If you sit at a desk all day, you’re inevitably going to feel it in your hips. While your usual stretch and foam-rolling routines can go a long way in eliminating some of that uncomfortable tightness, they’ve got their limitations. And that’s where CAR stretches come in to save the day.
CAR stands for “controlled articular rotation,” and these types of stretches are a recovery technique that require you to move a joint through its full range of motion to help loosen it up. While they can be applied to a number of different body parts, they’re particularly useful when it comes to your hips, since hip flexion range of motion can suffer terribly from tightness. “Due to our sedentary lifestyles with hours spent in a seated position, our hip flexors can get adaptively tight from the lack of use, and hip CARs can help to open up these stuck ranges of movement when used consistently,” says Gold’s Gym Senior Director of Fitness, Andy Coggan.
Stretching alone isn’t enough to open up your joint, which is why regularly adding slow, controlled rotations to your routine can help. “With CARs, you take the joints through your largest range of motion with control and tension, working to increase your range of motion and resiliency,” says Melissa Boyd, Head Trainer at Tempo. These stretches are different from your usual static stretches, in which you lengthen a muscle and hold it for a certain amount of time to help increase flexibility, because they add an element of mobility, too. And this, Boyd explains, can be helpful for resistance training as well as for everyday movement, since your hips are such an important driver for both.
To keep those hips nice and loose, trainers suggest starting every day (or at the very least, every workout) with a quick CARs session. “Doing CARs every day will help strengthen the neuromuscular pathways involved in functioning at the extreme ends of a movement range, which you can then reinforce and strengthen with more traditional strength training techniques,” says Coggan. Over time, you’ll see your range of motion improve, which will in turn help you get stronger—a happy hip win/win.
To integrate CAR stretches for better hip flexion range of motion into your own routine, Boyd suggests one or both of these easy movements:
1. Tabletop CARs: Starting on all fours (with your hands under your shoulders and hips under your knees), cycle through a few cat-cow stretches to find a neutral position for your spine. Brace your core by pulling your ribs and hip bones toward the center of your body so that you feel like you’re “fighting” the movement. Lift one knee toward your chest without losing tension in your torso, and continue the rotation by pushing the knee out to the side of your body like a dog at a fire hydrant. Continue to press your knee back while lifting your heel toward the sky, donkey kick-style, keeping tension in your leg throughout the move. Return to the floor, and repeat for 30 to 60 seconds on each leg.
2. Standing CARs: Standing with your feet flat on the floor and holding onto a wall or another stable surface, brace your core and keep tension in your standing leg. Lift your knee to your chest, and hold it at the same hight to open up your hip. Lift your heel to engage an internal rotation in your hip, then kick your foot back behind you into the air. Slowly come back to start, and reset your position and breath with every rotation. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds on each leg.
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