View Full Version : Loosening Exercises for Rider's Tight Hip?

Aug. 21, 2009, 04:45 PM
I am VERY tight in my right hip to the point when my trainer tells me to kick with my leg I can barely move it off the side of the horse. No strength whatsoever in it. I can kick with my left until there is no tomorrow. I am right handed so this issue amuses my trainer.
But it frustrates me!
Any good exercises that I can do (without killing myself in the process) that will loosen up this hip joint?

Aug. 21, 2009, 07:43 PM
I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. That said, to loosen that up and strengthen your leg I would recommend you look into getting a yoga tape that will help you get more stretchy and supple all over, including the hip. Joining a marital arts class can also help with that--jujitsu tends to be very rigorous on the joints, as is akido, but judo, tang soo do, tae kwan do, and especially tai chi can be great ways to tone and stretch the body.

Before you ride, I would do neck rotations each way, some arm circles, side bends, waist twists, hip circles, knee rotations, and ankle rotations. I would not try to loosen only one part of the body, but rather soften up the whole body to prepare for riding.

Good luck.

Aug. 22, 2009, 02:09 AM
Your weak right leg might be due to an alignment problem, too. Check with a good Chiropractor -- one with a background in Sports Medicine if possible. I went to a Chiro a few months ago with sciatica. During the exam, he discovered a weakness in my right hip flexor and prescribed strengthening exercises. After a few weeks of the exercises, I had better control of my right leg. (It used to bend at the knee and reach towards my horse's tail without my permission!)

Sometimes "stiffness" isn't what we think it is. It might really be stiffness -- or it might be weakness and the attendant one-sidedness.

Aug. 22, 2009, 09:39 AM
I would be very interested in the stregthening exercises prescribed to you - can you share them?

Aug. 22, 2009, 01:57 PM
Sure! I'll do my best to describe this in words. leg me know if you need further clarification.

This is an isometric exercise. Your leg and arm work against each other. Done correctly, you will feel your hip flexor and abdominal muscles engage, especially at the lower positions.

Lie on your back on the floor or a bed, legs extended. Lift your weaker leg up towards your chest, knee bent, slightly open the hip joint so the leg is tilted slightly to the outside. Now, with your hand & arm on the same side, try to push your leg back down, as you resist this push back with the leg. For starters, do this for a count of five.

Move your leg downward slightly towards the straightened position and repeat the resistance push between leg and arm. Repeat again, slightly straightening the leg again. (My third position for this exercise is usually with my thigh at a 90-degree angle to my torso.) The last two positions are the killers. You really engage those hip flexors and abs with the legs in the more extended positions. It's OK to bend and stretch the leg in between resistances to relieve cramping.

If you have a SO, roommate or barn buddy, this exercise is even more effective with someone else doing the pushing back. Helpful, but not mandatory. I live alone, and even doing this exercise on my own has been very helpful. Please let me know if this explanation is unclear! I'll try to clarify it!

Here's some other stuff that may be helpful.

Test for arthritis in the hip:

Again, you are lying on your back, legs extended. Take one leg (let's say, the right leg), cross the ankle over your left knee, let the right leg sink towards the floor or bed. if you can easily drop the right knee to the floor (or damn close to it), the hip joint is OK . If not, you may want to consult a Dr. I use this as a stretch, too.

Search online for "trochanteric bursitis". You should find links to exercises for trochanteric bursitis associated with articles. The ones I found had very clear descriptions and illustrations. Besides my weak hip flexor, I had developed the bursitis, which would sometimes keep me awake at night. The stretches are good for the hips and they are also part of my stretch/exercise routine.

Aug. 22, 2009, 02:03 PM
Thanks for the information. I have R hip issues and this has been great. I cannot lift my R leg off of the saddle.

Aug. 22, 2009, 10:07 PM
Also look into strengthening your core. As said above, it might be more of a core weakness and lack of correct alignment, rather than a stiff hip.

By "core," I mean the transversus abdominis, obliques (external and internal), and pelvic floor muscles. One cannot move a leg in any direction without first engaging the transversus abdominis (TA) muscle.

To find out if you're using your core muscles for the leg, lie face down on the floor with your head on your hands. With someone else spotting you, lift your straight right leg up off the floor. If your spotter has a good eye, s/he will be able to see which muscles fire in which order. The best order is: glutes (butt), hamstrings (back of thigh), opposite low back (left, in this case), same side low back (ipsilateral quadratus lumborum or right side), opposite side upper back (left), same side upper back (right), and lastly, neck.

The only acceptable deviation from this is hamstrings first, then glutes. Everything else is pathological, with the neck being first as the worst-case scenario. Does this make sense to you? Please ask for clarification if it doesn't.

What your spotter can't see is if you're using your abs and pelvic floor. If your spotter sees that you're using any other muscles first, have him/her cue you to use your abs and pelvic floor before trying to lift your leg.

In short, I'm talking about Pilates. Get a good Pilates instructor and do a few private lessons. Group lessons won't help you much until you understand the specific basics. Pilates is a very specific exercise. A DVD also won't be particularly helpful for the same reason. In both cases you need to get a good DVD or a good instructor. Not all DVDs or instructors are equally good.

To stretch the hip flexor: Stand with your back to a doorway so that you can reach the right leg back along a wall. Stand so that the standing left leg is slightly bent and about one foot away from the door jamb. Your lower back needs to be pressed into the door jamb. This REQUIRES that you have tucked your pelvis under. Reach back with your right leg, knee slightly bent and the toes curled to the floor. Now press your heel back, straightening the leg. You should be able to feel the hip flexor tendon stretch. This is near the point of the hip.

You can do the same stretch standing in a lunge position. Make sure that your front and back feet are NOT lined up one behind the other. Make sure that you have a good base of support. Deepen your lunge and pressing your right hip forward (assuming your right leg is back). Again, keep your low back in the imprint position by tucking your pelvis under.

By slightly changing how you do this lunge, you can feel the stretch farther down the quad. You'll have to play with it a bit to find it.

If you need more info or clarification, please let me know.

Aug. 22, 2009, 10:16 PM
Very interesting core muscle test, Laurie! Must try that one, next time I have someone to act as a spotter.

I have found that the 5-point isometric exercise I described above also strengthens the core. Apparently, it also helps the psoas muscle.

I just found this little test for psoas muscle function on-line:

Stand erect with your back to a wall. Pull one leg up towards your chest with your hands. Release the leg but try to hold the position. Any drop from the raised position indicates a weak or non-functioning psoas muscle. Not sure how this works, as I'm sure no anatomist, but was pleased to find my psoas muscles are working fine!

Too bad it's not one of those things people at the beach remark about, as in, " WOW! Look at the psoas on THAT guy (or gal)!

Aug. 22, 2009, 11:35 PM
Too bad it's not one of those things people at the beach remark about, as in, " WOW! Look at the psoas on THAT guy (or gal)!


Aug. 23, 2009, 12:01 AM
My Pilates trainer taught me this exercise to stretch my tight hip flexors:

Sit on the floor or even in bed sitting up. Bend one knee and put your foot against the inside of you opposite knee so your legs look like a 4. Keeping both seat bones on the ground (bed) bend forward. This gives the stretch in the hip flexor. Don't stretch to pain just a little stretch at a time. Do both hips. Stretch a little more each day.

Aug. 23, 2009, 12:18 AM
A yoga posture called the pigeon in great to stretch your hip joint. Do the beginning posture without lifting your lower leg to focus on the hip joint.

That being said, I think one of the biggest sources of tension in hip joints in the saddle is gripping with the knees.
Is that an issue?

Dressage Art
Aug. 23, 2009, 02:49 AM
Cantering with out stirrups may be helpful

Dave Thind
Aug. 23, 2009, 08:43 AM
Find a certified Feldenkrais practitioner and in the mean time, look up 'pelvic clock feldenkrais' If you run into any problems finding info, let me know.

Best wishes,

Aug. 23, 2009, 08:58 AM
Sit on the floor or even in bed sitting up. Bend one knee and put your foot against the inside of you opposite knee so your legs look like a 4. Keeping both seat bones on the ground (bed) bend forward. This gives the stretch in the hip flexor. Don't stretch to pain just a little stretch at a time. Do both hips. Stretch a little more each day.

I'm sorry but I don't understand how this stretches the hip flexor. I just sat on the floor and tried it. Now, maybe I'm not normal (lots of people say that! :)), but this doesn't do it for me. This position stretches the inside thigh or the adductors.

The hip flexor, by definition, is attached to the hip and runs down the front of the leg to and over the knee. It is the muscle(s) that "flex" or bend the hip joint. Usually that means the knee comes up, either forward or to the side.

Stretching a muscle or tendon means to lengthen it. Shortening it by using it to flex or bend the joint it goes over does not stretch it. Bending over your lap does not stretch the hip flexor. It simply can't.

Maybe there's a miscommunication somewhere?

Aug. 23, 2009, 09:42 AM
I second the Feldenkreis suggestion. I went to a practitioner about 4-5 times and have a folder full of exercises now which are very helpful for loosening my hips (and other parts that need it too-- these things are rarely isolated, which is one reason why controlling them can be so hard: we have ingrained muscular pattern habits). My Alexander Technique instructor has also been invaluable.

You can, as Dave suggests, look up exercises, theory, etc., on line, but nothing takes the place of a good instructor/practitioner. A good one will be able to prescribe exactly the exercises needed for your particular problem, teach you both how to do it correctly and how to feel/understand kinesthetically how it works when done properly, and also how to use your body as you go about your daily activities so you don't spend those hours undoing the benefits gained during relatively breif exercise sessions.

Aug. 23, 2009, 10:26 AM
Twiliath, Perhaps you're not tight in that area. If you can sit "Indian" style comfortably then you don't have the same problem I do. I'm talking about the muscle from the lower back around and over the outside of the hip joint. Actually, by sitting Indian style and putting a little pressure on my knees gently pushing them down, I can get stretch in those hip flexors. I can't sit Indian style comfortable so I use that as a stretch exercise. And, yes, the "4" exercise does give stretch to both the inside and outside of the thigh. Another way to do that is sit in a chair, put one foot resting on the opposite knee. Gently put pressure on your knee pushing it down and gently lean into it. Changing the shape of a muscle takes a long time. Be gentle with yourself.

Aug. 23, 2009, 12:26 PM

By your description of the location of your tightness, that's not hip flexor; that's hip extensor and medial rotation.

See: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.audreysmassage.com/images/medical/GluteusMinimus.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.audreysmassage.com/featurepage/gluteal.html&usg=__rhNsW7whNWmyFmSbd5WM1p2u3wg=&h=235&w=250&sz=24&hl=en&start=2&tbnid=p3ZVfD7zXbWQTM:&tbnh=104&tbnw=111&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dgluteus%2Bminimus%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX

What you're describing is either or both the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus.

The "hip flexlor" is the tendon of the quads as it inserts in the the front of what we call the "hip bone". It's actually the ASIS (anterior superior iliac crest). The hip flexor is the quad which brings the leg up and forward.

The area you're describing (lower back wrapping around the hip joint) is the glute med. and the glute min. which both ABDUCT the leg away from the body sideways and medial rotation (rotate inward toward the midline of the body). Neither of these are hip flexors.

Where you would feel the hip flexor is directly in front just below the "point of the hip," straight down the front of the leg.

If someone talks to me about "hip flexor", then I assume what I just defined. If someone really means something else, they need to clarify what they mean, which you did do for me and I thank you.

Aug. 23, 2009, 12:31 PM
Kneel on the floor, with your palms flat in front of you and arms straight. Make your palms and your knees the four points of support. Your thighs and arms should be vertical, your back straight and your hips level. Your calves should rest on the floor (or mat). Use a mirror. Now, without shifting your weight or balance to one side, lift one knee off the ground directly to the side. Don't swing it, lift it. Your calf should remain in the same position relative to your thigh as it did when resting on the floor. No other part of your body should move except that leg. You probably won't be able to move it very far at first, but do what you can.

In the saddle, drop your stirrups. Let your legs hang down. Don't collapse your hips, shift your shoulders or your seatbones. Lift your leg off the saddle to the side. Again, don't swing it with force, that's not the point. Lift as far as you can and then return your leg to the saddle and relax. Have someone watch you to make sure the rest of your body isn't moving to compensate for this action. It's hard. Do what you can. It's not how much your leg moves, it's how precise and accurate the movement.

Don't overdo. Do a few repetitions and see how you feel the next day.

A good massage therapist can also help restore movement to blocked hips.

Aug. 23, 2009, 01:08 PM

The Feldenkrais Pelvic Clock is a lot like the Pilates Clock or Bowl. We just don't turn our heads! ;)

Pilates Pelvic Bowl/Clock: Lie on your back with your knees up and legs and feet parallel and arms by your sides. 12 at the pubic bone, 6 at the belly button, 3 at the right hip, and 9 at the left hip. But imagine that you have bowl created by the pelvis and there's a marble rolling around in it.

Start by tucking your pelvis so that your back flattens/presses into the floor. This rolls the marble to 6 on the clock face. Pick up your left hip slightly (no more than 1 inch). This rolls the marble to 3 on the clock face. Now lower your left hip and arch your lower back. This rolls the marble to 12. Now lift the right hip up about an inch. This rolls the marble to 9. Lower the right hip and tuck the pelvis. The marble has now returned to 6. Continue for a few revolutions and make it as smooth as possible.

Change sides/directions and repeat.

Another hip loosening exercise is knee sways, which can be done a couple of different ways.

Knee sways: Lie on your back with your knees up and thighs close together and your arms either by your sides or out to make a "T" shape with your body.

One way is to let your knees float toward the floor on one side (say the right) keeping both feet touching the floor. Your thighs will slide past each other and your feet will roll to the right sides. Let your left hip come off the floor, but make sure your left shoulder stays firmly attached to the floor. Scoop your abs and get ahold of the pelvic floor and bring your knees back up. Try it without using the pelvic floor and notice the difference. Repeat 4-5 times, then change sides or alternate between sides.

Another version is to keep the thighs tightly squeezed together and your left foot will come off the floor when going right. Be sure to scoop your abs and use the pelvic floor to come up.

Anothr version is to use the whole exercise as a way to stretch. Just lie there with your opposite shoulder firmly pressed to the floor while trying to get your knees to the floor on the other side. This stretches the back, pelvis and left side (if the knees are going right).

OP - You report that you cannot lift your right leg off your horse to kick him, is that right? Can you stand up while on the ground and abduct or bring your right leg away from your standing leg? Do you have to hold onto something to do this? Is it harder to abduct the right leg than the left leg?

Watch yourself in a mirror or have someone spot you - what do you do to compensate for your right leg weakness? Do lean one way or another? Without holding onto something, what do you do with your arms? Your torso? Hips, knees, ankles, head?

Get on your horse and have someone spot you from behind, in front, and from each side while you try to abduct your leg off your horse. What do you do with the rest of your body when you use your right leg? Left leg? I want to know about arms, shoulders, head, neck, torso, seat, opposite leg (if possible).

Are you centered in the saddle? Do you have even weight in both seat bones? Are your legs the same length from side to side even if the leathers are absolutely even? Are your legs in the same position from side to side? At a halt? Walk? Trot?

At a trot, which circle is easier to do - going right or going left? Which one falls in? Which one drifts out?

Look in a full-length mirror without as few clothes as possible and draw an imaginary plumb line down through the middle of your nose. Is your head on straight? Does your belly button line up with the center of your collar bones? Are your hips level? Knees? Ankles? Shoulders? Is there the same amount of space between your waist and the elbows on both sides? Do you prefer to stand on one leg? Which one?

Do you stand with your knees locked? How much curvature to your lower back? Upper back? Where's the weight in your feet - inside, outside, toes, or heels? Are your feet the same? Do you stand so that a plumb line goes through your ear, your shoulder joint, your hip joint, just behind your knee joint and just in front of your ankle joint?

Have you ever had any injury of any kind? What happened? What was injured?

It might be that you don't need to loosen the joint so much as you need to strenghten it and align and strengthen the rest of the body as well.

All of these things matter.

Auto Be A Storm
Aug. 23, 2009, 02:58 PM
I had a friend who told me to wiggle my toes and spread them out while riding, it naturally relaxes the tension in your hip!! I am the same way from riding on the track I close my hips and I get yelled at all the time!!!

Aug. 23, 2009, 07:28 PM
Twiliath, you're right. I got them confused. However, I did have tightness in the extender at one time on one side. This caused misalignment and pain in the hip joint. The physical therapists had me stand holding a chair or rail and lift my leg back using that abductor to stretch that front flexor. It was something I had to repeat over and over until I finally got myself re-aligned and the pain went away. If your medical insurance covers physical therapy, it's not a bad idea to get yourself evaluated. Just because we're riders doesn't mean our sport injuries don't count.

Aug. 23, 2009, 09:33 PM
You can say that again!

Aug. 23, 2009, 10:36 PM
Someone posted this you tube video of stretch for Hip flexors/ Psoas on a different thread a while back...

was very helpful for me...


Also- there are a lot more if you search youtube for "Psoas Stretch"

Aug. 23, 2009, 11:21 PM
Blackhorsegirl, I use that "four" position and the one leg crossed (at the ankle) over the knee & etc. to stretch my piriformis muscle. I refer to the piriformis as that "angry" muscle in my butt.

It's usually mad about something!

Aug. 23, 2009, 11:28 PM
3Hanns, very good video and it looks like there's a wealth of other videos regarding the psoas, too!

Excellent information!

Aug. 23, 2009, 11:44 PM
Beasmom, I about fell out of my chair laughing! Yes, angry muscle is a good description. I have very long legs and I can bend over and put my hands flat on the floor even at 60 years of age but those butt muscles that come around over the hip just don't want to give an inch. I try to do a little stretch exercise every day.

Aug. 24, 2009, 12:06 AM
Oh, Lordy, don't fall out of your chair! That'll just make the piriformis madder!!!

I love these sorts of threads. I pick up so much good information!

Aug. 24, 2009, 10:38 AM
Try this:

Sit in a chair, feet on the floor, shoulder's width apart. Put your right ankle over your left knee. Try to position your right knee so that it is level with the left (so that your calf is parallel to the floor). Bend forward, slowly, at the waist. Then do the other leg.

That's what works for me.

I attended a Britta Johnston clinic recently. She also had the rider do an exercise in the saddle, to relax her hips.

Sit in the saddle and raise your right knee towards your chest. Keep your shoulders level, your back straight. Use your arms to pull your knee to your chest. Hold. Then release the stretch all at once so your leg DROPS (like it's falling to the ground).

Repeat on the other side.

Aug. 28, 2009, 09:18 PM
Beasmon, My massage therapist just showed me a new exercise to stretch those muscles over the hips. Of course, this was after spending a long time working on those "angry" muscles.

Stand where you have something to hold on to like a chair, etc, cross one ankle over the other and bend from the waist as far down as comfortable. The leg holding the weight will feel the stretch in the hip joint area. Reverse and do the other leg. These have given me the best stretch.

Aug. 28, 2009, 09:24 PM
The tennis ball exercise cured extreme discomfort in my piriformis, after a few weeks. I did the exercise once or twice a day. http://www.spineuniverse.com/displayarticle.php/article130.html

Aug. 28, 2009, 11:50 PM
Ouch, Easyrider. But I bet that does help.

Thanks Blackhorsegirl, for the stretch. I may need it tonight. Long day at the show...

Aug. 29, 2009, 12:46 AM
Despite what the article says, it's not "excruciating." It hurts so good. And what a relief to have no more pain from my piriformis. My massage therapist recommended this and it was a miracle.

Aug. 29, 2009, 01:28 AM
Based on my own personal experiences, rather than trying out exercises online, I'd go to some kind of qualified professional (chiropractor, WELL TRAINED yoga/pilates instructor or personal trainer, PT, heck, even a well trained dance teacher) and get them to do an assessment and recommend exercises - which they should then WATCH (and help) you do to make sure you're doing them correctly. (If you just get handed a sheaf of photocopies and shown the door, go someplace else.)

The reason for this is that it can be very difficult to isolate specific areas of the body to stretch or strengthen, because often tightness or weakness goes hand in hand with a neighboring area being looser or stronger than it 'should' be. If the exercise isn't specifically designed to limit the involvement of the area that's normally 'taking up the slack' as it were for the problem area, then it's going to be very difficult to get real improvement.

(That may not be clear, so I'll use my own example: I have arthritis in my lower spine and it gets very very tight. I'm also extremely flexible in my hips and upper back, so the vast majority of lower back stretches - which rely on your hips and upper back only having so much give before the lower back HAS to join in the fun - just don't do a thing for me. My lower back stays just as it is and my hips and upper back go 'oh, okay, let's stretch!' and nothing improves. I had to see a specialist PT who watched me go through a variety of exercises - including some poking and prodding occasionally - before eventually coming up with a couple that work, because they also stretch the hip area enough that my lower back HAS to get involved. If someone had just given me the list of common back stretches and sent me on my way, it wouldn't've helped anything.)

I'd particularly think about going to see someone who has training if it's a distinctly 'sided' thing, as it could stem from some other issue rather than just your hip joints naturally being tight. (The tightness could be the result of your body compensating for some other issue which you're not even aware of.)

(And by training I don't necessarily mean specifically medical - but it has to be someone who has studied anatomy and understands how things work together and what each stretch or exercise is actually doing bio-mechanically, so that they know what to look for to see if it's working for you or not.)

Aug. 29, 2009, 01:37 AM
40 min elyptical 3 times a week, ball exercises and core lifts with weights in both hands- 3times a week, ride everyday and you're fine!!
Also do the weight machines for legs- with the weak leg only- works wonders...!!
PS: the older you are- the more it hurts...get used to it...it's the way it works! ...:(!