Restriction in the hips is one of the leading causes of feeling uncomfortable during squats or not being able to hit depth.
What drills should you do to increase hip mobility for squats?
- Foam Rolling/Lacrosse Ball Hip
- Lying Hip Rotations
- Side Lying Clamshells
- Bench Internal Rotation Stretch
- Squat with internal rotation
- Internal Rotation Banded Distraction
- Butterfly Stretch
- Frog Stretch
- Supported Deep Squat
- Cossack Squat
- Goblet Squats
- Seated Banded Hip Abduction
While we have 13 exercises and drills listed, you are not required to do all of them.
You will first need to identify what your deficiency is and then select the fixes that will specifically target your problem area, whether it’s lack of external rotation or internal rotation of the hips.
In this article, I will go over why hip mobility is important for squats, how to test your current mobility, and then will go over each exercise and whether you should be adding it to your warm-up routine.
For a comprehensive look on warming up for squats check out: How To Warm Up For Squats (Mobility, Dynamic Stretching, & Activation)
Why Is Hip Mobility Important For Squatting?
Hip mobility is important for squatting because it allows you to reach good depth and feel stronger in the glutes while also preventing pain and discomfort in the hips, low back, and knees.
Getting into the bottom of a good squat requires decent mobility in 3 major joints: the ankles, the knees, and the hips.
While you can be restricted in any of these three areas, the hips tend to be a common culprit among novices particularly those with sedentary lifestyles. Without adequate mobility, you will run into several issues, either immediately or down the line, so it’s important to address them as soon as possible.
Mobile hips are hips that can activate the glutes well, and glutes that are properly activated take the stress off of the quads and the lower back.
By distributing the weights of the barbell more fairly among several muscle groups you are sure to move efficiently and in a way that does not put you in a vulnerable position for injury.
Those with poor hip mobility may notice a pinching in the front of their hips, an inability to drop below parallel, excessive leaning forward, knee pain or discomfort, or low back pain while squatting.
While this article focuses on mobility, check out my complete list of 20 Exercises That Improve Squat Strength more generally.
How To Test Your Hip Mobility For Squats?
Someone with poor hip mobility may find it hard to balance in the squat. If that’s you, check out my article on Losing Balance While Squatting: 10 Tips To Fix.
There are two categories of tests when it comes to testing hip mobility: external and internal rotation.
You may have a deficiency in just one or even both so it’s important to test both and diagnose where the root of your problems lies.
External rotation, in the context of a squat, is your ability to push your knees out and keep them tracking over your toes. It’s also your ability to activate and use your glutes to open up the hips so you can sink down.
To test your external rotation, in a seated position with your legs hanging over the edge of the chair with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle, you’ll want to point your knee out and have your foot turn towards the opposite leg.
This should feel unrestricted and you should be able to do it without hiking up your hip or shifting your body sideways. You should be able to create about a 40-60 degree angle without pain or discomfort.
Any external hip rotation problems can cause leaning to one side in the squat. If that’s you, check out my article on How To Fix Leaning To One Side While Squatting.
Internal rotation, in the context of the squat, is your ability to come into the bottom position without excessively flaring your toes, jamming your hip joint, and also coming up out of the hole without having your knees cave in.
To test your internal rotation, in a seated position with your legs hanging over the edge of the chair with your hips and knees at a 90 degree angle, you’ll want to push your foot away from your body and allow your knee to come in and your thigh to rotate internally.
This should not feel uncomfortable or like you need to adjust your hips in order to achieve about 30-40 degrees of motion.
Don’t have a hip restriction but still struggling to squat? It could be your ankles! Check out our article How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats: 13 Exercises
13 Exercises To Improve Hip Mobility For Squats
1. Foam Rolling/Lacrosse Ball Hip
As a general first step, before heading into various exercises or drills, you may want to take a foam roller or lacrosse ball to your hip and warm up and release where you are restricted.
If you struggle with internal rotation or feel low back pain due to your hips, you will want to use a lacrosse ball or foam roller to the front of your hip, just below the hip bone in a region known as the psoas muscle.
Spend some time laying face down and just holding the ball there until you feel a release. If you’re up for a challenge you can also bend your knee and slowly shift the foot side to side.
In addition to releasing the front of the hip, if part of your external rotation deficiency is an inability to open up and activate your glutes you will want to release the glute muscles themselves. You may hold the position or swing the knee out and in as you lay down if you can handle it.
Note: Sometimes the hips may feel tight because our hamstrings or quads are tight so you will want to add some rolling to the front or back of your leg in addition to focusing on the hip and glutes for maximal benefit.
2. Lying Hip Rotations
Lying hip rotations are a simple dynamic stretch and warm up anyone can add into their squat warm-up to get the hip joint feeling more lubricated.
Lying on your back you will want to bring one leg up and into your chest and then twist the knee away from your body, crossing the ankle of that foot over the knee of the opposite leg.
Once in this position you will move the leg that is on top back and forth and warm up the joint. You can also press down lightly on the top knee for a nice piriformis stretch if you struggle with any tension in your glutes.
Check out the demo below:
In our article, Should Powerlifters Do Yoga, we explain how certain yoga poses may help increase your hip mobility.
90/90 is a position that can be very uncomfortable if you have serious mobility restrictions, but can also serve as a great hip stretch if you are gentle with yourself.
The 90/90 stretch is a position where both of your knees are at a 90 degree angle, with one knee directly in front of you and the other directly to the side.
The position alone can be enough of a stretch for many, but if you are able to, you may also lean forward with your back flat until you reach a point where you feel a stretch.
Check out this video demonstration and try it yourself:
4. Side Lying Clamshells
Side lying clamshells, when done correctly, are an excellent way to bring awareness, attention and activation to the glutes and allow for strong external rotation of the hip.
To perform a clamshell, lay down on your side with your knees slightly bent and your legs stacked on top of each other.
From this position you will activate the glute muscle of the top leg and use it to raise your knee while keeping your feet glued together.
A common way people do this drill incorrectly is by using the muscles in their legs to move the knee, but the point is to try to isolate the glutes as much as possible. You may want to have a partner apply some resistance to the top leg just to help engage the activation if needed.
To add some resistance if you don’t have a partner, use a circle resistance band around your knees.
Check out a demo here:
5. Hip Sleeper Stretch
The hip sleeper is specifically good for those who are limited with internal hip rotation and can be performed both dynamically and statically.
The sleeper stretch is performed on your back with one straight leg and one bent leg. The top of your legs should be parallel to each other. Then, with your inner thigh of the bent leg you are going to press it into the ground while keeping your core and hips on the ground.
Then place the foot of the straight let lightly on top of the bent knee. From this position you can then hold it statically for a stretch or do an active stretch where the bent knee pushes into the top foot for 15 seconds and then releases and sinks a bit deeper.
For a more instructions on doing the sleeper stretch watch this video here:
6. Squat with Internal Rotation
A great exercise to add to your squat warm up if you are restricted with internal hip rotation is a bodyweight squat with dynamic internal rotations.
This is a staple in my squat warm up because I am restricted in my internal hip rotation and this dynamic movement feels great on my hip flexors.
All you have to do is come into a bodyweight squat with feet flat on the ground then with one leg at a time, touch your knee to the ground towards the opposite leg. You can do this as slowly as you need to as you figure out the balance and coordination.
For a visual demonstration, take a look at this video:
7. Internal Rotation Banded Distraction
The internal rotation banded distraction is a stretch to help those restricted with internal rotation or those experiencing hip pain at the front of their hip.
Banded distractions are a type of release technique where the joint is mobilized and set back into its optimal position by using a resistance band.
For the internal rotation drill, fasten a band to a stationary object like a pole and loop the band around the front of your leg and high at the hip. In a kneeling position place the weight of your body on the knee in the band, rotate or twist your body by walking your hands to the side of the active leg.
You may also want to ensure the foot of the active leg is held in place by a weight or sturdy fixture so it doesn’t try to shift or slide in order to compensate.
Check out this video for more info:
8. Butterfly Stretch
If your external rotation is limited, the butterfly stretch and its variations are something to add into your pre-squat warm-up.
The butterfly stretch is likely one you did growing up back in gym class. Sitting on the floor you are going to bring the bottom of your feet together and have your knees pointing outward.
The point is not to cause pain so based on your current abilities choose a distance between your feet and your groin that is a challenge but not painful.
You can dynamically now move your knees up and down and slowly work them to get closer and closer to the floor. Alternatively you can try inching your feet in closer to your body over time, or reach straight in front of you with a flat back.
Check out a demo of the butterfly stretch here:
9. Frog Stretch
The frog stretch is a great way to open up the hips and release some tension in the inner thighs and it can be made dynamic or static.
For the frog stretch you will need to come on to your hands and knees, placing your legs as wide as you comfortably can. You can then come down to your elbows or even extend your arms fully and sink a bit deeper into the stretch and hold.
To make this a more dynamic movement if it’s part of your warm-up, sink back a little with your hips and you can do some light rocking back and forth.
This movement will lubricate your hips and stretch your inner thighs. Watch the demo below:
10. Supported Deep Squat
A supported deep squat is a great way to place the demands of a full range of motion squat on your hips with some extra support with gymnastics rings, TRX bands or just a post on a squat rack.
While you may be struggling to get into a deep bodyweight or weighted squat with your current mobility, using a post or other supportive device, you can get you there temporarily as part of your warm-up.
While holding on to something, keep your upper body supported while sinking into a squat as deep as you can. Focus on activating the glutes and practice the full range of motion. You may also want to hold in the bottom position once you find a sweet spot.
Watch a demo of a supported deep squat hold here:
11. Goblet Squats
Goblet squats are a great alternative to barbell squats if your hips typically feel restricted because the counterweight at the front of your chest will allow your hips to sink down more comfortably.
A goblet squat is just a squat where you hold a dumbbell with both hands at your chest. You don’t need to use a heavy weight at all if you are just working on perfecting the squat pattern and opening up your hips before your main set.
Add some pauses at the bottom and parallel, or place a circle resistance band around your knees if you are feeling any jamming at the hips.
You can also do a half goblet squat movement that only moves from the bottom to the parallel position and back down. Here’s a demo of this variation:
12. Seated Banded Hip Abduction
Banded hip abductions are a fantastic way to fire up the glutes and help support external rotations of the hip to help you sink better into your hips.
An abduction is when a joint or limb moves away from the midline of the body; therefore, a hip abduction is the motion where your knees are moving out and away, opening up your hips.
You’ll need a circle resistance band for this exercise placed just above the knees. You can either sit or hold yourself up in a quarter squatted position and then push your knees out by activating the glute muscles.
You can push out both at the same time or do even one leg at a time while the other resists the urge to cave in. This exercise will help improve your hip external rotators.
Check out the demo here:
Hip mobility is a must when it comes to executing squats safely and effectively. While small deficiencies can easily be ignored when all you’re focused on is moving more weight, it’s important to remember that moving well should always be a priority.
So whether your trouble is with external rotation or internal rotation, there are a range of exercises and drills to add into your squat warm-up to set you up for both short-term and long-term success.
Looking for more ways to improve your squat? Check out:
Looking for other mobility routines? Check out:
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.