3 Panda-Certified Hip-Openers

When it comes to jiu-jitsu, almost everyone understands how important it is to have good hip movement. What not everyone realizes, though, is how much hip mobility can also help to protect your knees and lower back.

With over a dozen muscles that cross the hip, tightness can cause strain on the spine and decreased range of motion and circulation. Having open hips can prevent many common yet serious injuries and improve your performance on the mats.

For example, opening your hips can play an essential role in helping you to develop a nearly impassable guard.

The poses below are all great for opening the hips and can easily be linked together for an easy pre-jiu-jitsu movement flow. You can repeat each pose on each side in turn, or do all the poses on your right side, then repeat the entire sequence on the left.

Make sure to go all the way to the bottom of this post to see a video of how they all fit together!

Note: As hip tightness can play a huge part in knee injuries, be mindful of your knees when performing any hip stretches. The poses in this article affect the knees minimally, but as knee injuries are common in jiu-jitsu, if you feel any intense pressure in the knee please avoid the pose or return to a less advanced variation. Yoga is amazing for rehab and injury prevention, but you should always consult a doctor before beginning a new activity whether or not you have previous injuries.

1. 3 – Legged Dog

This pose opens your hips and side body while also strengthening the upper body and improving overall balance.

  1. Begin on all fours in table top position, and push up and back into downward facing dog.
  2. It is more important for your back to be flat than for your legs to be straight in down dog, so feel free to keep a slight bend in the knee and lift your heels if necessary.
  3. Try to make sure you're not dumping all of your weight onto your wrists – weight should be evenly distributed, and your tailbone should be high in the air.
  4. Shifting the weight to your left foot, lift your right leg high up in the air.
  5. Bending the right knee, begin to stack the hips and lift your right knee toward the ceiling.
  6. To help warm your body up even more, you can begin to make small circles with your ankle or your knee. This movement gets the synovial fluid moving in your joints, which lubricates the joint and reduces friction, allowing for easier movement.
  7. You can either repeat this movement on the left side right away or flow this movement into the next on our list.

2. Crescent Lunge or Low lunge

This movement is beneficial for the whole lower body as it stretches not only the hips but also the quads, core, and glutes. Go slow with this pose as you enter, and feel free to put an extra cushion under your back knee if you feel too much pressure (I have some pretty rough knees from jiu-jitsu – so I always put a towel or blanket under my knees for comfort).

  1. Starting from our 3-legged dog, or just regular down dog, you're going to step your right foot in between your hands, making sure your right knee is stacked above your ankle.

    (You can also jump right to step 3 if you're not feeling any kinds of down dogs today)
  2. If you can't get your foot that far up on the first try don’t worry. You can use your hand to move your foot forward into proper alignment (This is important as it protects the knee).
  3. From here, you can drop your back knee to the ground and untuck your toes, finding yourself in typical lunge position.
  4. Keeping your right knee in place, gently and slowly begin to slide the left knee back until you feel a stretch in your left hip and groin.
  5. As always, these stretches should feel uncomfortable but not painful. Be mindful of your body when stretching any muscles near joints.
  6. Inhale and lift your torso upright, sweeping the arms up and overhead.
  7. Stay here for 3-5 deep controlled breaths
  8. If you want to deepen the pose, you can drop your right forearm to your right thigh and reach up and over with the left arm, further opening up the entire left side body.
  9. Once again, either repeat on the opposite side, or continue on to the next movement in this series.

3. Lizard Pose

This pose is, without question, my personal favorite and can be modified for any skill level. Lizard pose is absolutely amazing for the hips and also works the groin, hamstrings, and quads. If I could recommend one pose for everyone who does jiu-jitsu, it would be lizard pose.

  1. Beginning in either our crescent lunge or a regular lunge. Bring both hands to the inside of your right foot.
  2. Walk your right foot out slightly wider than your shoulders or to the edge of your yoga mat if using one.
  3. You can either keep the back knee down and extended back with the tops of the feet flat or come up on to the ball of your left foot with your left leg extended straight back.
  4. From here, we have a number of options. If this is your threshold, breathe here, with both hands flat, making sure the elbows aren't locked, engaging the core and feeling the hips open.
  5. If you're comfortable here on your hands, try lowering to your forearms to deepen the stretch, keeping the chin lifted and the chest open.
  6. Draw your shoulder blades back to make sure your spine isn't rounding.

If you're a total rockstar and loving this pose, you can try the twisted lizard (no, not twisted sister) variation – which is my favorite variation of my favorite pose – for an incredibly satisfying quad stretch.

(Only attempt this variation if you feel entirely comfortable in the two options listed above)

  1. If you are down on your forearms, come back up to your palms.
  2. Bringing your weight into your left hand, inhale the right arm up.
  3. Bending the back knee try to reach the right arm back to grab your left foot.
  4. If your hips are super open, you can even try to hook your foot in your right elbow crease.
  5. Breathe here for 3-5 deep breaths, and return to regular lizard on your palms before leaving the pose.

From lizard pose, step your right leg back to plank, take a breath or two in child's pose and repeat the entire sequence starting at 3-legged dog on the left side.

All of these stretches and poses are beneficial by themselves, but you can link these movements together for a quick and easy hip opening warm up that you can do before class. Watch the video below to learn more.