Restricted pelvic flexibility is very common and stretching is important. The movements given here focus on the hip flexors and adductors, or front and inner thighs; abductor or outer thigh exercises are given along with the glutes. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.
Exercises for Strength
Lay down on your back with your body fully extended, feet together, and hands under your buttocks with palms down. Now lift your legs to be perpendicular with the floor, lower them to be just an inch above the floor, and lift them up again. For a highly effective ab workout, use your lower abs to push your feet toward the ceiling from the top position. For a few variations: use static holds at 30, 60 or 90° to the floor; open and close your legs from the down position, holding them an inch above the floor throughout; lift one leg at a time; or place your hands on your shoulders or overhead to increase the difficulty.
Bound Angle Press
From bound angle pose (described below), clasp your hands together and press your elbows against the inside of your knees. Now resist with your elbows as you attempt to bring your knees together, working the inner thigh.
Exercising the pelvic floor is important to a well-balanced workout, and has many sexual and therapeutic benefits. If you don't already do these, now's the time to start; I suggest doing ten or twenty contraction/relaxation cycles after every time you pee.
Static Holds for Endurance
Standing Leg Raises
Stand up, plant one foot firmly on the ground, and lift the other leg straight in front of you. Hold it as high as you can, for as long as you can. You can make this a water move by holding the raised leg up with either your hand of a towel looped around the foot. From the top position, try moving your foot out to either side.
Standing Wide Angle (Earth)
Stand and step your legs wide with hands on hips, and inch your feet gradually farther until you feel a challenge in your groin area. Hold this pose for a while, perhaps adding arm exercises. For the full pose, lower your torso to be parallel to the floor, letting your hips push back slightly for balance. Increase the challenge by lifting your arms to point forward in line with your body.
Inner Thigh Squeezes
Simply press your knees together as hard as you like. This can be done seated, during Leg Lifts (above) or during the Locust pose. For the full move, sit on the edge of a chair and move your knees in circles, pushing them together all the while.
Stretches for Flexibility
Because there are so many of these, I've classified them as hip flexor, groin, or joint mobility moves. Read below for details.
Hip Flexor Stretches
From a knee-standing position, bring one foot forward and plant it in front of you, so that your torso, rear thigh and front shin are vertical, and your front thigh and rear shin are horizontal. Now sink your hips down and forward, placing your hands on the floor if you like, or placing them on your forward knee and arching your back to increase the stretch. Keep your hips squarely facing forward throughout. For the long lunge sequence, raise the extended leg's knee to increase the stretch; roll onto the side of the extended foot as you turn the torso and hips sideways, thus moving the stretch to your groin (keep the bent knee back to maintain the stretch); then turn to face your extended leg and bend forward over it in a hamstring stretch. At any step but the hamstring stretch, you can bend your extended leg's knee to bring the foot upward into your hand, thus acheiving an intense quadricep and hip flexor stretch; be sure to do this safely.
Hip Flexor Stretch from Hero Pose
A simpler version of the long lunge: From hero pose, extend one leg straight behind you, then arch your back to lift your head high. Try lifting the extended leg's knee to intensify the hip flexor stretch, or pushing your hips to the extended side for a great oblique stretch. If you're confident you can do so safely, try bending the extended leg's knee to raise its foot, and reach back to hold that foot with the opposite hand.
Be slow and careful throughout this move, which is an amazing stretch for the hip flexors, hamstrings and forelegs. Beginning from standing, step one leg forward and one leg back, and carefully glide the back leg back on its toes until your hands reach the floor. Fully straighten the front leg, letting the toes rise into the air. Glide the back leg a little farther back, and add a foreleg stretch by bringing the front leg's toes toward the floor. Leave this pose by lowering the rear leg's knee to the floor and going from there. You can also transition into Standing Wide Angle pose (below), and vice versa, simply by turning your hips to face the appropriate direction.
Standing Wide Angle (Water)
Stand and step your legs wide apart. Lower your torso and take much of your weight with your hands on the floor. Now inch your feet farther apart, heel by toe by heel, until you feel a good stretch in your inner thighs. For variations, you can rock gently back and forth; you can rock farther and transition to a wide-legged cobra or six-point stretch; turn sideways into a monkey stretch; gently bring your head towards one knee, or can do the standing wide angle (Earth) moves described below.
Seated Wide Angle
Begin by sitting with your feet far apart. To achieve a maximum distance, you can gently push both feet diagonally forward and out, or lower yourself from a standing wide angle pose in a slow and controlled manner. Once seated, (1) gently reach your hands straight forward, bending from the lower back without rounding the spine. You can push from behind or hold your big toes to deepen the stretch. (2) Rise to the seated position, turn your spine to face one leg, and bend forward to bring your head toward the knee. Repeat, as always, on the other side. (3) From seated, turn to face one leg, then bend sideways over the opposite leg, reaching the upper hand toward the foot you're bending towards. (4) Return to seated and bend forward midway between your foot and your centre line. Finish by stretching toward the middle once more.
Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and lower your bottom until you thighs and calves touch and your quads can relax. Anchor your upper arms against your inner knees, place your hands together in a prayer position, and bring your hands straight towards your body. For a more intense variation, reach your hands around behind your shins, place your palms under your heels, and pull your torso forward with your arms. For the next stretch, anchor your palms on to the floor in front of you, come forward onto your tiptoes and let you inner knees come down to your elbows, and press your hips forward so that your firmly anchored elbows stretch your legs apart. You can make this last stretch a balancing pose by leaning forward until your weight is centred on your palms, then lifting your feet off the floor.
Bound Angle Pose
Sit up straight and bring the bottoms of your feet together in front of you. Wrap your hands around your feet or ankles and use them to pull your torso forward, bending from the lower back, while your elbows push your legs apart. Relax into the stretch. For the "butterfly" variation, remove your elbows and flutter your knees up and down at a moderate pace.
Joint Mobility Stretches
Cat & Dog Tilts
Come onto your hands and knees, wrists directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips. Exhale as you round your back into cat pose, bringing your middle back upward, lowering your head to look toward your thighs, and tilting your tailbone forward towards your head. Next inhale as you arch your back into dog pose, raising your head and buttocks in the air, and pushing your belly gently towards the floor. Exhale back into cat pose and begin the cycle again, staying relaxed as you repeat it several times in a relaxed way. You might try bringing one knee towards your chest in cat pose and raising it up behind you in dog pose. Now begin to move your hips back and forth, sitting back into dog pose and pushing your hips forward during cat pose. Finally, begin to move your hips in circles, with your knees as the approximate center of the circle. For an exercise in co-ordination, circle with your head as well, bringing it to the left when the hips go right, down when the hips go down, right/left and up/up. Try to keep synchronizing your breath.
For anyone who practices yoga or meditation, the lotus pose is an important goal that requires flexibility in the hip, knee and ankle. Here are some ways to bring that goal closer. In general, adjust each position so the three joints concerned are challenged equally, repeat all moves on both sides, and do not strain.
The basic progression, which can be moved through during one session, or gradually over a series of sessions, is as follows. Begin in a simple cross-legged position; bring one foot up onto the opposite calf; bring one foot up onto the opposite thigh in a half lotus, and bring both feet onto the opposite calves and then thighs in a full lotus. At each stage of the process you can advance by holding the pose for a while, and by leaning your torso straight forward over your legs.
There are a few additional movements that will help with this progression. (1) Sit on the with your legs extended forward, then bring one leg's foot and knee up toward your torso, holding the foot in your hand or the crook of your elbow, and gently rock your leg from side to side as if it were a baby. (2) Hold your knee and foot close to your chest as before, then roll backward onto your upper back and back forward into a sitting position, a few times. (3) When you're near the half lotus stage, lay on your back and bring one foot up onto the opposite thigh, lotus-style. Slowly sit up, lean forward, and reach toward the extended foot, all without struggle or strain.
These will turn your femur bone in the socket of the hip joint, both ways. (1) Lying extended on your stomach or in Plank Pose, point your toes out to either side and bring your heels together, pushing the latter into the floor. (2) Lie on your back with your knees up and your feet on the floor. Move one foot straight out sideways by the length of your calf, anchor that foot, and push the matching knee down and inward until it's in line with your body and close to or touching the floor.
Stand and make large circles in front of you with one (straight) leg. This will rotate out your hip joint in the same way that Arm Circles do the shoulder joint.