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Photo: Maria Revelj, Bingin Beach, Bali


The Inertia

There’s no doubt you need fully flexible hips to be a great surfer. Protecting yourself from injury and maximizing your speed, power and agility also requires balancing this with adequate strength and stability.

The benefits of having strong, supple hips are:

-Maximize your power and speed.
-Optimize your body control and agility on the board.
-Increase your range of motion, especially for turns.
-Improve your movement efficiency.
-Increase your stamina.
-Relieve stiffness, discomfort, and pain.
-Reduce your risk of injury.

So how does your body get tight to begin with?

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Well, your body is an efficiency machine. It adapts to what you do most often and not necessarily to what is best for your long-term health.

Here are some of the ways that this can affect your hips:

Chronic contraction

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No matter who you are and what you do, you probably sit too much. Sitting shortens the hip flexors—the muscles that connect the tops of the thighs to the pelvis and lower back.

Repetitive strain

Surfing is incredibly demanding on the hip flexors—every time you pop up and on each compression of your hips as you pump the board.

Asymmetry

Rotating your front foot outwards puts you in an unnatural position, pulling your hips and pelvis out of alignment. Over time, this can cause problems.

Use it or lose it

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As we get older, we lose the ability to perform movements and get into positions that we’ve neglected over time.

So your hips become tight because they’re perpetually contracted, overworked and required to generate maximum power and speed out of optimal alignment. And that’s why you need to integrate regular stretching sessions into your training program to regain full flexibility and range of motion.

Loosen up your hips

In yoga, there are three types of hip openers: hip flexor, outer hips, and groin stretches. You may be surprised to find you’re actually pretty flexible in some areas and not at all in others. Here are three poses that demonstrate the different angles.

Lizard

Photo: Charley Smith

This pose predominantly stretches the hip flexors but you can also get at the groin and glutes.

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-From Downward Dog, take a deep breath in. Exhale, step your right foot in between your hands. Drop your left knee, release your back foot and slide it back.
-Bring your right hand inside your right foot and walk your right foot out to the edge of the mat. Sink into the pose.
-If you can, drop down onto your forearms and interlace your fingers. Your can support your arms on a block or cushion until you’re loose enough to get all the way down.
-Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, in and out through your nose. Move in any way that allows you to free up tension in your hips.
-Take a deep breath in. Exhale, tuck your back toes and step back to Downward Dog for the other side.

Reclining Butterfly

Photo: Charley Smith

This pose is great for externally rotating the hips. I recommend you put cushions under your knees for support as this will actually encourage your hips to open.

-Lie on your back, bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall open in the shape of a diamond.
-Bring your arms up overhead and take hold of opposite elbows.
-Completely relax into the pose, allowing gravity to open up your hips.
-Hold for 3-5 minutes, breathing in and out through your nose.
-To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your knees and gently lift them back up to center.

Pigeon

Photo: Charley Smith

This is a great stretch for the outer hips and piriformis and a passive stretch for the hip flexors. If it’s too uncomfortable for you, you can lie on your back and stretch your glutes in Dead Pigeon.

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-From Downward Dog, inhale, sweep your right leg up to the sky. Exhale, bring your right knee forward, place it on the mat behind your right wrist and position your right foot underneath your left hip.
-Release your back foot and slide it back. Look behind you to check that your right leg is straight.
-If your hips are not level, you can support your right hip on a cushion.
-Inhale, press into your fingertips to lengthen your spine. Exhale, walk your hands forward and come down onto your forearms. If you’d like to go deeper, cross your arms and rest your forehead on the mat.
-Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.
-To come out of the pose, bring your hands to the mat, tuck your back toes and step back to Downward Dog for the other side.

15-minute routine

You can find a 15-minute sequence designed to unlock tight hips here.

Strong and stable hips

Where traditional resistance training is great for strengthening the larger, superficial muscles like the quads, back, and shoulders, yoga is more effective at building functional strength in the smaller, stabilizer muscles. Much of this work is done through isometric contractions—holding poses and staying engaged for several breaths—and in the careful transition between poses.

3 balancing poses for strength

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These poses simultaneously train for strength, flexibility, and balance. To safely and effectively improve your hip stability, keep these three things in mind: alignment, engagement, and control.

Check your alignment in the poses (send me a message if you have any questions), stay engaged—draw everything in towards the center of your body to lock your hips in place, and maintain complete control and focus throughout.

You can practice these poses anywhere, at any time of the day. Hold them for as long as you can, breathing in and out through your nose. Increase your hold times as you get stronger.

Tree

Photo: Charley Smith

Tree pose externally rotates the hips and stretches the groin and inner thighs.

-Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead.
-Shift your weight into your right foot and bring your left foot to your ankle, lower leg or inner thigh. It is crucial that your foot rests either above or below your knee as your knee is not designed to bend sideways.
-On an inhalation, sweep your arms out and up overhead and reach up through your fingertips. Exhale, relax your shoulders away from your ears. You can bring the palms of your hands together or keep them shoulder-width apart.
-Look straight ahead at a point that isn’t moving to help you with your balance.
-Press your left foot firmly into the mat, engage your core and relax the muscles in your face.
-Carefully release the pose and switch sides.

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Warrior Three

Photo: Charley Smith

Warrior three is great for stabilizing the hips and stretching the hamstrings.

-Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead.
-Shift your weight into your right foot and hug your left knee into your chest.
-Take a deep breath in. Exhale, lean forward, bring your palms together at your chest and kick your left foot back. You can keep your standing leg slightly bent.
-Fix your gaze on a point that isn’t moving to help you keep your balance.
-Flex your left foot and point your toes straight down. Keep your hips level.
-Release the pose and switch sides.

Eagle

Photo: Charley Smith

Eagle is another balance pose that stabilizes the hips. It stretched the outer hips, rotates them internally, and stretches the glutes and piriformis also.

 

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-Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead.
-Bend your knees, cross your right leg over the left and wrap your right foot behind your left calf. Your left knee should point straight ahead. If you can’t tuck your foot behind your calf, rest your toes on the mat for balance.
-Stretch your arms out to the sides, cross your right arm over the left, bend your elbows, wrap your forearms and try to bring your palms together. If you can’t wrap your arms around twice, you can touch the backs of your hands together.
-Lift your elbows to feel a stretch across your upper back, and drop your hips.
-Relax any tension in your neck and shoulders.
-Carefully release the pose and switch sides.

Some final tips

-As with all skill development, consistency is crucial.
-Force is a substitution for intelligence always. (Feldenkrais) Be patient and mindful.
-Catch yourself anytime you find yourself holding your breath. Breathe and release.
-Notice what’s going on in your body so that you can work to shore up your weaknesses.
-If you’re injured, please get the all-clear from your physical therapist. Yoga is not a substitute for injury rehab.

Stay loose!

Note: As a great resource for surfers, the author has just released the Yoga 15: Hip Mobility series, 15 x 15-minute videos to loosen up tight hips, increase hip mobility and build strength and stability in the hip joints.

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