Watching my 16 month old son squat down to pick up his toys always impresses me. His movements are so easy and natural and I would love to have more hip flexibility. You may think your tight hips are simply inconvenient but they have a massive impact on your quality of life.
Hip flexibility is important as it will improve your posture in all positions and reduce back and knee injuries. You will see benefits when playing sports as you will have more speed and power. You will also have a better quality of life with more freedom and less tension in your movements.
Poor hip flexibility is a modern problem related to your sedentary lifestyle. Think about it. You wake up, roll out of bed, and sit down on a knee-high toilet. Then you make breakfast and sit on a chair or a stool that is at bum-height (or higher). Next you get into a car (again in a seat), arrive at work and promptly sit down in an office chair. Your range of motion is very limited and you are barely using all the muscles that affect hip flexibility and mobility.
So it is possible for me to regain some hip flexibility as an adult and what type of training is required?
According to Lucas Rockwood, creator of Yoga Gravity doing 15 minutes of hips flexibility training every day for 21 days will unlock your tight hips. He regularly runs his 21 day hip flexibility challenge and I decided to sign-up. Here I share a detailed review of the challenge which was a very enjoyable and informative experience.
21 Day Hip Flexibility and Opening Challenge
This hip flexibility program is built around Lucas’s favourite Gravity yoga hip opening stretches. Gravity yoga is a systematic approach to flexibility training. Flexibility gains are through a combination of long hold passive postures and regulated breathing patterns. Gravity yoga is specifically focused on flexibility and is a great compliment for whatever exercise or training you are doing.
Principles of Yoga Gravity
Performing the stretches regularly is a large part of being successful in this challenge, performing them while following Yoga Gravity's 3 principles will ensure you see the most gains in your hip flexibility.
I found this 21 day hip flexibility challenge very easy to participate in. Your commitment is 15 to 20 minutes a day of hip flexibility stretching. You have the option to join the live class or catch-up and watch the replay. Lucas is the instructor is all the classes and I found his teaching style informative and fun. He has so much knowledge and experience and very passionate about yoga.
Lucas company is called Yoga Body and the motto is "Practice is Everything". The key element to all the programs and challenges they run is Practice. The hip flexibility challenge is focused on your movement on all the muscles that are involved in hip joint mobility.
For the 21 days of the hip flexibility challenge you perform two stretches each day. They can be symmetric or asymmetric. You hold the stretch for 3, 4 or 5 minutes. The hip flexibility stretches target the 20+ muscles that directly on indirectly affect hip mobility. They include various hip flexors, extensors, rotators, abductors, and adductors. And this doesn’t even take into account the fascia!
What make this hip flexibility so effective is that it understands that hip mobility is complex and multi-factorial. The stretches chosen are designed to access all of the hip muscles and hit them in different ways. So you do similar poses in multiple variations with modifications that take them to another level.
Ask Lucas Q&A
This is a very valuable part of the challenge and is also very popular element among students. For the practice part of the challenge, Lucas with jump right into the hip flexibility stretches of the day. Everyone is muted and Lucas with demonstrate the stretches with modifications and provide tips. He will also explain how the impact you hip flexibility and mobility.
So you do get a lot of information in the practice part of the challenge. Everyday directly after the practice ends, Lucas holds a Q&A session. This Q&A can be long or short but it offers students an opportunity to ask Lucas questions. He answers all questions and also use the session to demonstrate extra poses and modifications.
Modifications and Props
To improve your hip flexibility you need to target all the hip muscles effectively. Depending on your current hip mobility and stretching experience, some or many of the stretches will be awkward or uncomfortable. The challenge is designed for all levels but accessibility for some stretches may be only possible with modifications.
Props are a huge part of traditional yoga and Lucas recommends and encourages you to use them. Even if you can get into a stretch easily, performing it with a prop may result in you accessing another areas and increasing your hip flexibility.
If you need to prop yourself up Lucas recommends couch cushions which I found worked really well. Using a modification will help you feel the stretch in the right areas. You will need a Ionger yoga strap or connect a couple of belts or robe belts together for some stretches.
Hip Flexibility Stretch Variety
The main hip flexibility stretches in the challenge were variations of the following:
The stretch is very similar to a Lizard yoga pose. Your front leg is in flexion and lateral rotation and the back leg is in extension. Your arms should be straight and strong but if it is uncomfortable on the wrists then rest on forearms. Also, you can put padding under the knee of the back leg if you feel pressure on it. Stretch will be felt in the hamstring, ankles, hip flexors and sometime in the glutes.
The pose is very simple to get into and you will feel the stretch straight away. Throughout the hip flexibility challenge you perform many versions of it that were awkward and uncomfortable. I found the intensity increase significantly in Jack Knife (blaster against a wall), blaster twist and Swiss army knife (bending and holding back leg).
This is a traditional yoga pose that is a very effective hip opening stretch. It targets your hips along with your groin, inner thighs, and knees. Loosening up these areas of the body and strengthening your back muscles can help to improve posture. In the challenge you do the stretch seated, lying on your stomach and your back against a wall.
Resting your bum on a low stool or couch cushions (Lucas always recommends using them and they worked well for me) is also fine for extra support in this pose. You don’t want your knees too low or too high. Your hips are in deep lateral rotation position and will help lengthen the muscles of your hip abductors. Focus on keeping the soles of the feet together for the duration of the pose. Turn your hands up and drop your head
This is a major hip flexibility stretch. You will feel the stretch in your inner thighs and groin as well as the hamstrings. It is a very accessible stretch although you made need a strap, belt or hand towel to maintain a strong grip on your feet.
Variations of the stretch include A - Baby which is an asymmetric version of a happy baby in which you use a strap or belt to pull each leg down to the ground. The pressure of your hips combined with the weight of your head really helps you go deep in this pose. Bound baby is essential a supine squat on your back. You will likely feel a deep stretch in your upper legs. So it is a great pose to do if you are struggling with squats or if it is hard on your knees.
In the hip flexibility challenge you perform a few versions of hero pose. The variation include frog, lightning bolt and saddle. These variations focus on stretching the ankles, quads and hip flexors. In saddle resist the urge to lean back too quickly, there are benefits in all levels of the pose. Additionally these stretches are most very effective when you can wet noodle and focus on breathing deeply.
The basic variation is similar to traditional yoga pigeon. For all stretches performed in the hip flexibility challenge, you stay upright and position shoulders over hips. This maximises the impact of gravity on the stretch. In the 21 days you will perform 6 variations of pigeon stretch including double, standing and twisted. Expect to experience big stretches in your hip flexors and lateral rotation.
In pigeon pose make sure your shin is on the ground which means your knee is supported throughout the pose.
Scissor Pose is an uncomfortable pose where you adduct your legs and stretch your IT band. You will probably need a stool or chair for this pose. Your goal is to get both arms and legs straight as you position yourself over your stool or chair. It is an awkward pose so focus on your breathing. As you relax in this pose you will start to feel stretching in your obliques, lower back and core which are connected to the hips and help improve hip flexibility.
The position of your feet are the key to perform squats that improve your hip flexibility. They can always go wider than you think! If squatting down is uncomfortable it is fine to use props. You can put something under your heels like a rolled up yoga mat. Resting your bum on a low stool or couch cushions is also fine.
There were 6 variations of squats performed in the 21 days. In butterfly squat your feet are close together and your knees splay out to the side. You will probably need to counterbalance on to something while you are in the squat, like a door handle, table leg or even a wall. In ninja squat you go into a deep flexion on your one leg and stretch your adductors on the other leg.
Thread the Needle
These are slightly gentler stretches than many of the previous ones. They are performed, seated, on your back and against as wall. You may need a strap or belt to connect or interlock your hands. Aim to wet noodle your lower body as much as possible but use your arms to pull and extend the stretch. Expect to feel the stretch in your glutes, hamstring and deep-six.
Standing and Chair Stretching
Standing poses offer an opportunity to access a range of motion. You will experience a deeper stretch in your back hip flexor, glutes and hamstrings. You perform these stretches on a counter-top or tabletop or even a high bed. The surface needs to be larger enough so your whole leg can rest comfortable on it. Additionally chair stretches can easily be incorporated into your day and offer an opportunity to stretch when you are the office or studying.
Food and Flexibility
Food does matter for flexibility and mobility training. If you look at any movement modality athlete that eat specific foods or eat in a specific way to perform at their best. Whatever your physical goals are there tends to be a diet associated with achieving it. So there is a food and flexibility connection that you need to be aware off.
The exercises is this hip opening challenge are focused on deep stretching. It will cause significant stressing to your connective tissues, (muscles and fascia) and white tissue, tendons, ligaments, cartilage. The are specific nutrients that are very helpful for soft tissue to help repair and grow them. Below are the some of the best foods for improving your flexibility and mobility.
Sulphur is crucial for healthy connective tissue including skin and muscle. It is abundant be we often don't eat enough of it in current diet.
Main foods for Sulphur
Allium Family: onion, garlic, leeks, scallions, chives, shallots
Cruciferous Family: arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, radishes, and watercress
1 gram of MSM daily (capsule preferred to powder, it’s extremely bitter)
Magnesium is great to take at night to relive muscle tension as it is a natural muscles relaxer. It has many health benefits including boosting exercise performance and lowering blood pressure.
Main foods for Magnesium
Dark chocolate (85% +), Nuts and seeds, Avocados, Legumes, Leafy green vegetables
400 mg magnesium citrate before going to bed
Vitamin C is an essential element that you body can't produce. It has many impressive health benefits including boosting your immune system. Vitamin C helps your body produce collagen which is a protein found in connective tissues. Keeping up on your intake will help promote elasticity in your tendons, muscles and ligaments, making stretching easier.
Main foods for Vitamin C
Bell peppers, Kale, Kiwi, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Citrus
500 mg – 1000 mg tablets
When you do deep stretching you will inevitable create some localised inflammation in your joints and muscle tissue. Using a natural anti-inflammatory like Omega-3 is very helpful for healing and pain reduction.
Main foods for Omega-3
Small fish: mackerel, sardines, anchovies
Seeds: chia, flax
Oils: fish oil, flax, chia seed
Fish oil, Krill oil, Algae oil
Hip Flexibility Progress
When you go into a deep stretch your body perceives it as a nervous system threat. It responds with a stretch reflex so you need to react like you are calm with what is happening. Slowing down your breathing tricks your nervous system and your body will respond and relax. Fake it until you make it.
Time under passive tension for deep stretching is important to make progress. It is vital that you use a timer and keep a record of the time you spend in a pose. So the next time you do the pose you can meet or beat that time.
Changing the position of similar poses usually results in you feeling the stretch in different areas.
When you are doing asymmetric poses, if you notice a dramatic difference in flexibility or mobility one side, spend more time stretching that side. This will help to incorrect the imbalance
Stretching doesn’t directly prevent injuries but it improves your posture and improved posture reduces injuries. It is more important to stretch after exercise to change the way you move. Your body becomes more aligned and you are less likely to suffer from a wear and tear injury.
Hip Flexibility Challenge Next Steps
After the challenge, Lucas recommends doing your stretching before you go to bed. It is a good time as you can usually find 15 minutes before bed no matter how busy your day has been. Even if you eat into your sleeping time, it is time well spent. Also doing the stretching before you sleep helps you to unwind and set up your body and mind for sleep.
The 21 day hip opening challenge is a great place to start you journey to improving your hip flexibility. The videos are always available to you so you can continue to use them after you complete the challenge.
My Hip Flexibility Challenge
I completed the 21 days hips challenge in October 2020 and was quite consistent for the rest of the year. I noticed some small changes but didn't practice much at the start 2021. So I re-committed to making hip mobility exercises a daily routine with the goal to record and track my progress for 1 year. Lucas said in one on the lessons that in one year of daily hip mobility exercising you should see over 80% of your possible hip mobility gains. So here goes to a year of hip flexibility and mobility daily practice!
March 2021 - Restarting the Challenge
For this month I practised 24 out of 31 days. I went through the whole challenge again which was very beneficial as it helped me re-focus on all the exercises. At the start of the month I struggled with wet noodling and whiskey breathing but by the end of the month, I saw some nice improvements. The biggest thing I became aware of is the imbalance between my left and right side. My right side is a lot tighter and so to address this I will spend longer stretching that side for some of the exercises I do in April.
April 2021 - Making Adjustments
In April I went on a couple of short breaks which required me to make some adjustments to stretching schedule. I decided to double my stretches a few days before I went on the breaks. So for 8 days in the month I did 30 minutes of hip stretching each day in two 15 minute blocks. I found doing the two blocks of stretching worked well for me. It helped me be even more consistent with my stretching and it is something I would recommend. In terms of progress I felt more comfortable in most of the poses and I am using less props. I expect to see some visible changes by the end of May.
May 2021 - Slow Progress
I was very consistent with my hip stretching in May and continued to do double stretches session on some days. Also I continue to be more comfortable in the stretches even in the heavier ones like Marchi B and Thunderbolt. I really tried to focus on my breathing and wet noodling as I believe they are keys to me making more progress. Overall I am still enjoying doing the stretching and try to do as many after my other workouts. I do notice I am more relaxed in the stretches when I have warmed up my body properly.
June 2021 - Update from Gravity Yoga
June was another month where I was very consistent with my hip stretching. I have noticed that I don't feel any type of pain in all the poses. I am still following the challenge but I have dropped a few poses where I don't feel they are doing much for me. At the beginning of the month I received an email from Lucas. In it he informed me that they had updated the archives of the challenge. This ensures that all customers are getting the best available videos and PDF's. I was very impressed by this as I originally signed up for the challenge nearly 2 years ago. It shows that they really care about all their customers and they want to see them succeed in improving their hip flexibility.
July 2021 - Extra Benefits
From the start of 2021, I started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) through Gracie University. For the first few months I really struggled with many of the basic ground techniques. These include Guard, Mount and Side Mount which require significant hip flexibility and mobility. Since I have started doing hip mobility exercises daily my progress in BJJ has increased considerably. The increased range of motion in my hips has made some many of techniques more accessible. Additionally I am more comfortable transitioning from techniques and my reflexes are a lot sharper.
August 2021 - Six Month Update
It feels great to hit this major milestone as I have been really consistent with the stretches for the last six months. Over those six months I have become very comfortable doing most of the hip stretches. I have also been able to fit them into my daily routine without sacrificing any other of my regular exercise and workout. I am actually doing the stretches in the regularly in the evening usually before I go to the bed. This also has an extra benefit of an improved sleeping experience as I am relaxed before going to bed.
September 2021 - Focus on Ankles
Over the last few weeks I decided to step up my conditioning, mobility and strength training. I started using a personal trainer who created Perseverance & Performance. I like his approach which is focused on training methods that are highly functionable and sustainable. Our initial assessment session involved performing a number of functional exercises like push-ups and squats. He noticed my limited range of motion on squats, which hasn't improved that much even since doing regular hip stretches. With further analysis he identified that my limited ankle mobility was inhibiting my range of motion on squats.
There is a strong correlation between hip and ankle mobility and some of the stretches in the hip mobility challenge work on ankle mobility. These are the Hero set of poses which include Frog and Saddle. So for the rest of the challenge I will aim to perform those pose's more often. If I'm being honest I have probably avoided some of them as I find them quite intense and uncomfortable.