Are your hips in as good of shape as you think they are? For your sake, we hope they are because the hip muscles are one of the most important muscle groups in your entire body!
Put your hip biomechanics to the test by trying to internally rotate them. Turn your thigh bones in towards the midline of your body and see what happens. If you can't turn your thighs without hip pain, then your hips could probably use some strengthening and stretching. More specifically, your hip internal rotator muscles could use some help!
To get your hip internal rotators in the best shape, we're sharing our top 7 exercises and stretches to improve mobility. If you stick to these seven movements, your internal rotators will be able to reach their full range of motion in no time!
The Basics of Your Hip Muscles
The hips are one of the most important muscle groups in the body. However, few people know much about them or even know their primary mover muscles. Therefore, before getting started on the stretches and exercises, here is a short synopsis of your hip muscles!
There are more than twenty primary mover muscles in the hips. The muscles are grouped based on the type of movement they initiate from the hip joint. Internal rotation is one type of movement, and the other five include:
- Hip flexion
- Hip extension
- Hip adduction
- Hip abduction
- Hip external rotation
The muscles that help initiate internal rotation from the hip joint include the tensor fasciae latae, gluteus minimus, and piriformis. Also, the adductor longus, brevis, and magnus in the inner thigh as well as the pectineus in the upper thigh assist the hip muscles with rotation.
Each of our top seven exercises and stretches improves the strength and flexibility in these internal rotator muscles. As a result, your hips will have greater internal rotation mobility!
Why Is Hip Internal Rotation Important?
As we mentioned above, the hip muscles don't get quite as much hype as other muscle groups. However, that doesn't change the fact that internal rotation of the hip is extremely important. There are several consequences of not being able to properly internally rotate your hips. Here are a couple of the most common ones:
Lower back pain: The most common consequence of poor hip rotation is low back pain. When your hips do not rotate, the lower back, also known as the lumbar spine, starts to compensate. The added compensation causes back pain. In addition to the lower back, sometimes the hip flexors and external rotators also compensate, which further adds to the pain.
Inward caving legs: Have you ever seen someone walk or do a squat with their knees caving inwards? This phenomenon is called knee valgus, and it's common in people who have weak internal hip rotators and overall weak hips. Knee valgus can lead to an entire cascade of other issues, including knee pain, ACL injuries, and overall weak lower extremities.
Overall poor lower extremity and hip mobility: Lastly, whenever any muscle in your body is tight or weak, it is bound to cause mobility problems. And, hip internal rotator muscles are no different. Healthy internal rotators allow your hip muscle group to flourish. Not only that, but immobility of the hip rotators can lead to immobility of the legs. When your hips are in good shape, the health of your entire body improves.
These are just a few of the consequences of not being able to rotate the hips. But, the good news is that the most common causes of not being able to rotate the hips are avoidable!
What Causes Weak and Tight Hips?
Weak and tight hips are not uncommon. In fact, hip immobility, including in the internal rotators, is one of the most common causes of visiting a physical therapist today.
Because it is so common, you would think that more people would be aware of the causes of poor hip internal rotation. With that said, here are some of the most common causes weak and tight hips that leads to poor hip internal rotation:
Lack of physical activity: First and foremost, not getting enough physical activity is a precursor to countless potential health issues. And, weak and tight internal hip rotator muscles are one of them. The best thing you can do for your rotators is to get regular exercise. Workouts as simple as walking and static stretching can do wonders for your hip rotators!
Poor posture: Poor posture, specifically back posture, often causes your hip muscles to overwork. Overworking then leads to pain and stiffness in the hips. The solution? Simply start standing up taller, pressing your shoulders back, and keeping your pelvis stacked!
Hip impingement: A hip impingement occurs when the femoral head pinches against the acetabulum, the cup of the hip joint. The pinching causes pain and stiffness in the hips, which further leads to an inability to internally rotate the hips. It occurs when the femoral head is deformed and is usually only cured with surgery.
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis in which the tissue at the ends of the bones wears down. It can occur almost anywhere in the body, including the hips. And, when that wear and tear is in the hip internal rotators, the muscles become stiff and inflexible. There are several causes of osteoarthritis, including old age, joint stress, and obesity.
Trochanteric bursitis: Trochanteric bursitis is a condition in which a fluid-filled sac located in the greater trochanter of the hip joint becomes inflamed. The inflammation causes pain and stiffness, which makes it difficult to internally rotate the hips. There are several common causes of bursitis, including poor posture, hip injuries, and extended periods of stress on the hip joints.
The Root Cause of Weak and Tight Hips
Most of the above hip problems don't happen on their own. With the exception of a hip impingement, all of the other conditions occur most often as the result of lifestyle choices. More specifically, lifestyle choices pertaining to our overly sedentary culture.
America's sedentary culture is found in almost every aspect of our lives. Most people drive or take transit to work and school, rather than walking or biking. Most people spend between seven and nine hours per day sitting behind a desk for work. And, the average person in America spends about four hours per day sitting down while watching TV.
If you add all of those hours together on top of the time spent eating and scrolling through social media while sitting down, you would be shocked at how much time we spend immobile.All of this time spent sitting down is extremely harmful to your hips. Even if you are a religious gym-goer, your hips could still be suffering as a result of spending too much time sitting down.
Therefore, if you want to reduce the odds that your hip internal rotators become tight or weak in the first place, the simple answer is to spend more time standing up! On top of that, become aware of your posture while you are standing. Things like a standing desk or walking to the grocery store could be the difference between healthy and unhealthy hip rotators.
Standing will take unnecessary pressure off of your hips, and good posture will allow your lumbar spine and hips to breathe. As a result, your hip internal rotators, and your hips in general, will thrive!
On top of spending more time standing, be sure to add these 7 hip internal rotator stretches and exercises to your routine! The combo of standing up more, increasing flexibility, and improving strength, will dramatically improve your hip health.
Hip Internal Rotation Stretches
The great thing about stretching is that it requires little to no effort. In fact, most of the time you do them while laying down! Therefore, we suggest practicing these stretches during times that you would normally be sitting or laying down. Instead of sitting on the couch and crushing your hips to watch TV, drop to the floor and do these stretches.
Knee to knee stretch: Lay flat on your back on a soft, flat surface. Pull your feet in towards your glutes so that your knees create a 90-degree angle while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Slide your feet slightly outside the width of your hips and rest your hands along your sides. When you're ready, rotate both knees in towards one another as if you are trying to touch them together. The soles of your feet should open to the sides. You should feel a stretch in the sides of your hips and gluteal muscles. Hold the stretch for twenty to thirty seconds, then release and go again!
Lying resistance band stretch: You need a resistance band for this next stretch. Lay flat on your back with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Pull your right knee in towards your chest to loop the middle of the resistance band around your right foot. Hold both ends of the band in your left hand. When you're ready, pull the resistance band so that your right knee comes towards your chest and slightly across to the left. You should feel a stretch in the right hips, hamstring, and gluteus medius (another essential hip muscle). Hold the stretch for twenty to thirty seconds, then switch to the other side!
Therapy ball massage: Who doesn't love a good massage every now and again? This next stretch works both to improve flexibility and massage the tensor fasciae latae. You will need a small therapy ball for this stretch. Sit on the floor with your knees bent to 90-degrees. Grab your therapy ball and place it on the outer part of your right hip.
Drop your right knee to the side, place your hands on the floor behind you, and start circling your hips to move the ball all over your right hip. Roll the ball around for thirty seconds, then place it under the left outer hip.
Hip Internal Rotation Exercises
To stay healthy, your hip rotators need consistent activation! Activating them will improve not only the strength of the rotators, but your hip muscles in general. With that said, here are our four favorite exercises for the hip internal rotators, no physical therapy required!
Resistance band on all fours: For this exercise, you need a looped resistance band, or you can tie a regular resistance band in a circle. Wrap the looped band around a stable anchor. Get on all fours on a soft, flat surface, and wrap the other end of the looped band around your left quad. Your left hip should be in line with the anchor. Move away from the anchor so that there is tension in the band. When you're ready, lift your left knee off the floor and circle it several times. As the band rounds the circle back to its starting position, the tension in the band should increase and your rotator muscles should fire up. Do ten to twelve rotations with the left leg, then switch to the right.
Seated internal rotation: Sit flat on the floor with a straight back and your knees bent to 90-degrees. Place your left hand on the floor behind you, and rest your right hand on your right knee. Flex your right foot, then slowly bend your right knee towards the midline of the body. Try to get the knee as close to the floor as possible. While your knee is inward, your pelvis and upper body should stay facing forward. Hold your knee in for three seconds, then return to starting, and repeat again!
Standing hip hinges with a rotation: Stand up straight with a neutral spine and arms by your sides. Step your right foot backward about one to two feet behind your body. When you're ready, hinge forward from your hips while slightly rotating your upper body open to the left. Hold the twist, then release and un-hinge from your hips to return to standing. Make sure to keep your spine neutral as you hinge forward. Do ten to twelve reps with the right leg back, then switch to the left leg.
Standing spine twist: Stand up straight with a neutral spine and arms by your sides. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. Externally rotate your right foot so that your toes point directly outward. Try to keep your pelvis close to neutral as your foot rotates. With your toes pointing out, twist your upper body in the opposite direction to the left. The contrasting twist of the femur and upper body will activate the rotator muscles. Hold the twist for ten seconds, then release and go again! Do ten to twelve reps rotating the right foot outward, then switch to the opposite side and rotate the left foot.
Final Thoughts on Hip Internal Rotation
While the hip internal rotators don't get as much of the hype as your other large muscle groups, they are not to be neglected! Muscular and flexible rotators are a sign of good hip health, and hip health is a sign of an overall healthy body.
Get to work on our top physical therapy-free rotator stretches and exercises to start firing up your internal rotator muscles today! As a result, your hips will have overall greater rotational mobility.
Bonus tip: As we already talked about, the health of your hips is a good indicator of the health of the rest of your body. With that said, be sure to regularly fire up all of your hip muscles, including the all-important abductors.
To help you get started, here are our top ten exercises for the hip abductor muscles!