to rectify that unfortunate state. Here’s hoping you’re able to do the same.

If you’re incredibly tight, spend a week or two fixing the problem. Try all the drills, do all the soft tissue work, and once you’re confident in your ability to mobilize the hips, give the Romanian deadlifts a shot. If you just need to maintain mobility, pick three or four of the drills and do them as a warm-up along with the soft tissue work post workout three or four times a week. Once you’re aware of how important hip mobility is, you’ll never slack off again.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Both articles were excellent!

    Jack wrote on April 30th, 2010
  2. Maybe the slogan for all of this should be “Just Stand Up.” Get on your feet, and get out there and actually do things that are physical, but that wouldn’t necessarily be considered exercise, instead of just sitting around like a log.

    I don’t deny that all the exercises listed are great, but since the nuanced stuff is always more complicated, it inevitably takes up more space. Just like everyone out there says nutrition will get you over 80% of your results, but they only spend 10% of the time on it because the advice is small and concise, whereas you can always come up with a new exercise.

    I’m not complaining at all here, it’s just a difficult to avoid dynamic that the 20% usually takes 1/5 or less of the time to explain as the 80%, especially when the regular reader base tends to geek out on all the nuances.

    Again, not a complaint, that’s just the way it it.

    John Solter wrote on April 30th, 2010
  3. All excellent suggestions for improving hip mobility. I would also throw in large “hula-hoop” circles with the hips, and smaller, pelvic circles which are both great closed-chain hip mobility drills for beginners.

    John Sifferman wrote on April 30th, 2010
  4. How about going full Paleo on hip rotation and practicing with an atlatl? Hand-eye coordination is one of the hallmarks of the human species, and our evolution per use of projectile hunting tools is probably the reason. Extra super bonus points for actually hunting with one.

    fireandstone wrote on April 30th, 2010
  5. I’ve been working mainly on stretches lately but these exercises look well worth a try. Thanks Mark!

    Nick wrote on April 30th, 2010
  6. Here’s an easy way to learn how to squat down with your hips. Stand with feet about shoulder width apart against a wall. Now try to squat down without your knees hitting the wall. This will force you to sit back.
    ART (Active Release Techniques) is great for soft tissue.

    Kishore wrote on April 30th, 2010
  7. Great article!

    Christian W. wrote on April 30th, 2010
  8. I have found regular yoga practice to be very beneficial for my own hip mobility and flexibility – sorry to see it not mentioned in this article!

    Robin wrote on April 30th, 2010
    • did awesome hip-work in yoga last night. It was just what I needed!

      peggy wrote on April 30th, 2010
  9. Hey, so timely! I just got my foam roller today! So, now with my good ‘ol tennis ball I’ll be rollin’ and releasin’!

    meredith wrote on April 30th, 2010
  10. I did the activity you were describing in the beginning and really enjoyed it. I will focus on that next time I go to pick up something!

    Love the videos for those of us who need to do some hip exercises. When my hips feel a little out of whack I now have a perfect resource! :)

    Thanks Mark as always!

    Primal Toad wrote on April 30th, 2010
  11. I am amazed that an entire conversation about hip mobility could leave out any mention of yoga! The entire practice of yoga is designed to create bodies that can sit still, without pain, for hours. Targeting the ilio psoas improves posture, strength and flexibility, as well as providing pelvic stability. Incorporating the awareness of the breath allows one to gain knowledge of the body’s limits, and how to safely work beyond those limits.

    Alice wrote on April 30th, 2010
  12. Thanks so much Mark, very timely posts. My dad likely did some damage to his TFL/ITB following through on a golf swing a few days ago. Chalk this up to tight and weak hips.

    alan wrote on April 30th, 2010
  13. I used to have a lot of issues with hip mobility and glute and hamstring stiffness in general. The squats, deadlifts, etc…. were helpful, but I would still experience hip pain and limited movement capability during exercise movements until I started doing hurdle drills. Once I added hurdle drills 2-3 times a week my range of motion increased, soreness and stiffness decreased, and my overall capability to do complex movements (Oly lifts …) increased.

    Anonymous Coward wrote on April 30th, 2010
  14. I’m recovering from a hip fracture suffered 18 months ago. Long story short, angulated fix, osteoporosis and post-surgery dvt. I’m trying very hard to regain my earlier active life. I need something gentler to start with. Any thoughts on exercises or anyone with a similar situation willing to share their recovery strategy?

    PhilM wrote on April 30th, 2010
    • SWIMMING! My situation is not really similar but who knows; it may be applicable. I was born with hip displasia–had a brace as a toddler and couldn’t walk for awhile. Basically I had no ball and socket in that joint. Then in my 20s I had a strange swelling in my hands they thought was rhematoid athritis that also settled into my left hip (the one that had been malformed at birth) creating terrible pain there. The active swelling got better after pregnancy but that hip was damaged and I continued to have pain there long after the joints in my hands stopped swelling up. I couldn’t even sit in a canoe seat or walk or carry a light pack without pain… climb a ladder, garden. I was in pain a LOT and very limited in my mobility. Even a dozen jumping jacks on a hard gym floor would cause terrible hip pain. This went on all through my 30s. The docs said I would need a hip replacement. Then at age 41 I moved to town from the country and joined a gym, where I got on a weight training regimen that included work on the hip abductor machines (I told the trainer I wanted resistance work to strengthen the muscles around that hip) and I started swimming laps. At first I couldn’t swim very far but I stuck with it. I’ve been told by a chiropractor that the motion of pushing off the wall with one’s legs is one of the best things for hips. Well I dropped about 15 pounds–that must have helped the hip joint–got a lot stronger, learned how to swim, got aerobically fit and the pain started to go away! It was very gradual but a lot of the pain was gone after 6 months. This was 7 years ago this spring. I was still eating a terrible diet at the time–half a loaf of french bread after swim practice. But I was swimming 3-4 times per week and lifting so I guess I burned off the calories and built muscle even on that terrible diet. I feel swimming saved my life. I started out just hoping to reduce my pain a little bit, and instead my whole life was transformed. I got into competitive swimming and now I do a huge range of sports (mostly rock climbing and mountain biking but also running…things I NEVER dreamt I could do) and I almost never have hip pain. I carry heavy loads of climbing gear up steep trails. I stand up on the pedals for long descents on my bike (I ride UP, too!). The one thing that will irritate that hip is too much time in spin class (a ill-fitting stationary bike…for some reason real bikes are easier on my hip.) Swimming is difficult if you don’t possess a stroke and access to a yearround pool can be hard for some people. I did hire a swim coach a few times to help me with my stroke and I watched videos. Many people go down to the pool, struggle to get across and back and then give up. I stuck with it mostly because the water felt good on the hip; it relieved the pain. It’s a low impact way to gain strength and mobility. Now even though I do other sports that I think are more fun and I dont’ really need to swim, I still get in the pool at least once a week. I’d rather use my limited training time to get stronger at climbing and biking but I can’t forsake swimming…like I say, it saved my life.

      DThalman wrote on May 1st, 2010
      • oh yeah down dogs will make the hip pain return, too, for some reason–though I think yoga is great for flexibility that one exercise aggravates my particular hip problem.

        DThalman wrote on May 1st, 2010
      • Thank you for your comment. I don’t swim at all, but I think I should give it a try. I must say your story is very motivating.

        In my case, different routines seem to have the most effect in regaining strength and mobility. I started to hike on hilly terrain which seems to help a lot. Alos many of the exercises that were talked about on this site have helped. Progress is slow but definitely there!

        PhilM wrote on May 7th, 2010
        • Thanks for the testimony to swimming. I started a water aerobics class at the Y last month and am already noticing much more flexibility and strength. I hope to learn to swim later on.

          Elaine wrote on August 15th, 2012
      • hey there, interesting & motivating story.

        May i ask wether your dysplasia is still there or was it cured during your childhood?

        And was it confirmed that your hip pain was due to cartilage damage ?


        michael wrote on September 8th, 2010
      • the motion of pushing off the wall with one’s legs is one of the best things for hips.
        Is there a video I can look at for this exercise?



        Suat Palanduz wrote on December 19th, 2012
    • The motion of pushing off the wall with one’s legs is one of the best things for hips.
      Is there a video I can look at for this exercise.
      Thank you for sharing.

      Suat Palanduz wrote on December 19th, 2012
  15. In keeping with what Alice said, I’ve got to tell you, as someone with often tight hips, that yoga can be a life-saver.

    Good hip stretches are pigeon pose and plow pose (good for hips but also lower back in general.

    The cat/cow is great as a warm up and so is moving your hips from side to side.

    Ruth wrote on April 30th, 2010
  16. PhilM: I would highly recommend you find a certified C.H.E.C.K. practitioner in your area. These people specialize in accurate evaluations, rehab, strengthening, and conditioning for functional health, while following a holistic approach.
    You might even be interested in the teachings of Paul Check himself. He has been advocating “Primal Living” since the late Eighties, way before Mark began his more recent quest. Paul is a licensed Holistic Health practitioner, founder of the Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology Institute, and the C.H.E.C.K. Institute, all in California. He has written many great books including; “How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy”, which you will find all of Marks contents from “The Primal Blueprint” and then some. I’m actually surprised I haven’t come across Mark mentioning Paul Check since he mirrors him in so many ways. Any way, for more info on Paul and how to locate a C.H.E.C.K. practitioner go to, then CHEK connect, then find a practitioner. Check out the sight, look into Paul’s impressive background, and explore. There is a lot of great info in that sight. Good luck and best of health to you.

    Mike Buron wrote on April 30th, 2010
    • Thank you for the info on C.H.E.C.K. I wasn’t aware of it. I will look into it right away.

      PhilM wrote on May 7th, 2010
  17. I recently signed up for 9 lessons with an RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) certified trainer. The first thing he told me was that the RKC method actually focuses on movement and mobility, rather than strength, and that the kettlebell is simply the tool they use.

    He performed a professional movement screen (my score was an asymmetrical 8…he mentioned that professional athletes are generally around symmetrical 14) and pinpointed my primary problem areas. The first prescription he made was hip mobility drills and after 1.5 weeks I literally feel like a different person. This week we added ankle mobility and a bit of thoracic mobility.

    He’s also perfecting my form on the kettlebell swing and the Turkish Get-Up.

    I’ve been aware for some time that I have some mobility issues but having an actual evaluation and having someone point out my specific weaknesses was an eye-opening experience!

    Chris Lampe wrote on April 30th, 2010
  18. Thanks for some great information, I have just had a week of terrible back pain. After seeing the physio he said it was all due to tight hips, my back was doing all the work for extension.
    As i play a sport and often have a tight back after games, I will make sure I incorporate a full programme around mobility and stretching as this has been an on going problem, and your article was a god send having all the info in one place. Fab!!

    Netty wrote on May 1st, 2010
  19. Mark – great article – i gotta do more with my foam roller! and thanks for the piriformis info.

    barb wrote on May 1st, 2010
  20. Thank you very much for sharing the great knowledge

    Damber S wrote on May 1st, 2010
  21. This is fascinating to me. Since last fall, my hips have greatly improved through doing KB swings, Grok squats, and such, but I see there is a lot of room for improvement in mobility. I plan to do some of these drills.

    Also, whenever my back goes “out”, the problem is always centered around my piriformis on the right side. I knew how to stretch it, but until I read this post, I didn’t know the name of this muscle that’s been bothering me for years off and on. These videos will be very useful to me. Thanks, Mark!

    julietx wrote on May 1st, 2010
  22. I’m confused about the first part. Are the knees not supposed to bend? I can’t see how picking something up off the ground is possible with straight legs.

    bohigh wrote on May 1st, 2010
    • If arms are not very short, it’s possible, even with knees and hips problems, an overweight belly, and over 50 yrs old.

      Imagine drafting compass (not A-type, V-type) opened to straight line – it’s you standing. Plant one leg of the compass and close compass (its legs together) – this is you bending.

      If you didn’t do that ever or for a long time, shortened hamstrings and calf muscles may not allow to do that at once. Increase depth of reach each day, slowly.

      Helen wrote on June 2nd, 2013
      • (I know I’m a bit late…)
        This. I can’t do it, personally-I feel the stretch in my hamstrings when I try, so I’m assuming that’s what’s tight-but I know someone who, when she picks stuff up, just kind of folds over in half to reach the ground.
        Me, I try and squat down and use my legs to lift just about anything, in the interest of not hurting my back, but I will definitely be trying some of these mobility exercises.

        deepforest wrote on September 6th, 2014
  23. This is probably the best article I have ever seen here. Absolutely fantastic!!! Very helpful for this middle aged guy who needs more flexibility in the hips!! Thanks Mark!!

    dave p wrote on May 1st, 2010
  24. Mark you should include the third world squat in your methods for improving hip mobility. Before Grok invented chairs he squatted down, arse just off the ground and feet flat – just like poverty stricken third world people on the news do. And being able to do such an exercise will stretch very underused muscles.

    If you are not sure what I am talking about do a deep squat with no weight, keeping your feet flat and your posture god and then stay ‘sitting’ where you finish.

    Bushrat wrote on May 2nd, 2010
  25. I could do with something like this. When doing planks during exercise for abdominal strength and even sit-ups to an extent my hips are really inflexible. Running is great for loosening hips.

  26. What about hula hooping? Hooping is a growing trend in exercise that does wonders for your core muscles and it is fun too!

    Dee wrote on May 5th, 2010
  27. This is a really important topic and you’ve covered it well. Foam rolling is probably one of the best things any of us can do for the health of our tissues. Also, your mobility drills are great. You can also try what I call “over-unders” using a hurdle and doing pelvic figure-8s while seated on a stability ball.

    Fitter U Fitness

    Yuri wrote on May 5th, 2010
  28. Great read. You should check out Eric Cressey,, the Patron Saint of all things Strength, Mobility, and Shoulders. He has a great DVD called Magnificent Mobility that everyone should check out.

    Dangeruss wrote on May 6th, 2010

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