In theory, the hips are one of the most mobile joints in the body, since they’re able to move along multiple axes as they flex and extend, abduct and adduct, and internally and externally rotate.
In practice, though? Anyone who works at a desk all day knows that it only takes a few hours of sitting before the hips start to feel… creaky.
That’s because when we’re sitting for long periods, our hip flexors and lower back muscles get used to being in a shortened position, says Tanner Neuberger, a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy in Des Moines, Iowa. And, when we spend a long time without moving, our synovial fluid thickens, he says, creating more resistance in the joint.
Beyond the sheer discomfort of having stiff hips after sitting, you might also find you have decreased mobility in other parts of the body like the knees or the lower back, Neuberger says, and it can make getting warmed up for safe exercise a longer, more difficult task.
But sedentary workers aren’t doomed to sticky hips: We asked Neuberger for exercises that combat hip stiffness. He recommends spreading these seven moves throughout the day to break up long periods of sitting.
1. Half kneeling hip flexor stretch
Kneeling with your right foot planted in front of you and your left knee on the ground (creating two right angles with the knees) and the spine lengthened, contract the left glute to gently bring the pelvis forward until you feel a slight stretch in the front of the left hip. Slowly rock back and forth, being careful not to arch the back. Do two sets of 15 per side. If you feel your hip flexor begin to loosen, advance the stretch by involving the lumbar spine: When the right foot is planted, reach the left arm up and over your head to the right as you rock forward.
2. Pigeon stretch
Extend the left leg straight behind you on the floor, with the right leg in front of you, the right hip externally rotated and the right knee bent with the shin perpendicular to the body and the foot flexed. With the hips square, lean forward to stretch, landing on either the hands or the elbows, depending on how tight your hips are. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
3. Front lying internal rotation
Lying face down on your stomach, bend the right knee at a 90 degree angle. Rotate internally from the hip joint, gently sending the right foot out to the side. Do two sets of 15 reps on each side, holding the stretch with the foot out to the side for a few seconds if it feels good.
4. Front lying leg lift
Lying on your stomach with both legs straight, contract the right glute to raise the right leg. The range of motion will be small—stop before you feel the lower back getting involved. Keep both hips pressed into the floor the entire exercise. Do two sets of 15 reps on both sides.
5. Side lying or standing leg lift
Lying on your side with the bottom leg bent, raise your top leg up and slightly back, feeling the activation in your glute medius (the upper corner of the working glute). If you feel the front of your hip, focus on lifting the leg further back. Do two sets of 15 reps on each side. To advance the exercise, try it standing, making sure your upper body stays still and your hips stay square.
6. Glute bridges
Lying on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, bring your heels as close to your seat as you can. Engaging the core and drawing the belly button towards the spine, squeeze the glutes to lift the hips into a bridge position, feeling the stretch in the hip flexors. Do two sets of 15 reps.
Standing with the legs slightly wider than hip distance and the arms outstretched or on your hips, squat, breaking at the hips and shifting the weight back into the heels to send the seat towards the floor. Do two sets of 15 reps.