What Causes Tight Hips?
Ask anybody who works in the fitness realm and they’ll tell you they’ve
been involved, at one time or another, in a conversation about tight hips.
Maybe ‘conversation’ isn’t the right word. More specifically, clients or
students will ask, why are my hips so tight? Then they wait eagerly for
some beautifully golden answer.
But like much of life, the answer is not that easy. So if you’re among the
many wondering what causes tight hips, we’ll try to simplify it as much as
The Hip Is More Than Just a Few Muscles
When people complain of tight hips, they may not recognize that the hip is
surrounded by 17 muscles. It’s this ‘complex’ of muscles that allow the legs
to move in various directions including abduction, adduction, rotation,
laterally, forward, and backward.
Combinations of these movements are what enable us to move through life
every day – be that taking a walk or a swim, kicking, climbing stairs,
changing direction, even just simply standing upright.
To make things (slightly) easier, the 17 muscles are broken up into four
distinct muscle groups that make up the hip complex:
• iliopsoas (hip flexors)
• external rotators of the hip
The iliacus and the psoas (you might know it better as the “so-az”)
comprise the iliopsoas group.
The muscles that make up the external hip rotator group are the gemellus
superior and gemellus inferior, obturator internus and obturator
externus, piriformis, and quadratus femoris.
The glutes consist of the well known gluteus maximus, as well as the lesser
known gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fascia latae (TFL).
Finally, the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, pectineus
and gracilis make up the adductor group.
Don’t worry. You won’t be tested on any of this. We just wanted to lay out in
words how ‘complex’ the hips truly are.
So Then What Causes Tight Hips?
Given such complexity , it would be impossible to say what specifically
causes tight hips. There are so many possible combinations that could be
at work here.
Furthermore, tight hips don’t always cause pain in the hips. Pain you’re
experiencing in your back, knee, or ankle could be referred from the hips.
In addition, bad posture and poor balance could also be symptoms of tight
What we can say is that in most cases, the issue comes down to a mobility
or strength imbalance in at least one of those seventeen muscles. Sounds
ridiculously vague, right? We get it. But the good news is, there are also
connections to lifestyle choices. They include the following:
1. Getting Too Little Activity
One of the best ways to ensure that your hip muscles shorten and get
tighter is to stay sedentary as much as possible. This is especially true if
you have a desk job where you sit in the the same basic position all day
long and don’t intentionally stretch or elongate that ever tightening rectus
femoris muscle that runs down the thigh.
You can count on the surrounding muscles to contract and tighten as well.
2. Engaging In Too MUCH Activity
“You can’t have too much of a good thing,” is one of the biggest myths
around. If you don’t believe us, consider what would happen if you ate a
pound of kale in one sitting.
At any rate, many people believe that exercise is always good. And the
more you do, the better off you’ll be. Constant engagement and firing of the
muscles does have negative repercussions though. Especially if you’re
engaging in a lot of repetitive movement and not giving the muscles a
chance to stretch and restore.
You can be sure they’re going to become shortened and tense. And
speaking of tense…
3. Holding and Harboring Stress
It’s been said that we hold issues in our tissues. Unlike the above
statement, this is not an alternative fact. The tissues of the body hold
tension and stress. And the hips are one of the biggest receptacles of this
This is often because the body goes into instinctual fight or flight response
when stressed and the hips may tighten in preparation for running or taking
action. Even if there’s no actual action to be taken.
Pilates for Tight Hips
You might think that the best way to open up tight hips is to just stretch
those muscles repeatedly. This is a recipe for injury though. Particularly if
you push to stretch too quickly and your muscles aren’t ready to move that
There are actually three elements to properly opening the hips. One, you
need to develop and maintain the range of motion of the hip joints. Two,
strengthen the muscles that surround the hips. And three, SAFELY stretch
and elongate tight hip muscles.
This is where Pilates is ideal . The movements in Pilates incorporate all
three of these components to help students develop flexibility that’s also
supported by strength and stability. Whether on a machine, a mat, or a
foam roller , the workout consists of light and gentle stretches at the
beginning, and deeper stretches at the end when the body is warm. Rather
than powering through a workout, the practice encourages mindfulness and
intentional movement that’s dictated by breath to put the mind at ease.
Not only does Pilates work to stretch, elongate, and strengthen muscles
that are already tight, but it works proactively to keep these muscles from
tightening again (or in the first place).
Ready to Try Pilates?
Now that you have at least a less vague understanding of what causes tight
hips, you might be ready to give Pilates a try.
You really can’t go wrong.
So if you’re ready to give it a go, contact us today to find out about our
amazing class offerings with our knowledgable instructors. And get ready to
move through life more easily with strong and open hips.