July 17, 2019

Tackling Tight Hip Flexors

Supine psoas strengtheners with yoga block

The most common request heard by yoga teachers is “hip openers, please!”. After all, students come to yoga most of the time after sitting. For hours on end. They feel the need to stretch out the stiffness.

If you teach yoga, know this: sitting is a passive stretch. 

As you sit, most of the posterior muscles of your hips are on a constant stretch. If you sit in one place long enough, your hips will feel stiff. More passive stretching — in the name of “opening the hips” — doesn’t necessarily equate to hip freedom and mobility. (Similarly, achieving lotus pose does not equal peace of mind).

A frequent topic of discussion in our Yoga Anatomy Online Mentorship: your skeleton pre-determines most of your hip range of motion. The depth and orientation of your acetabulum – the hip socket – will set your body’s hip “opening” limits, pushing past those can contribute to boney changes like FAI, labral tears, early osteoarthritis, and more.

Instead of assuming that students need passive stretching, we invite you to reimagine hip opening as active movement and strengthening instead.

Sure, you can still nod and say “ok” to the requests, but try offering strengthening into a wide variety of positions of the hips, from basic to challenging and see what happens.

Need ideas? Watch this new video showing one simple way to do just that. (More videos will be on their way).

This shows strengthening for iliopsoas, or psoas, your main hip flexor muscle(s): 

Pure stretching alone may give you added mobility, but it is happening on borrowed time. Sustainable mobility must involve strength, and we are here for you to make that revolution possible in the world of yoga.

Please comment below with any questions or ideas you have!

10 Comments on “Tackling Tight Hip Flexors

Camille Harris
July 17, 2019 at 10:04 pm

I needed that! I feel stronger already. Thank you!

July 18, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Great! Glad to hear.

Jennie MacGoy
July 18, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Thank you for sharing this! I have lots of yoga students who say they have tight hips. Looking forward to sharing with them. I am becoming a big proponent of strengthening more and passive stretching less!

July 18, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Thanks, Jennie!

July 22, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Do you have more about hip mobility that is available for study/reading? I feel like I really want to get this down. Im growing in knowing how to protect my students and myself. Im particularly flexible and wonder if I may have already cause micro tears in my hips because I can get deeply into many poses involving hip mobility.
I would love to read more about what you say into this subject.

July 23, 2019 at 10:57 pm

i have a ton of hip videos on my YouTube channel – and more are coming :

Wendy Middleton-Bentley
October 5, 2019 at 11:13 pm

How do the more superficial muscles of the abdomen anchor the psoas when the lumbar spine is flat against the ground? Thanks for the informative video.

October 8, 2019 at 11:17 am

You could think of what’s happening from a few different models, but essentially: the abdominal wall muscles are stabilizing the spine and trunk. The hip is still able to move freely. The psoas attaches to multiple points on the spine, as well as the hip. By engaging the abdominal wall, psoas can only efficiently function as a hip flexor / mover rather than move the spine (which is otherwise one of its actions).

July 23, 2020 at 9:20 am

Hello Dr. Foster, I’m loving your videos and articles on lower body work. Would you have any guidance on what might cause me to be unable to do straight leg lifts? I can lift with knees bent. Hamstrings, perhaps? I’m trying to isolate my trouble spots so I can work on them. Would a physical therapist be the best professional to help me figure these things out? Thanks so much!

July 23, 2020 at 12:15 pm

I wouldn’t be able to answer this without evaluating you, so yes, a physical therapist will be able to help you. Telehealth has had amazing results for me, so even if you can’t get to someone in person, you can definitely still see someone.


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