Open Up Your Tight Hips With These Four Pilates Exercises

Woman lies on her side with one leg raised
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If you spend a lot of time sitting (and who doesn’t?) whether that’s at a desk, in a car or even on the sofa, you may well find your hips are prone to tightness. As I sit typing this, I can feel a niggling discomfort in the front of my hips—a sign I need to stand up and move my hip flexors. While stretching can offer reprieve, Pilates offers more than a temporary fix to this problem.

I spoke to Pilates teacher and sports therapist Chiara Boswell, founder of SW4 Pilates in London, to see what she recommends for tight hips.

About Our Expert
About Our Expert
Chiara Boswell

Chiara Boswell has a BSc in Sports Therapy and studied classical Pilates, completing a 950-hour teacher training course at The Pilates Center in Colorado, USA. She also has a certification in prenatal and postnatal recovery from the Center For Women’s Fitness. She has worked with rugby teams, footballers, runners and professional dancers as well as helping people with injuries and back pain.

“Tight hips are such a plague!” says Boswell. “Most people suffer from it. I see a lot of people with this issue, professionals who spend most of their day sitting, which makes their hips flexors short, tight and weak. At the same time the hamstrings and glutes and deeper muscles at the hips are also getting weaker as we sit on them for so long.”

And it’s not just the sedentary among us who suffer from tight hips. “There are also very active people such as runners and gym-goers who suffer from tightness at the hips, and this comes down to the muscle activation that occurs at the hip flexors,” says Boswell. “Again, these people might be sitting most of their day and then get up and run, those tight quads are not really helping the situation. That’s when Pilates can help.”

You might be thinking, ‘Surely a bit of stretching can fix that?’. I often imagine that a few deep breaths in pigeon pose will sort out tightness in my hips, but according to Boswell, that’s not enough to make a real difference. “Stretching will help you for about 15 minutes but it is not a long-lasting solution, even if you do it regularly,” says Boswell. “To change the tightness at a neurological level—because tightness is a nervous system response—we need to teach muscles to activate differently.”

Even if you work out a lot you may have weaknesses you’re not aware of that can affect your hips. “I’ve had toned and muscular people coming to my classes and shaking with the strain because their body is not used to holding those muscle contractions,” says Boswell. “And they’ve left my classes feeling more supple and mobile.” Something we’d all like to feel, I’m sure.

Pilates Exercises For Tight Hips

1 Single-leg circle

Reps 5 in each direction, on each side

Lie on your back, with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Lift your right foot up towards the ceiling, keeping your leg as straight as possible. Rotate your right leg so that your right kneecap is pointing towards your right shoulder. Try and keep this external rotation for the whole movement.

Slowly circle your leg anticlockwise, lifting your right hip slightly off the mat as your leg crosses over to the left side and resting your hip on the ground when the leg is out to the right. Inhale as you circle downwards and exhale as you circle back up to the start. Do five circles then change direction. Repeat on the other side.

2 Shoulder bridge

Reps 5

Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms by your sides, and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Exhale as you tilt your pelvis upwards and roll up through your spine, one vertebra at a time, pushing down through your feet so your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold at the top as you inhale, and then exhale to roll down. Make sure you’re pressing your arms down into the ground to support your spine throughout.

“This is a great stretch for tight quads and a fabulous activation exercise for the hamstrings, which are often weak,” says Boswell.

3 Lying side-kick

Reps 5 in each direction

Lie on your side with your legs straight and a little in front of the line made by your torso. Prop your head up with your hand and lean on your elbow. Raise your top foot to hip level. Slowly move your leg forward, keeping your lower back in a neutral curve, and pulse once at the furthest point. Reverse the movement and continue backward. Repeat for five reps in total.

Then raise and lower your top leg for five reps for five reps. Finally, add some ronde de jambe, or big circles, keeping your leg straight, for five reps in each direction.

4 Heel beats

Reps 5 breath cycles

Lie on your front with your legs extended, your upper arms out to the sides and elbows bent and your forehead resting on your hands. Keep your head and upper back relaxed. Stretch your legs away from you so they float off the mat slightly. Externally rotate your legs, so your knees point slightly out. Open and close your legs, beating your inner thighs together, keeping the movement small and fast. Inhale for a few beats, exhale for a few beats. Aim to do five breath cycles, then relax completely onto the mat.

Boswell has contributed two more Pilates sessions you may like to try: six Pilates core exercises and Pilates for back pain.

Camilla Artault
Content editor

Camilla Artault is a writer and keen runner. She has covered women’s running gear – testing leggings, jackets, running bras, tops and shorts – for Coach since 2018, as well as interviewing experts and writing about a range of health and lifestyle topics.