When it comes to movement, our hips are at the center of it all – quite literally.
They are involved in so many fundamental human movement patterns, yet often get neglected in fitness plans.
Modern lifestyle factors, such as sitting for long periods, can often lead to poor hip mobility (due to weak and tight muscles around the hip joints), and this can compromise internal and external rotations, leading to all sorts of musculoskeletal issues.
As a result, it’s a good idea to include hip mobility exercises and stretches into your weekly fitness routine to keep them functioning properly.
Below, we’ve outlined 5 beginner-friendly hip rotation exercises you can do at home to test and improve your internal and external movements.
(It goes without saying, but if you’re currently experiencing any sort of pain or discomfort around your hips, consult a Physical Therapist before starting any new exercises).
- An internal hip rotation happens when your thigh turns inward from the hip joint.
- An external hip rotation is, in essence, the reverse, and happens when your thigh turns outwards.
- Internal and external hip rotations are fundamental for healthy hip function.
- To improve hip rotations, try the following 5 exercises and stretches: 90 90 hip stretch, pendulum leg swings, clamshells, fire hydrants and reclining pigeon pose.
What is Internal Hip Rotation?
Internal hip rotation happens when your thigh turns inward from the hip joint.
For example – Pointing your toes inwards while standing tall, keeping the pelvis unmoved.
In sports, the movement becomes even more critical. Take baseball pitchers or golfers — the force behind a pitch or swing is generated from the ground up, and a significant part of that force comes from the internal rotation of the hip.
It aids in transferring power from the lower body to the upper body.
Similarly, in soccer or tennis, the ability to pivot and change directions swiftly is closely tied to the hip’s internal rotation capacity.
It’s a function often overlooked but is so fundamental to so many human movements.
But what happens if internal rotation is compromised? Poor hip internal rotation can lead to several problems:
- Reduced Mobility: Tasks like putting on shoes or even walking can become more challenging.
- Compensation Injuries: When the hip can’t rotate as needed, other parts of the body try to make up for it. This can lead to overuse injuries in areas like the knees or lower back.
- Decreased Athletic Performance: Athletes might not generate as much power in their movements or may find their agility compromised.
What is External Hip Rotation?
External hip rotation is, in essence, the reverse.
For example – Pointing your toes outward while standing tall, keeping the pelvis unmoved.
Consider activities like getting out of a car or crossing one leg over the other; these involve external hip rotation. When we walk, the subtle outward movement of our trailing leg during a step? That’s the hip externally rotating, providing stability and balance to our step.
In sports, the significance of external hip rotation is even more pronounced. For instance, martial artists often utilize this rotation when executing certain kicks, relying on the hip’s strength and flexibility to deliver powerful, precise strikes.
The ability of a soccer player to volley a ball from a side pass is another example where external hip rotation comes into play, offering both the range and power for the shot.
Limitations in external rotation can lead to:
- Reduced Mobility: Activities like sidestepping or turning can become awkward and constrained.
- Altered Gait: Our walking pattern may adjust to account for this limitation, potentially causing imbalances or overcompensations elsewhere.
- Impaired Athletic Performance: Sports that require a wide range of leg movement or powerful lateral actions, like soccer or martial arts, can see decreased efficiency and effectiveness due to restricted rotation.
Just like internal hip rotation, the ability to externally rotate the hips freely has a huge impact on overall movement.
5 Hip Rotation Exercises
90 90 Hip Stretch
The 90 90 hip stretch is a dual-action exercise, giving love to both your internal and external hip rotations. This stretch is named for the shape your legs make, which is, you guessed it, two 90-degree angles.
You can either hold the stretch on each side, or switch from side to side to make it more dynamic.
How to do the 90 90 Hip Stretch:
- Begin seated on the floor.
- Position your front leg so that the thigh is parallel to your torso and the shin is perpendicular. This leg gets the external hip rotation stretch.
- Your back leg should be bent in a way that the thigh is perpendicular to your torso, and the shin is parallel. This leg enjoys an internal hip rotation stretch.
- Gently hinge at the hips to lean over the front leg to increase the stretch.
- Either hold for stretch for 10-20 seconds on each side, or hold shorter stretches and switch from side to side as shown in the video.
A common mistake to be mindful of is leaning excessively to one side, which can offset the stretch’s focus and lead to imbalances.
It’s essential to keep the upper body centered between both legs. Holding a yoga block or something similar can help with this.
Another frequent oversight is rounding the back. Always remember to hinge from the hips with a straight spine to ensure the stretch targets the hips and not the back.
Pendulum Leg Swings
Pendulum leg swings are a dynamic way to get those hips moving and grooving. This exercise is perfect for loosening up tight hip muscles and promoting better range of motion, and helps improve both internal and external rotations.
It also naturally improves balance (although you can hold onto something if balance is holding you back).
How to perform Pendulum Leg Swings:
- Stand tall beside a wall or another support, ensuring you have enough space to swing your leg.
- With your supporting hand on the wall, keep your torso stable and upright.
- Lift you right knee up so your thigh is parallel with the floor.
- Balancing on your left leg, swing your right foot in and out, mimicking a controlled pendulum motion.
- After 5-10 swings, switch to the left leg.
While this exercise seems straightforward, it’s common for individuals to get a tad enthusiastic, resulting in a wild, uncontrolled swing.
The goal here is controlled mobility, so avoid swinging with excessive force.
It’s also easy to let the whole body join in on the fun. Try to isolate the motion to the hip, keeping the rest of the body stable.
Clamshells are an excellent exercise for targeting the hip abductors, specifically the gluteus medius. These muscles play a vital role in stabilizing the pelvis, especially during walking or running.
How to do Clamshells:
- Begin by lying on your side with your legs stacked and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Your feet should remain in contact with each other.
- Keep your head resting on your arm or supported by your hand.
- With your hips stacked directly on top of each other, lift the top knee as high as possible without moving the pelvis or lower back. Your feet should still be touching.
- Lower the knee back down gently.
- Complete the desired repetitions and then switch sides.
A common pitfall in this exercise is rolling the hips backward during the upward motion, which can reduce the effectiveness of the movement.
It’s really important to maintain hip alignment and avoid using momentum.
Some might feel the urge to lift their feet or open both legs like a book, but remember, the feet should stay together, and the movement is isolated to the hip.
Using Resistance Bands
The fire hydrant exercise, despite its quirky name, is a serious exercise for hip mobility and glute activation. This movement resembles a dog lifting its leg.
How to do Fire Hydrants:
- Start on all fours in a tabletop position, with your wrists stacked under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Keep your knee bent, and lift one leg out to the side.
- Lower the leg back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps and then switch legs.
When performing fire hydrants, it’s easy to inadvertently arch or round the back. Maintaining a neutral spine is key.
Another common mistake is leaning away from the lifted leg, which reduces the exercise’s effectiveness. Aim to keep the weight evenly distributed and the torso stable.
Even a small movement at the hips is better than incorrect technique.
Reclining Pigeon Pose
A favorite among yogis, the reclining pigeon pose primarily stretches the external hip rotators and alleviates tightness in the glutes. It’s gentler on the knees compared to regular pigeon pose, so it may appeal to those who struggle with stiff mobility.
How to do the Reclining Pigeon Pose:
- Begin lying flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite thigh, just above the knee.
- Hold the back of the non-crossed leg, bringing both legs towards the chest.
- Apply gentle pressure on the crossed leg’s knee for a deeper stretch.
- Hold the position for 20-30 seconds and then switch legs.
A common mistake to avoid with reclining pigeon pose is to excessively pull the non-crossed leg, which can strain the hamstrings. You may find stretching straps with loops are useful for this sort of stretch too.
You also want to ensure your head and shoulders remain relaxed on the ground. Some people might lift their heads, straining the neck in an attempt to deepen the stretch.
The focus is on the hips, so keep everything else relaxed.
Benefits of Healthy Internal and External Hip Rotation
Better Movement Quality
Proper hip rotation can drastically enhance our walking, running, and even standing postures.
From everyday activities to elite athletic competitions, improved hip function will make a noticeable difference.
Reduced Risk of Injury
Stiff hips can force other parts of our body to overcompensate, leading to strains or injuries.
Flexible and strong hips can diminish the risk of issues in areas like the lower back, knees, and even ankles.
Improved Sports Performance
For athletes, hip rotation can make or break a game. From a golfer’s swing to a footballer’s kick, the power lies in the hips.
Enhancing their mobility can unlock a new level of athletic prowess.
Enhanced Stability and Balance
The hips play a vital role in our core stability. Improved hip rotation can lead to better balance, reducing falls and increasing our confidence in various physical activities.
Frequency and Consistency
When it comes to hip exercises, consistency is your best friend. While it might be tempting to go all out once a week, it’s more effective to spread the love throughout the week.
Beginners: If you’re new to hip exercises or feel particularly tight in that region, start with 2-3 days a week. This allows for ample recovery time while still making noticeable progress.
Intermediate to Advanced: For those who are used to regular exercise or have been focusing on hip mobility for a while, 4-5 days a week can be beneficial.
It’s not about how many exercises you do but how well you do them. Quality over quantity.
It’s also essential to listen to your body. If your hips are feeling particularly sore, it might be a cue to take a rest day. And, as always, combining these exercises with a balanced fitness routine that includes strength training, flexibility work, and cardiovascular activity will provide the best results.
The foundational role of hip rotation in overall physical health and performance cannot be overstated.
By investing in exercises that enhance both internal and external hip mobility, individuals lay the groundwork for optimized movement, reduced injury risk, and heightened athletic performance.