There is a war going on for your ability to move.
Every day, the forces of our sedentary culture, the appeal of comfort and convenience, and the temptation to live a compartmentalized life wreak havoc on our body’s. The whole person suffers physically, mentally, and spiritually. One of the most common issues that results is a lack of mobility and flexibility all throughout the body. This issue is especially pronounced in and around the hip joints, which take much of the abuse – leading to all kinds of problems.
If you don’t have the ability to move your hips through a full range of motion, many things suffer. For starters, it will take more effort to perform even the most basic movements like standing, sitting, and walking. Also, when the hips are tight, the surrounding joints (e.g. lower back, knees, etc.) have to compensate in unnatural ways, predictably leading to pain and injury. And there are many other consequences of poor hip mobility that goes well beyond the scope of this article.
The good news is that many natural movements improve your mobility automatically. And if you integrate Natural Movement into your training and lifestyle, you’ll not only become more skilled at moving and more capable for the demands of the real world, you’ll also restore your body’s natural mobility and develop your fitness and conditioning, too. Not to mention improving your quality of life, as well.
Don’t settle for merely improving your hip mobility! Whenever possible, training should develop the whole person, not just individual attributes.
To start, all you have to do is begin moving the way your body was designed, and the mobility will follow as a result. The best approach would be to begin a complete Natural Movement Fitness program that starts From The Ground Up and incorporates all of the different movement domains (i.e. walking, running, jumping, balancing, crawling, climbing, etc.). However, there is also a time and a place for pursuing a more direct goal such as recovering the mobility of your hips, and that’s what this actionable guide is for.
So, if you struggle with tight, immobile hips that restrict your movement, limit your performance, and lead to pain in your spine, knees, or elsewhere, here is a small collection of targeted, natural movements to help you overcome these issues naturally.
Important point: Many people can perform these movements effectively (i.e. successfully), but very few people can perform these movements efficiently – at least, without some practice. So, don’t let the simplicity of these movements fool you into thinking these are too basic to be worth your time. While you’re practicing, pay attention to your position and breathing, tension and relaxation, sequence and timing.
Movement #1: Stepping Under
The simple act of stepping under something is a superb way to improve your hip mobility. Fitness experts may be quick to point out that this movement resembles a hip hinge with a slight rotational component. Or, perhaps they’d describe it like a closed-chain “hula hoop” hips circles drill. There may be some truth to that, but ultimately, this is just a natural human movement that serves a practical purpose and happens to produce physical benefits, one of which is greater hip mobility. And you don’t need something to step under either. You can simply pretend your stepping under something – trying to get as low as your mobility will allow while maintaining a lengthened spine. Focus on reaching your hips back, and folding at the hips to bring your belly toward your thighs.
Movement #2: Stepping Over
Similar to stepping under, the stepping over movement will also help to improve your hip mobility and stability, among other things. Focus on raising the leg as high as you can maintain your balance (i.e. without your arms waving around) and spinal alignment, and placing it down slowly, under control.
Movement #3: Kneeling to Tall Kneeling
Most ground movements both challenge and require hip mobility to a degree, and the Kneeling to Tall Kneeling transition is a simple, safe way to begin exploring this dynamic. This movement also serves as a good starting point for the many other kneeling transitions below. Work on this until you can perform it smoothly, without pain, and without strain in your hips, knees, ankles, and lower back. Only then should you move onto the ground movements below, which build from this one.
Movement #4: Kneeling to Tall Half Kneeling
This kneeling transition requires a little more mobility and stability than the one above – in the hips, knees, and ankles. It also serves as a good component of getting up to standing from a kneeling position.
Movement #5: Tall Half Kneeling to Tall Split Kneeling
This is a further progression from the kneeling movements above, which requires a significantly greater level of mobility and stability. If you cannot perform this movement efficiently (i.e. with proper position, relaxed breathing, proper sequence and timing, tension and relaxation), regress to the earlier drills for now.
Movement #6: Tall Split Kneeling to Bent Sit
This is a hands-free Get Up that requires and involves a lot of hip mobility at or near end ranges. To the trained eye, you’ll see hip extension, flexion, and both internal/external rotation. Master each position before working on each transition.
Movement #7: Kneeling to Lateral Half Kneeling
This is another kneeling transition that has a lateral component, which comes with slightly different demands on the hips (i.e. demands that are usually absent from modern daily life unless specifically trained). To initiate the movement, shift your weight to one side (i.e. over one leg) to free the opposite leg to move laterally into the planted, half kneeling position. If you’re having trouble, relax your breathing, and use your hands or another prop for support (see Tips below).
Movement #8: Leg Swing Jump
Jumping is inherently a hip-focused movement, and any max or near-max distance jump is going to challenge your hip mobility, to a degree. Assuming proper practice and progressions, jumping is a great way to not only build and maintain hip mobility, but also stability and power, among other things.
Movement #9: Extended Stepping Up
Mobility, stability, and strength in an extreme range of motion are major aspects of this Extended Stepping Up movement. This can be incorporated into your practice after you’ve laid a good foundation with Ground Movement and have progressed to higher and higher Stepping Up movements (e.g. starting with a low step, then gradually increasing both the height and distance).
Movement #10: Push Pull Crawl
Crawling is a powerhouse of fitness and conditioning benefits, and hip mobility is just one of many perks. The Push Pull Crawl is exceptionally beneficial for those with tight hips. For best results, spend plenty of time working on simpler crawling movements (e.g. Knee Hand Crawl, Foot Hand Crawl, etc.), then take this movement one component at a time – focusing on position and breathing, tension and relaxation, sequence and timing. You can also experiment with different heights – either imagining you have to crawl under something very low, or setting up an obstacle to crawl under. Generally speaking, the lower you have to crawl, the greater the challenge to your hip mobility.
Movement #11: Deep Squat
A fundamental human movement, the Deep Squat is often used as a diagnostic tool for evaluating hip mobility, and then as a developmental tool to increase it. Squat as low as you can, keeping your feet flat with a mid-foot balance, and allowing your lower back to round as necessary. You can practice slight variations of the stances (e.g. feet at hip or shoulder width apart, toes pointed straight or out to the sides, etc.) along with several different leaning and reaching variations to explore your range of motion.
If this movement is proving difficult, you can practice using your hands as assistance (e.g. hold onto something in front of you) or prop up your heels (e.g. on a rolled up towel or weight plate). You can also try squatting while on a slight hill (i.e. facing downhill).
Movement #12: Deep Squat Narrow Base
Once you can hold a deep squat comfortably, you can narrow your stance to increase the challenge. By narrowing your base of support, not only are the mobility/flexibility demands increased, it also increases the balancing component. Not to mention that it may be your only option for squatting to rest on a small or narrow surface (e.g. river rock, downed tree trunk, etc.).
Note: this is only a small sample of the natural movements that can directly improve hip mobility. If we were to make a list of all the natural movements that improve your mobility, in general, it would be a very long list indeed. Natural Movement does your body good.
- If some of these movements are difficult, listen to your body and ease up if something doesn’t feel right.
- Some of these movements may be too difficult for you, and thus, a regression may be necessary (e.g. performing an assisted squat instead of a deep squat).
- A little bit of discomfort is okay, but pain is to be avoided. So, if you’re struggling with a particular movement, or if you have a pre-existing condition or a past injury, don’t push through the tension into pain or try to force anything.
- Feel free to use your hands as “training wheels” to support some of your body weight – always working to rely on them less and less.
- You can also use yoga blocks, bolsters, a firm pillow or rolled up towel to support yourself and make some of the positions more comfortable.
- A good simple routine would be to select 3-5 movements that are moderately challenging for you, and practice them for 10-15 minutes total. You can perform this routine during your normal workouts, at the start or end of your day, or just to loosen up during your lunch break. It’s really hard to overdo these movements. So, practice anytime you’d like to get moving and energized. For best results, practice at least 3 times a week.
When you begin a Natural Movement practice, many common issues like hip immobility and lower back pain simply disappear because you’re finally moving the way your body was designed. And the best part is you don’t have to think about improving your hip mobility at all. It happens as a result of moving naturally.
If you pick a handful of these movements that are difficult for you, and practice them diligently, you’ll be amazed with the results you can achieve in a short time. Integrating these movements into your training will go a long way toward improving your mobility, fitness, movement skill, and quality of life.
Note: If you enjoyed this post, check out our free 8-week Natural Movement video program to improve your mobility and capability: MovNat For Mobility.
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