They say people carry a lot of emotion in the hips and if you’ve ever dedicated a lot of time to stretching them you may agree. In other words, as cyclists, our hips are really, really tight. It can be frustrating trying to release them, but when we do, we end up loosening an entire system of muscles through our core, hamstrings, quads, etc. Basically, it’s super important to open our hips and if you practice these movements enough it will begin to feel really good.
1. Malasana (Squat) – This is one of those poses that is sort of awkward to do, but it actually feels awesome. It’s simple. You’re basically sitting down in between your knees and thighs with your butt off the ground. Ideally your feet are flat on the ground. If this is too intense for you starting out, try sticking a block or a couch cushion under your butt so you can get your feet flat on the floor. Bring your palms to heart center and press them together. This allows you to press your elbows against your thighs to open them even further. Feel that? Yeah. It’s super intense, but it’s doing wonders for your body. While it’s not easy, try to straighten your spine as much as possible. If this is an easy pose for you then move side to side. Get creative with it. Lean into one side, then the other. Have a conversation here. Just chill, but also breathe. Always breathe. Keep your core engaged (always) and keep breathing. Your hips should be saying something at this point. Hold for as long as you're comfortable (or 10 breaths). Repeat at the end of all of these stretches.
2. Lizard – Lizard pose is one of those love/hate poses. Some people think it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever felt, others want to cry. Hopefully you love it. But if you don’t, do it anyway because it’s great for your lower body. Step your right foot into a low runner’s type lunge with your feet in between your hands. Your back knee can be either on the ground or lifted – experiment and see what feels best for you. Bring your right hand to the inside of your right foot. Heel/toe your foot out to the right a bit more and to about a 30-degree angle. You want your toes to be in line with your knee. This will protect your knee from soft tissue damage. Your palms can be pressed into the floor or you can slowly lower down onto your forearms. Let your thigh splay out to the side slightly to open your hips. Feel amazing? Awesome. Feel terrible? Tweak the pose by moving your foot out to the right a bit more or coming back onto your palms. This should be super intense. Let it happen. Breathe slowly into the hip. Relax the muscles you don’t need to use and focus all of your energy into your hips. Hold for 10 long breaths and then repeat on the second side.
If you’re feeling comfortable in Lizard try twisting. Prop yourself up on your back knee and and bring your left hand to your right knee with your upper body sitting up and twisting to the right. Do what feels good in this pose. Move a little. Get into a bit of a side stretch and open your intercostal muscles in between your ribs.
3. Pigeon – Pigeon is the other hip opener that is crucially important but also a total love/hate pose. It’s similar in stretch to Figure 4, but perhaps a bit more intense and with zero focus on balance. Pigeon also has variations which allow you to add in a deep quad stretch.
To come into Pigeon, start in plank pose. Step your right foot in between your hands. Drop your foot down so the bottom of your foot is facing to the left and your shin is parallel(ish) to the top of your mat (or perpendicular to your body). Your left leg should be extended straight behind you, toes untucked, knee and thigh on the ground. Having your right shin parallel to the mat may be impossible so it’s ok to allow your foot to tuck back in toward your pelvis. The main point is to move your weight over your bent right leg and feel a deep stretch in your hip and glute muscle. You can stay upright on your hands, fold over onto your forearms, or stretch your forearms out in front of you. Your right toes should be hanging out beyond the left side of your body (see photo). Breathe. Feel. Experience these sensations. They are deep and releasing a ton of tension.
For a variation, prop yourself up on your hands, chest upright. Bend your right knee and bring your foot toward your head. Reach back with your right hand and grab your foot, gently pulling it toward your head. If you’ve got good flexibility you can stick your foot in the crook of your elbow. This variation is called King Pigeon and is not only intense on the hips but is a super deep quad stretch for the leg that is being pulled toward your head.
Hold Pigeon or King Pigeon for 10 breaths. Relax into this pose. Be sure to switch sides to keep your body even.
4. Frog – We’ll just get the obvious out of the way. Frog pose looks ridiculous. It’s also challenging and will test your patience. It’s one of the deepest hip openers we experience, so reserve this posture for the end of your hip opening practice when things are a bit more fluid in your body. It may be helpful to add a second mat or a thick blanket for cushioning under your knees.
To come into Frog come to hands and knees. Walk your knees out as wide as you can. Begin to lay in between your knees with your arms extended in front of you. You’ll feel the intensity early on. If your knees are uncomfortable from the pressure, be sure to pad them. This is a stretch where the benefits come from time spent, so patience is a virtue. Try to lower your chest toward the ground, and keep your toes flexed. Hold for as long as you can or for 10 deep breaths. Relax your face and neck.
5. Savasana – After all of that intense hip work, allow yourself a few minutes to relax into complete stillness. Lay flat on your back with your legs relaxed wide and arms wide by your side. Relax every muscle in your body. Allow your breathing to return to normal. Take a little nap if need be. Don’t think about anything other than your breathing and just existing on your mat. You’ve done your body well, so relax and enjoy the moment.