"My hips are so tight" is a complaint that I often hear from my yoga students, training clients and fellow runners. How do our hips get so tight? Mostly from the fact that we are a sitting culture. We sit at our desks, we sit in the car, we sit on the couch...we sit all the time. When we sit all the time we prevent our hips from experiencing full range of motion. You can kind of picture it as keeping your hips stuck in the shortened, sitting position. Unfortunately, for runners this is exacerbated because running tightens and shortens muscles. It's imperative to do your share of stretching and mobility work to counteract that.
One of the primary things that can result from tight hips is IT band syndrome. This is painful enough in itself but it can also result in pain in the outside of the hips and knees.
There are many ways that you can stretch the hips but one of my favorites is the yoga pose pigeon. I am going to share three variations of pigeon that I use in my yoga classes, with my CrossFit athletes and with personal training clients to stretch tight hips. And you can almost always find me hanging out in one of these variations post-run.
The variations begin with the most basic and work into deeper hip opening.
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Variation 1: Supine Pigeon or Pigeon on the Back
Lie on the back and cross your ankle over your knee. Wrap one hand behind the hamstring as you pull it in towards you and press the other hand into the knee as you push it away from you.
Variation 2: Seated Pigeon
Sit on the floor and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Walk your palms in as close to your hips as possible and press into the palms to lift through the chest. Try to roll the shoulders back and sit up as straight as possible. Press the knee away from you to deepen the stretch.
Variation 3: Prone Pigeon or Pigeon on the Belly
This is the most common version of pigeon that you will find in yoga classes. If it's not accessible to you or causes pain in the knee, please try one of the above variations. To perform this variation take one shin across the top of the mat. You want the knee to be outside of the side body so be sure that you're not laying with it in the center of the chest. Pull the toes back towards the shin on the bent leg and reach through the heel. Your hips should be square and you should be resting on the top of the quadricep of the leg that is behind you. It's common in this pose to want to cock the hips to the side but roll it all back into the center and don't worry about trying to make contact of the hip with the floor. Probably won't happen.
Spend at least a minute and up to five on each side in any of these variations. Remember, flexibility and mobility work prevent injury! Make it a priority in your training!
Jen DeCurtins is the content manager for Run Charlotte Run. She is a certified personal trainer, 200-hour registered yoga teacher, CrossFit coach and food and fitness blogger at Peanut Butter Runner.