The role of hip mobility comes up regularly in the clinic but how much movement you need depends on what your goals are. If you want to be a gymnast the the quantity and quality of movement needs to be high but if you have less lofty goals of maintaining good hip health for running then we still want quality movement but the amount we need is significantly less. Having said this regardless of our goal maintaining a normal range of movement in the hip can help reduce the chances of creating problems in our backs, knees and ankles.
Movement at the hip can be restricted by any of the muscles that surround the hip and also by the nerves that enervate those muscles, the hamstrings are a great example of this where protective tension in the sciatic nerve can limit straight leg hip flexion such that it looks like the hamstrings are tight and limiting movement. In bent knee hip flexion the movement can be limited by both the muscles on the back of the hip but also those at the front. Poor motor output in the likes of the short adductors or psoas/illiacus can create a pinching sensation as they don’t relax properly and effectively “get in the way” of the hip moving further into flexion. Where the restriction to movement is in the back of the hip this is more often adductor magnus rather than hamstring as they are in a relaxed state with the knee being bent.
Where the implications of the limitations in hip flexion can be easily seen in terms of being able to comfortably squat or not, it is less obvious as to how a lack of internal or external rotation can impact on us. External rotation of the hip is important when we are squatting whilst internal rotation is important to allow a full extension of the hip when we are running. To improve your ability to perform both internal and external rotation of the hip I like to use the Hip Aeroplane. I usually progress it from having both feet on the ground to the version seen in the video.
Another great drill is the frogger stretch. Performed on all fours start with the knees about shoulder width apart and rock back and forward making sure to engage the abdominals so as to give a better reflection of how much movement is coming from the hips. As your ability improves the knees can be moved further apart. In the start position it is also useful to lift one foot up and down off the ground to work on the rotation of the hip in a different position.
These two simple drill can go a long way to aiding your hip mobility when performed regularly.