The muscles in the hip area (glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors and hip flexors) help with range of motion, stability and running efficiency, and having them pain-free and able to move smoothly is essential to strong running performance. Runners may have particularly tight hip flexors (the iliopsoas, rectus femoris, and sartorius muscles) as a result of the repetitive forward motion of running. Here are two simple ways to stretch the hip flexors and optimize mobility.
Seated forward fold
A seated wide-legged forward fold is deceptively simple looking, but it targets both your hip area and gently stretches your entire back. It’s also a pose often used to bring mental calmness (and who doesn’t need more of that?).
Sit on the ground with your legs extended straight in front of you, and spread your legs out to the sides, as wide as you can send them. Inhale to lift your arms up above your head, exhale and hinge forward at the hips, keeping your spine long as you fold forward.
Support yourself with your arms on the floor, take your hands to your legs, or walk fingertips far out in front of you–do what feels good in your body while creating some tension. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen your front torso slightly and with each exhale release a little more fully into the forward bend.
Soften into the stretch for one to three minutes. To come up, release your feet if you’re holding them, exhale, and inhale as you sit upright, relaxing and releasing your legs.
Never force yourself into a forward fold (or any pose), especially when sitting flat on the floor. If you need to plant your feet and keep your knees bent, go right ahead. Some people feel more comfortable when sitting on the edge of a folded blanket or yoga bolster.
You can place a blanket roll or bolster in between your legs and slowly lower onto it for added support. Position it so that you can release your weight onto it. You can also try this as a standing pose (less intense for some), taking feet out wide, inhaling to stand tall, and exhaling as you hinge forward at the hips to fold.
From a seated position, bring the soles of your feet together and then slide them away from you until you feel tension.
You can stay sitting upright if you feel like that’s where your limit is. To go deeper, allow your back to round and fold forward, lightly resting your hands on your feet or on the floor in front of you.
Relax your neck and allow your head to hang down toward your heels, feeling free to use a yoga block or a cushion to support it. Soften the muscles in your face, slow your breath, and allow your body to release into the pose.
If your legs are straighter with your feet farther away from your groin, you’ll feel the tension in your hamstrings; if your feet are closer to your groin, the adductor muscles (along the inside of the thigh) get more of a stretch. Play around with positioning to find the spot that works best for your body.