Stretch of the Week: Box Position (Hips #1) – Movement Labs

Stretch of the Week: Box Position (Hips #1)

In response to many of your enthusiastic requests, the next few Stretches of the Week will focus on the HIPS.

But before we get started: Check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here! if you haven’t already – especially the part about being ‘warm’ before you stretch!!!!  I must also emphasize: Some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: Many of you folks are excited about a stretching series (LOVE IT!), and the most commonly requested stretches have been for the hips/piriformis.  This makes perfect sense: Many of my readers are female runners.  Females – especially female runners – tend to have tight hips.  Now, I’m not going to fuss too much about hips vs. piriformis – some of the hip stretches may do a great job on your piriformis, others may not.  But there are lots of small muscles in your hip area, and the tight muscle(s) you are feeling may or may not actually be (only) your piriformis.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter – we’ll stretch them all!

Contraindications: If you have chronic knee pain, or have meniscus issues, enter and exit this stretch cautiously.  I have one client who suffered a torn meniscus several years ago, and she finds that this stretch just doesn’t “feel right” for her knee, so we skip it.  I have another who has no problems with it.  Listen to your body.

Also, if your hips are VERY tight, you may not have enough rotation in the hip joint to comfortably assume the starting position for this stretch.  See the modification at the bottom for an alternative/preparatory stretch.


Sit on the floor
(Slightly soft surface)
Center weight evenly on sitz (sitting) bones (the bone in each butt cheek that you sit on)
Bend knees, soles of feet on floor
Stabilize core, sit up straight

Relax right leg outward, onto floor
Adjust so the angle formed ankle-to-knee-to-hip joints is 90°
Tip: Align calf (ankle to knee line) parallel to front edge of mat and thigh (knee to hip line) parallel to side edge of mat
Stack left leg over right leg (ankle over knee, knee over ankle)
Check posture: Sit up straight

Position right leg

Position right leg

Position left leg on top

Position left leg on top

Stretch: For some people, sitting this way will already be a strong stretch.

If your hip is tight, the knee of the top leg will stay high, like mine is.  The looser your hips are, the closer the knee will fall to the bottom foot.

If your hip is tight, the knee of the top leg will stay high, like mine is. The looser your hips are, the closer the knee will fall to the bottom foot.

If you want more stretch, sit straight and tip forward from your hips (back straight).  You will likely only need to tip forward a few degrees before you feel a stretch.

Hinge forward from your hips - just a little is enough, usually!

Hinge forward from your hips – just a little is enough, usually! Please ignore the apparent asymmetry in my shoulders. I think it’s the shadows?

Ignore my leg position in this photo (I'm doing a different stretch); just look at my back, and see how straight it is.  I am not relaxing forward with a curved spine.  Instead, I am tipping forward from my hips, keeping my back straight.

An example of “hinging forward from the hips”. Ignore my leg position in this photo (I’m doing a different stretch); just look at my back, and see how straight it is. I am not relaxing forward with a curved spine, but rather I am hinging forward from my hips, keeping my back straight.

Most people will feel this stretch in the hip area of the top leg – however, sometimes people feel it in the hip of the bottom leg, too (I do, when my hips are tight).  The stretch may extend down the outside of the thigh a bit, in the IT-band area.  That is fine – wherever you feel the stretch is the place that you need it the most!

This stretch will probably require a bit of extra concentration.  You must mindfully relax the hip area during this stretch.  As bipeds (two-legged animals), whenever we sit or stand, we maintain some degree of tension in our hips – this is a natural, necessary reaction that helps us to maintain a strong base and to move safely and with stability.  However, to get the most out of this stretch, think about your hip joint, and concentrate on relaxing the muscles around it.  Yes, your hips may feel uncomfortable, and perhaps slightly painful – don’t push past this point.

Length of Hold:  I start this stretch sitting tall and consciously relaxing my hips.  After about 15-20 seconds, I am relaxed enough to lean forward a bit.  I continue this process, tipping a bit more as I am able, for 1-2 minutes.

Release: Use your hands to gently remove the top leg.  Be careful, as your hip(s) may feel quite fragile.  Set both feet on the floor, hip distance apart (or wider), knees bent.  Lean back slightly onto your hands, and move your legs slowly in whatever motion seems comfortable: Rock knees from side to side, straighten legs out in front, pull legs in to chest – whatever feels best to YOUR body.  After ~30-45 seconds of recovery, repeat with the other leg on top.

Modifications: If the stacked leg position is uncomfortable for your knees or hips, simply sit cross-legged on the floor, draw yourself up straight, and tip forward as described.  Everything is precisely the same as described above, except the legs are in a slightly different position.  When you switch legs, just put the other leg in front.

This whole stretch series will take about 5-6 minutes, and after a minute or two of recovery, your hips will probably feel looser and more mobile.

So what are you waiting for?  Sit down and give it a try!!

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How did your hip area feel afterward?

Take it, or leave it?
[This is for my own data gathering purposes.  I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.]

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  1. Amy November 8, 2013 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    So I am on my phone and I never comment from my phone, but I just had to to say thank you! Now if only I could do these in my office…

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 9, 2013 at 5:02 am - Reply

      *honored* (I never comment on my phone, either – I read, save, and then have to go back later to take care of all the commenting! 🙂 )

      Well, this one only requires a little bit of floor space – but if that’s still too office-inappropriate, then keep an eye out – in the coming weeks, I will be sharing one you can do sitting at your desk. 🙂

  2. misszippy November 8, 2013 at 11:22 pm - Reply

    He, he. that is a stretch I absolutely cannot do! I have the world’s tightest hips and that one just aggravates them more. So I don’t do it! But I am envious of you loose hipped people…

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 9, 2013 at 5:05 am - Reply

      For better or worse, there are a lot of ranges of motion. Getting into the starting pose requires a lot of rotation from the hip joint, in addition to some muscle flexibility. Your hips very well may be tight (most women’s are) – but it’s also possible that your hip joint is a bad “match” for this stretch. Don’t worry, there will be more! [And have you tried the cross-legged version?]

  3. Brian November 9, 2013 at 1:24 am - Reply

    Yes! I just did this stretch this morning after CrossFit. We did a bit modified (assume position, lie back, pull leg backwards until feeling the stretch), but it was great. Hip flexors are something everyone needs to work out, your (primarily female runner) readers and us lifters too!!

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 9, 2013 at 5:07 am - Reply

      Totally right. Lifters of both genders get SUPER tight, everywhere. Hip flexor stretches all around!!!

      You know, the leaning back version is also a great idea – I’ve never actually DONE it for this version (although I have for a related move that I’ll share next week) – but lying back DEFINITELY helps with the conscious relaxation part that is so hard to achieve. Probably removing the body weight from sitting into the hips is the trick.

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll be going back in later to edit and add that variation!

  4. Allison November 9, 2013 at 1:34 am - Reply

    This actually came at the perfect time for me. I was talking with a friend this morning about how tight my hips are. Is it age, or the fact that I never stretch, or increasing mileage that makes our hips tighten. We play in an adult soccer league, and I can really feel it when I try to twist while playing.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 10, 2013 at 5:51 pm - Reply

      Great question, Allison. This probably deserves a post of its own – although I’m not sure anyone really *KNOWS* why. But I suspect there are several causes:

      1. For many women, their hips are wider than their footfall. [Whereas for most men, their footfall is directly under their hips.] This puts additional tension of tension on the muscles and connective tissue in our hips.

      2. We cross our legs, then squeeze them together.

      3. Related to #2 – we tend to hold tension in our hips – but don’t realize it the same way we realize that we hold tension in our neck/shoulders, so we’re less likely to do something (anything!) to relieve that tension.

  5. Char November 9, 2013 at 2:48 am - Reply

    The challenge of this stretch for me will simply be getting into the starting position. I’ll give it a go after this morning’s run.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 10, 2013 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      And if you can’t – that’s OK. Just try it from a cross-legged position. You’ll get a similar stretch!

  6. Meagan November 9, 2013 at 6:08 am - Reply

    I am so looking forward to trying this one out! To stretch my hips I do the traditional bend one leg (while sitting) and put the other leg’s ankle on knee. This one looks like it will be a better stretch than what I normally do. Thanks for the heads up about the knee thing! I tore the meniscus in my right knee in high school and had to have surgery and have some of it removed. Sometimes sitting “Indian style” will send a shot of pain through my knee, so I’ll make sure to be careful going into and coming out of the stretch.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 10, 2013 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Yep – definitely be careful. I think the discomfort is very person-specific, so you’ll just have to try it out. Also, focus on moving your whole leg as a unit – don’t leave your calf behind, because that will torque your knee. You can also play with the 90 degree angle slightly, to see if a slightly wider angle will be more comfortable. Good luck!

      If this one doesn’t work, don’t fret. There are more coming! 🙂

  7. November 9, 2013 at 11:39 am - Reply

    This is one of my favorite stretches in yoga class. It stretches my hips so naturally.
    Your pictures are a great help, though, since the next time I try the stretch will be without an instructor modeling it and walking around to assist. I have had a meniscus tear and ACL reconstruction ~ this stretch doesn’t bother my knee.
    My right hip is going to be SO happy when tomorrow’s half is over! I am thinking about taking some time off and doing other things. We’ll see. I may still run 3 – 5 days a week in the 3 – 6 mile range after a week off.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      You should have seen me trying to explain to KMN how to take the over-my-shoulder shots. He kept taking pictures of my back. Me: “No, I want them to see my legs the same way they’ll be seeing their OWN legs, please!”

      Hope your run went well today, and I DOUBLY hope that this stretch makes your hips feel AWESOME!

  8. Grace November 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the stretch! I’ll take ALL the stretches. I know runners don’t need to be quite as flexible as dancers, but I know my body doesn’t feel right when it’s not sufficiently limber 🙂

  9. Erica G November 9, 2013 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Can’t wait to try this! Thank you!

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      Awesome – let me know how it goes. I love hearing feedback from lots of people, as it helps me know how modify/improve/better explain the stretch to other people, too!

  10. Allee @ Griselda Mood November 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Ooh I like this! I haven’t been running in a few weeks to warrant a “running related” stretch BUT I’ve noticed my hips becoming very tight because I’m carrying around a 25 lb. toddler all the time 😉 I’ll give these a try!

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