Category Archives: Hips

Stretch of the Week: Shoelace (Hips #2/ IT Band & TFL #1)

*Apologies if you got this before it was in its final format.  WordPress recently re-vamped their interface, and I swear the “Publish” button is wear the “Preview” button used to be…

Although I haven’t made a big bloggy fuss about it, I’ve been Elf for Health-ing the last two weeks.

[What is EoH?  Basically, bloggers Lindsay & Elle organized a pretty enormous group (over 700 people this time around!) of interested folks, paired us up, and gave us one health/lifestyle challenge per day.  We support our partner, as well as other participants, through challenges like longest wall sit, Eat the Rainbow, clean out your closet, etc. There are prizes and goodies for being a spectacular elf, but for most of us, this is simply a little extra reminder and motivation to maintain good habits through the holiday season.]

Wednesday’s challenge was to Share Your Knowledge.  My brilliant plan was to write up Thursday’s Stretching Post on Wednesday, and get two birds with one stone.  Alas, I started…but got side-tracked by other projects (whoops).  So I’m not really sure I shared much on Wednesday, except perhaps some running advice with a few clients.  BUT – I’m finally sitting down to finish up that stretching post.  Here it is!

If you’re new to the stretching series, then check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here!.  Also, take note: Some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: As I’ve said before, requests for hip/piriformis stretches are, by far, the most common request I receive.  So I’m aiming to do a sequence of 5-8 hip stretches, to help you all get started and find a few that work well for you and your body.  I won’t differentiate too much between the hips and piriformis – some of the hip stretches may do a great job on your piriformis, others may not.  But there are lots of small muscles in your hip area, and the tight muscle(s) you are feeling may or may not actually be (only) your piriformis.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter – we’ll stretch them all!

Depending on the relative tightness of your hips, and the exact geometry of your body, you may also feel this stretch extend down from your hips along the outside of your leg.  You probably call this your “IT band”.  Quick note: Your actual IT (iliotibial) band is connective tissue, which can be stretched just a little bit.  But if you feel a stretch in the upper third of the outer thigh, then the muscle that you are feeling stretch is most likely your Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL), which ultimately inserts into your IT tract (band).  Runners, especially, often use “IT band” to refer to the whole length.  Regardless, the stretch is the same – just trying to add some education into our stretching sessions!

Contraindications: Nothing major here.  This stretch puts less pressure and potential twisting on the knees than the other hip stretches I’ve shared – but if you have knee issues, move in and out of this pose cautiously.  But generally, this pose is quite supported and stable.

Set-Up:

Sit on the floor (slightly soft surface)
Center weight evenly on sitz (sitting) bones (the bone in each butt cheek that you sit on)
Bend knees, soles of feet on floor
Stabilize core, sit up straight

Relax outside of right leg onto the floor, as though coming into cross-legged position
Adjust right knee to be centered (left-to-right) with respect to torso (move right foot further out and/or behind to get proper knee position)

Position right leg

Position right leg

Bend left leg and stack over right leg (knee over knee)

Position left leg on top

Position left leg on top

From the front, you’ll look something like this:

View from the front.  Don't mind my furrowed brow.  It was sunny?

View from the front. Don’t mind my furrowed brow. It was sunny?

Stretch: You may feel a stretch simply sitting up straight.  For a greater stretch, start by lifting your spine straight, then tipping forward from the hips (with a straight back).

Tip forward with a straight back

Tip forward with a straight back

Remember to relax your hips.  Your hips want to protect you – and themselves – so they may tighten up when you lean forward.  Think about relaxing them and gently easing yourself a bit further down.  Stop at the point where you feel a moderate stretch.

Length of Hold:  I start this stretch sitting tall and consciously relaxing my hips.  After about 15-20 seconds, I am relaxed enough to lean forward a bit.  I continue this process, tipping a bit more as I am able, for 1-2 minutes.

Release: Use your hands to gently remove the top leg.  Be careful, as your hip(s) may feel quite fragile.  Set both feet on the floor, hip distance apart (or wider), knees bent.  Lean back slightly onto your hands, and move your legs slowly in whatever motion seems comfortable: Rock knees from side to side, straighten legs out in front, pull legs in to chest – whatever feels best to YOUR body.  After ~30-45 seconds of recovery, repeat with the other leg on top.

Variation: After the straight-back position, try releasing your spine and curling forward over your legs with a rounded back.  I find that the stretch isn’t as strong in this position, but it is considerably easier to relax my hips.  Play around and see what works best for you.

Folded forward

Folded forward

This stretch is a variant of the Box Position from a few weeks ago. Some people prefer one over the other.  I use both, but usually only one per stretching session.

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How did your hip area feel afterward?

If you tried both stretches, do you prefer the Box Position or Shoelace?

Take it, or leave it?
[This is for my own data gathering purposes.  I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.]

Like this one? Check out more Stretch of the Week posts:
Feet
Hips
Twists

Stretch of the Week: Box Position (Hips #1)

In response to many of your enthusiastic requests, the next few Stretches of the Week will focus on the HIPS.

But before we get started: Check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here! if you haven’t already – especially the part about being ‘warm’ before you stretch!!!!  I must also emphasize: Some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: Many of you folks are excited about a stretching series (LOVE IT!), and the most commonly requested stretches have been for the hips/piriformis.  This makes perfect sense: Many of my readers are female runners.  Females – especially female runners – tend to have tight hips.  Now, I’m not going to fuss too much about hips vs. piriformis – some of the hip stretches may do a great job on your piriformis, others may not.  But there are lots of small muscles in your hip area, and the tight muscle(s) you are feeling may or may not actually be (only) your piriformis.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter – we’ll stretch them all!

Contraindications: If you have chronic knee pain, or have meniscus issues, enter and exit this stretch cautiously.  I have one client who suffered a torn meniscus several years ago, and she finds that this stretch just doesn’t “feel right” for her knee, so we skip it.  I have another who has no problems with it.  Listen to your body.

Also, if your hips are VERY tight, you may not have enough rotation in the hip joint to comfortably assume the starting position for this stretch.  See the modification at the bottom for an alternative/preparatory stretch.

Set-Up:

Sit on the floor
(Slightly soft surface)
Center weight evenly on sitz (sitting) bones (the bone in each butt cheek that you sit on)
Bend knees, soles of feet on floor
Stabilize core, sit up straight

Relax right leg outward, onto floor
Adjust so the angle formed ankle-to-knee-to-hip joints is 90°
Tip: Align calf (ankle to knee line) parallel to front edge of mat and thigh (knee to hip line) parallel to side edge of mat
Stack left leg over right leg (ankle over knee, knee over ankle)
Check posture: Sit up straight

Position right leg

Position right leg

Position left leg on top

Position left leg on top

Stretch: For some people, sitting this way will already be a strong stretch.

If your hip is tight, the knee of the top leg will stay high, like mine is.  The looser your hips are, the closer the knee will fall to the bottom foot.

If your hip is tight, the knee of the top leg will stay high, like mine is. The looser your hips are, the closer the knee will fall to the bottom foot.

If you want more stretch, sit straight and tip forward from your hips (back straight).  You will likely only need to tip forward a few degrees before you feel a stretch.

Hinge forward from your hips - just a little is enough, usually!

Hinge forward from your hips – just a little is enough, usually! Please ignore the apparent asymmetry in my shoulders. I think it’s the shadows?

Ignore my leg position in this photo (I'm doing a different stretch); just look at my back, and see how straight it is.  I am not relaxing forward with a curved spine.  Instead, I am tipping forward from my hips, keeping my back straight.

An example of “hinging forward from the hips”. Ignore my leg position in this photo (I’m doing a different stretch); just look at my back, and see how straight it is. I am not relaxing forward with a curved spine, but rather I am hinging forward from my hips, keeping my back straight.

Most people will feel this stretch in the hip area of the top leg – however, sometimes people feel it in the hip of the bottom leg, too (I do, when my hips are tight).  The stretch may extend down the outside of the thigh a bit, in the IT-band area.  That is fine – wherever you feel the stretch is the place that you need it the most!

This stretch will probably require a bit of extra concentration.  You must mindfully relax the hip area during this stretch.  As bipeds (two-legged animals), whenever we sit or stand, we maintain some degree of tension in our hips – this is a natural, necessary reaction that helps us to maintain a strong base and to move safely and with stability.  However, to get the most out of this stretch, think about your hip joint, and concentrate on relaxing the muscles around it.  Yes, your hips may feel uncomfortable, and perhaps slightly painful – don’t push past this point.

Length of Hold:  I start this stretch sitting tall and consciously relaxing my hips.  After about 15-20 seconds, I am relaxed enough to lean forward a bit.  I continue this process, tipping a bit more as I am able, for 1-2 minutes.

Release: Use your hands to gently remove the top leg.  Be careful, as your hip(s) may feel quite fragile.  Set both feet on the floor, hip distance apart (or wider), knees bent.  Lean back slightly onto your hands, and move your legs slowly in whatever motion seems comfortable: Rock knees from side to side, straighten legs out in front, pull legs in to chest – whatever feels best to YOUR body.  After ~30-45 seconds of recovery, repeat with the other leg on top.

Modifications: If the stacked leg position is uncomfortable for your knees or hips, simply sit cross-legged on the floor, draw yourself up straight, and tip forward as described.  Everything is precisely the same as described above, except the legs are in a slightly different position.  When you switch legs, just put the other leg in front.

This whole stretch series will take about 5-6 minutes, and after a minute or two of recovery, your hips will probably feel looser and more mobile.

So what are you waiting for?  Sit down and give it a try!!

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How did your hip area feel afterward?

Take it, or leave it?
[This is for my own data gathering purposes.  I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.]