Sitting for most of the day keeps your hips in a tight, compact position. Which is why "straddle flexibility," aka the ability to lengthen your hip adductors and open your hip flexors, is really, really important.
Although most people think of straddle flexibility as the bendy ability to drop down and do the splits, there's a whole lot more to it than that. "Straddle flexibility is important because the hip adductors, or inner thighs, tend to be shortened because of the amount of time we spend sitting," says Lara Heimann, PT, physical therapist and yoga pro. All of that sitting also leads to a ton of tension and tightness, which can then make you more prone to injury. "This flexibility provides decreased tension in the back, legs, and hips," says Tianna Strateman, VP of education at Club Pilates. "The hips especially tend to carry a lot of stress and tension, so stretching decreases injuries, aches, and pains."
Besides hip tightness, straddle flexibility helps with a better posture, and makes it easier for you to strengthen your core. "Increased straddle flexibility can help with spine mobility and allow for core development, and it can assist with better spinal alignment on top of the pelvis working towards a neutral spine and pelvis," says Strateman, adding that it also lets you have lateral rotation in the hips (key for us who spend the majority of our time in a parallel position).
The good news is that, though having good straddle flexibility could ultimately allow you to do the splits, it doesn't have to be advanced as that—Heimann notes that all it takes is active engagement and holding certain positions for a feels-so-good stretch. Here are the five exercises to do to strengthen your straddle flexibility.
1. Side lunge: "Side lunges are excellent to get the adductor opening," says Heimann. Start with your feet parallel and more than hips distance apart, and bend your left knee to sit back into your left hip while keeping your right leg extended. If you can't touch the floor with your hands, modify by using a block or a chair. Repeat by bending and straightening the left knee, then hold with your knee bent, right knee straight for 20 seconds. Repeat on your right side.
2. Low lunge: Heimann also loves this stretch as it helps to "mobilize and lengthen the largest of the adductors, the adductor magnus," she says. Start with your left leg forward and right knee on the floor, and bring your hands to the inside of the left foot (you can modify with blocks under your hands). Lower your trunk until you feel the adductor on your left leg being pulled. Move your hips back toward the right leg to release, then move the torso and hips forward for the stretch. Repeat five times and hold for 20 seconds before switching sides.
3. Goddess squat: The empowering yoga pose works for straddle flexibility as it strengthens your lower body. "This looks like the grand plié position in ballet," notes Heimann, who says to start with your feet out wider than hip-distance apart, feet turned out by rotating from the hips. Bend your knees without letting them drop inward, and slowly bend and straighten the knees 10 times. At the lowest position, push your hips back and reach your hands to the floor or blocks. Hold for 20 seconds, keeping your hips back, spine long, and knees open.
4. Butterfly stretch: Strateman recommends the simple butterfly stretch, which is a seated stretch that involves putting the soles of your feet together with your knees bent. Use your hands or elbows to press your knees open like a book while keeping your spine straight in neutral, feet together.
5. Figure-four stretch: The classic modification to pigeon pose works for straddle flexibility, since it's so good at opening your hips. Strateman likes it for this purpose—begin by lying on your back and bringing your right ankle to the left knee in a figure four. Press your right knee away while lengthening through your spine and opening your right hip. To take the stretch further, lift your left leg up towards the chest while pressing the right knee away. Hold for one minute, then switch to the other side.
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