It happens when we least expect it. That front knee in Warrior II is occasionally tempted to sneak inwards prompting an internal rotation. Instead, invite that front knee to drift towards the little toe of the front foot to create an external hip rotation. Made an even easier prospect with the assistance of the below yoga poses to limit that internal temptation.
Let's come into Tree Pose together. In a standing position, hands on hips, try and place the sole of your right foot onto the inside of your left thigh, without using your hands. How high did you get your foot? If your answer is "on the knee or below", think about the muscles that are working to help us lift the foot in an external hip rotating position. Did they feel strong when you took your right knee out to the side to lift your foot onto your leg? Or did it feel like there wasn't as much strength as you thought when your hip was in this externally rotated position? If you answered "yes" to the second question, read on.
External rotation of the hip is when the thigh and knee rotate outward, away from the body. We need this rotation to get into a car, hit a tennis ball, and all other movements that require a person to rotate the pelvis while placing most of the body’s weight on one leg. Prolonged periods of inactivity, perhaps like sitting in a chair, can contribute to weakness in the external rotators.
There are 21 different muscles that cross the hip joint. Each of these muscles plays a role in the movement or stability of the hip. One of the most well known muscle groups is the gluteal muscle group that comprise of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae. The gluteus maximus, which is a large muscle in the buttocks, is the most powerful external rotator muscle of the hip. Meanwhile, the iliopsoas muscle is actually two individual muscles called the psoas major and the iliacus. The lateral rotator muscles include obturator internus and obturator externus, piriformis, quadratus femoris and gemellus inferior and gemellus superior, and the adductor muscles are the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, pectineus and gracilis.
On that note, here are my five top yoga pose picks to build strength in the hip external rotators to help everyone, from weightlifters, hikers, and runners to senior citizens and people living with arthritis. Keeping the hip external rotators strong and flexible can reduce the risk of injury during workouts or everyday tasks.
Hip Circles: I believe an exaggerated circle movement with your knee is far more effective than the Fire Hydrant, as it encourages you to bring you knee up a little higher to activate the external muscles more effectively. Start on all fours, with the knees directly below the hips and the hands directly underneath the shoulders. Engage the core and keep the back straight. It should be parallel to the ground. Keeping the 90-degree angle in the left leg, float the knee back, up, around and back down, pausing at the top to feel the burn in our target muscles. Repeat 10 times before switching to the right leg.
Three-legged Downward Facing Dog into Lizard Pose: Start in Downward Facing Dog. Inhale and lift your right leg into the air, bending at the knee, heel to buttocks, opening your hips up to the right. Keep the weight even in your shoulders and hands. Exhale, making a huge circle with your bent right knee forward, allowing your right foot to step to the the outside of your right hand at the top of your mat into Lizard Pose. Now reverse the movement. Take your right leg back and up into the air, bend the knee, heel to buttocks. Place the right foot down and repeat on the left.
Supine Twist Hover: Lie on your back and bend both knees so that the soles of the feet are flat on the floor. Extend the arms out to the sides and press the back of your hands into the floor to aid balance. Gently rotate the knees as far to the right as the body’s range of motion comfortably allows, keeping them bent. Hold this position for a few seconds. Return slowly to the starting position. Perform the same movement but take the legs over to the other side. Repeat on both sides several times.
Low Side Lunge: Come into a wide-legged forward fold, finger tips grazing your mat, and soft bend in the knees. Turn your left toes out to a 45-degree angle and keep your right toes facing forward. Bend deeply into the left knee; abdominal muscles supporting the core to avoid rounding in the spine. Notice that the left knee is tracking in line with the left toes. Ground down into the outside blade of your right foot hands gently resting on the mat for support. Inhale to lift out, straightening your left leg and bending into the right knee to come into this lunge on the other side. For greater hip external rotator strengthening, clasp your hands rather than keeping them on the mat, as you lunge with control from side to side.
Malasana Lift: Squat into Malasana; feet out wide enough to allow the heels to connect with the earth. Knees are tracking out wide, and the tailbone is drifting just off the mat. Reach through the crown of your head, and lengthen through the spine. Engage your abdominal muscles and on an inhalation, push through the heels and begin to lift up slowly with complete control to standing. Avoid rounding forward as you lift, but rather keep the crown of your head reaching to the sky. The glutes and other external hip rotator muscles will certainly let you know they are there. Exhale to lower back down into Malasana, using the entire breathe to get you there. Do not rush!
Don't mix these exercises up with our hip external rotator stretching poses like Figure 4, Half Pigeon and Frog Pose. This blog is about strengthening, and when paired with our deep stretching exercises, will create a match made in heaven for your hips.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: Happy knees with this one yoga technique and Turn your yoga class into a cardio workout.