As perhaps the most underrated and over-performing joint in an athlete’s body, we must take excellent care of our hips. They are essential for every movement below the belly button, including walking, running, lunging, and sitting. But what can yoga do for an athlete’s hips?
Yoga can promote hip strength and flexibility in athletes of all disciplines. Strong hips play a big role in injury prevention and can extend your ability to remain active in your sport for years. Regular yoga practice can reduce the likelihood of injuries down the road and improve your performance.
Unfortunately, many amateur and non-professional athletes aren’t aware of how important the hips are. This article will explain why it is important to maintain a hip strengthening and mobility routine and the benefits yoga can have on your hips. It will also highlight risks associated when athlete’s hips are neglected. We will end by suggesting poses for improved mobility and strength and risks associated with neglecting your hips.
The Importance of Healthy Hips for Athletes
There isn’t a sport in which the hips don’t play a crucial role, from runners to golfers to basketball players. It can be easy for athletes of all disciplines to focus on more obvious areas associated with their sport and neglect to strengthen and open their hips.
For example, a runner might have tunnel vision on improving his quad strength, or a basketball player might focus on speed and agility and miss opportunities to build glute strength. Of course, these approaches are not wrong, but incorporating a hip mobility exercise or workout, at least weekly, can make a big difference in injury prevention down the road.
Before moving on, it is important to understand all of the different components that make up the hip joint. You may be surprised by how many parts are encompassed in the hip, each one with an important function.
First off, there is the hip joint itself, which many people think about when they think of their hips. This is where the femoral head (top of the thigh bone) fits nicely into the pelvic bone socket, allowing for all of the movements made possible by the hips.
If the bones don’t fit together properly, it can result in a lot of pain. This can be the result of your anatomy, inflammation, or a number of other things.
There are a total of seventeen muscles that make up the hips, classified as either anterior, posterior, or medial based on their location. Each muscle group is responsible for a type of movement in the hip, including flexion, rotation, abduction, adduction, and internal and external extension.
The muscle groups include the quadriceps, a group of four muscles predominantly responsible for flexing the knee and bending at the waist. The gluteal muscle group is made up of three different muscles, two of which (gluteus minimus and gluteus medius) are primarily responsible for the abduction, internal rotation movements, and stabilization when we walk.
The third muscle in the gluteal muscle group is the gluteus maximus, the largest of the three, and its most important job is to stabilize our knee joint. Weakness in this area can cause serious knee issues down the road. The other responsibilities of the gluteus maximus are hip extension and keeping the IT band healthy.
Benefits of Yoga for the Hips
It is very easy for athletes to get tunnel vision and focus solely on their sport. However, no matter how dedicated the athlete, this intense focus will inevitably result in over training and injury.
By committing just 15 minutes per day to yoga stretches, athlete’s hips mobility will significantly increase. Furthermore they reduce the chance of injury to the hips, legs and lower back. Yoga helps in several ways: increased mobility, strength, and improved balance and core stabilisation.
Athletes often experience significant imbalances in their muscles. This puts the stronger muscles in a position in which they must overcompensate for the weaker muscles, inevitably leading to a preventable injury. Generally, the weaker muscles are the small muscle groups in the athlete’s hips because they get overlooked in training regimes.
Range of Motion
One reason yoga can make such big improvements for athlete’s hips is that it focuses on a full range of motion. They also put athletes in poses that focus on muscles that they are likely not getting attention in their routine, making them much more well-rounded.
Hip mobility is crucial to injury prevention and improving your range of motion. Yoga contributes to this by forcing your hips into positions that stretch and open your hips for approximately 30 to 45 seconds.
Making this a regular part of your routine eventually results in improved mobility and flexibility in your hips. More importantly, you are expanding your range of motion by making your body comfortable moving in all directions.
Strengthening the muscles surrounding our hip joint is also important for injury prevention. Athlete’s hips are a common area of discomfort which can manifest as basic muscle strains to more serious sports hernias or stress fractures.
Athlete’s hips are especially prone to injury due to the tremendous forces that the muscles around the hip can generate. Hip injuries are especially common among young athletes. Yoga incorporates many subtle yet effective movements that build strength in our glutes, forcing your body to work the way it was designed.
Common Issues When Hips Are Neglected
As the largest joint in the body, your hips deserve special attention. We have alluded to this through the article, but the bottom line is that failing to focus on your hip muscles and ligaments can result in knee and hip imbalances, changes in your gait, and severe injuries.
Changes in your Gait
Weak or tight hips can result in slow, involuntary modifications in your gait over time, resulting in pain and further injury. You might notice that you walk with uneven hips or pointed slightly to one side or the other.
An Overall Lack of Balance
Your hips are integral to maintaining both balanced muscle groups and stabilisation during everyday activities. Even though athletes are very active, like most people a large majority of their day is sedentary. Athlete’s hips require particular attention to ensure their bodies remain as balanced as possible. This is why it is so important to make a concerted effort to focus on the hips.
Weakened hip muscles can cause injuries, particularly in your back or knees. The weakened hip muscles force other muscle groups to overcompensate. For example, weak hip muscles can cause your quad to pull inwards, which puts excessive strain on your knee, which eventually causes issues such as patellar tendonitis or an ACL tear.
Yoga Poses for Improved Hip Mobility
For this information to be useful, you have to know how to implement some important yoga poses. If you are unfamiliar with yoga, then you have come to the right place. This section will go over a few beginner-friendly yoga poses that focus on hip mobility.
For each pose, it is important to ease into the stretch slowly. Abrupt movements can cause injury. Only push yourself to the point of a good stretch, but nothing should be painful.
Eye of the Needle Pose
The Eye of the Needle pose will focus on releasing tension in the glutes and hamstring muscles. Here are the steps to get into the Eye of the Needle pose:
- To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on your mat.
- Lift your right leg and place your ankle on the top of your left quad at the knee.
- Lace your fingers together around your left knee or at your hamstring.
- Using your hands, pull your left leg towards your chest. You should feel an intense stretch in your right glute and hamstring.
- Breathe through the stretch, pulling your leg closer with each breath. Perform this stretch three times on each leg and hold for 30 to 45 seconds.
You are probably familiar with cobbler’s pose even if you don’t recognise the name. It is also more commonly called the Butterfly pose. Here are the steps that you can follow:
- Sitting upright on your mat, bring the bottoms of your feet together, and bring them close to your body.
- Grab your ankles or feet with your hands and gently pull your body towards your feet. You should feet a nice stretch on the insides of your legs and in your hip joint.
- Do this stretch three times, for about 45 seconds each time. Try to get deeper into the stretch with each breath.
This is a great stretch for the hip flexors and improves the flexibility of your hip ligaments. It is a highly recommended to athletes as it is very easy to incorporate into warm up and cool down routines.
- To begin, get into a high plank position on your hands.
- Bring your right foot up to your hands, or as far forward as is comfortable.
- Lower yourself onto your forearms and allow your left leg to bend slightly at the knee.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Repeat on your left side.
Frog Pose is a quite demanding stretch and can look intimating for beginners. However, you can leverage pillows and bolsters to bring the floor closer to your body. This strategy can help you experience the stretch and make the pose more accessible.
- Start in a tabletop position.
- Move both of your knees outwards towards the edges of your mat.
- Continue to open your knees outwards and stretch the groin until you can feel the stretch but no pain.
- Turn your feet outwards, so they are perpendicular to the edges of the mat.
- Lower on your forearms to deepen the stretch.
- Repeat three times, holding the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds each time, sinking lower with each repetition.
Yoga Poses for Improved Hip Strength
Beyond improving mobility, strengthening the muscles that surround the hip joint is equally important. This section will describe a few poses that truly engage those muscles and will make you stronger.
Remember to gently release yourself from a pose if you experience any discomfort or pain, and perform each pose on both sides. You may notice that one side is weaker than the other, but that is okay. Monitor your progress over time, and you will see improvements.
A bridge pose is a relatively easy but extremely effective exercise for building hip and glute strength. To get into this pose, follow these steps:
- Lie on your back with your hands down that you’re almost touching your heels.
- Press your feet into the mat, raising your hips and making a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Ensure you are engaging your gluteal muscles rather than your hamstring muscles for the duration of this pose, as that is the muscle group that will make for strong hips.
- Hold this pose for 45 seconds for three repetitions.
Single Leg Bridge Pose
For a more challenging alternative, you can try a single leg bridge pose. Here are the steps you can follow:
- For this variation, begin in the same position on your back with your knees bent and your hands towards your heels.
- This time, lift one leg towards the ceiling, engaging the opposite glute muscles as you lift your hips towards the ceiling.
- Alternate legs, three times each, and hold for 30 seconds. This alternative will improve balance and stabilisation as well as glute strength.
Crescent Lunge Pose
To get into a crescent lunge position, start by standing straight up on your mat, taking a large step forward with your right foot, and bending it to a 90-degree angle. Focusing on your form is significant for this pose because it is easy to let your stronger quad muscles take over. However, you want to engage your glute muscles for this position, making them stronger each second.
You can do this by ensuring your core and upper body are straight and engaged. Your hips should be facing straight forward, as should both feet and knees. This is where it is important to ensure everything is aligned and that your hips and knees are not jutting off to one side or another. If you struggle to keep your body aligned, do not continue this pose. Try again after practising some easier poses.
Bird Dog Pose
The bird dog pose requires a little bit of balance but mostly focuses on building strength in your glute muscles. To get into the bird dog pose, follow these steps:
- Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, with your back flat and parallel to the earth, engaging your core.
- Avoid dropping your head by looking straight down at the mat with your neck straight.
- Lift your right leg until it is parallel with the earth and creates a straight line with your back.
- Flex your foot so that your toes are pointing towards the mat and the bottom of your foot is facing the wall. You should feel your gluteal muscles engaging to keep your leg in position.
- Ensure your hips are square with the mat and that you continue to engage your glutes and core.
If you are stable in this position, you can increase the difficulty by raising the opposite arm straight out. You will create a continuous straight line from your longest fingers all the way down to your toes. Spread your fingers apart with your palm facing inwards, towards the centre line of your body. Using opposite hands and arms incorporates a more difficult balancing component.
Warrior 3 Pose
Warrior 3 requires a combination of balance and core, glute, and hamstring engagement. Here are the steps that you can follow:
- First, stand tall on your mat with your hands joined at the palms and in front of your heart.
- Bend forward at the hip, bringing your right foot up and back until your back is like a tabletop and your leg is parallel with the earth.
- Be sure to keep your hips square with the rest of your body, engage your right glute and hamstring to keep that leg in the air.
- Keep your left foot planted firmly on the mat, focusing on its connection with the ground.
For a slightly more challenging position, you can bring both arms straight forward with your palms facing each other, extending your body as far as possible. Hold for 30 seconds or as long as it is comfortable. Hold this pose twice on each side.
Using yoga to improve strength and mobility in the hips can benefit athletes in more ways than one. Incorporating 20 minutes of yoga per week can contribute to injury prevention, enhance your athletic performance, and make for a more well-rounded athlete.
As you come to the end of this article, we hope you have come to recognise that yoga can benefit athlete’s hips of all disciplines. You should feel inspired and motivated to incorporate yoga into your weekly training regime.