Hip pain is a common issue in our modern society. There are a variety of factors that can cause it, from shortened hip-flexors, due to prolonged sitting on chairs, to excessive compression and muscular tension from imbalanced walking patterns. As long as our discomfort is due to such soft tissue problems, and we have eliminated other, more problematic causes of hip pain, we can help our hips remain more relaxed, comfortable and moving freely with a few simple exercises.
Performed regularly, these 4 Pilates exercises for happy hips can help alleviate some of the soft tissue discomfort and improve mobility. They are however no substitution for the care of a trained practitioner, and they are not meant to treat any injury or medical condition.
If you have any injuries, that are under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner such as your Doctor, Physical Therapist, Chiropractor, etc. please consult with them before trying new exercises. If a movement causes pain or discomfort it is best to stop and consult a qualified Pilates Practitioner.
Before you start, make sure that you have everything you need (space, a comfortable mat, perhaps a cushion for your head) and make sure that you will not be disturbed.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bend. Take the time to explore what is a comfortable position for you and feel free to make adjustments. Notice your contact with the ground and your breath. It is good to take a minute or two, to become aware of what your body is telling you. You are about to engage in some communication and team work with you body and you want to pay attention to the sensations it is giving you as you try out something new.
Four Pilates exercises to help you maintain happy hips:
1. BENT KNEE OPENING
Lie with your knees bend and roughly hip width apart. Notice your breath. Imagine that your in-breath is opening your hips, and gently allow one knee to move out to the side and towards the floor. As you exhale slowly return the knee to the starting position. Then repeat on the other side. Start with a small range of movement here. The aim is not to bring the knee as close to the floor as possible. The aim is a relaxed and smooth movement in the hip socket. Also notice if you can keep both hips relatively evenly balanced as you move one knee out. The weight of the leg is likely going to pull the pelvis with it. A slight weight shift is natural, however what you are looking for is free and easy movement at the hip, so the pelvis should be able to stay relatively settled. You can also vary this by moving both legs out to either side simultaneously, which will be a more balanced and therefore an easier movement.
Perform 8 repetitions on each side.
2. KNEE CIRCLES
Lying on your back, hug your legs to your chest with your knees as bent as is comfortable. Place your hands on top of your knees and allow your legs to slowly move away from your chest until your arms are extended and your knees are roughly above your hips. You are aiming for your thigh bone to stand relatively upright in your hip sockets. Allow your feet and lower leg to just dangle heavily, in order to relax your quads and hipflexors at the front of your thigh. Start moving your knees with your arms, drawing small circles into the air. Try to allow your arms to do the work here and your hip muscles to go passive as much as possible. This can be tricky. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be for your hips to let go. What you are trying to achieve here is that you are gently and heavily stirring the round ends of your thighbones deeply in your hip sockets, allowing them to drop deeper, lubricate the joint and relax the soft tissue and muscle around the area. The more passive the muscles around the hip become, the better. In order to achieve this, think less about the knees circling on the ceiling and move about the sensation of your hip bone circling heavily on the mat underneath you.
Perform 10 circles in each direction.
3. SIDE TO SIDE WITH WIDE LEGS
Lie on your back with your feet framing the inside line of your mat, so a little wider than your hips, knees bent. As in knee bend opening, allow your right leg to roll out to the side and the sole of your right foot to look inwards towards your left foot. Allow your pelvis to respond by rolling towards the right also. Then allow your left leg to roll slowly into the same direction. Take a breath here and return your left leg to standing. Continue rolling it outwards towards the left and let the right leg follow. You may want to widen your arms on the ground for more support. As you continue moving one leg at a time gradually from right to left and back, notice how the back of your pelvis rolls heavily from side to side, following the movement of the legs. Start with small ranges and if the movement feels good, progress to larger ranges. Gain a sense of your thigh bones rolling inwards and outwards in your hip sockets. This may give you more awareness of where you feel particularly restricted.
Perform 8 repetitions each side.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the mat. Remove any cushions or other head support from under your head for this exercise. Feel your feet spreading into the mat and notice how your pelvis becomes lighter, as you feet become heavier. Let your knees reach away from your head in the direction of your toes and allow your pelvis and spine to get picked up and follow your knees until you are at a comfortable diagonal from shoulders to knees. Take a breath or two at the top, then lower your spine and pelvis back down to the mat.
Perform 8 repetitions.
Article author and model Kristin Loeer, of Kristin Loeer Movement Therapy and Coaching, is movement therapist with a diverse background. To Kristin, movement is more than a physical necessity, but a way of expression and connection. Kristin is a comprehensively certified Polestar Pilates practitioner and mentor, with further studies and qualifications in Biomechanics, Myofascial Movement, Remedial and Clinical Massage and NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming). Kristin specialises in life changing conditions, chronic pain and mental health. Find out more about Kristin and her work on her website.