Understanding Hip Openers – The hip is a ball and socket joint, with the head of the femur being the ball and the acetabulum being the socket. To flex the hip, we use the hip flexors which are the illiac psoas, the rectus femoris and the sartorius which also rotates the hip. The hip extensors are the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings. The external hip rotators are the gluteus minimus, piriformis, obturator internus, superior and inferior gemellus, quadratus femoris and. Lastly the internal hip rotators are gluteus medius and minimus, and the adductors.


Lots of muscles attach to the femur, from the pelvis, the lumbar spine, the sacrum or even other parts of the femur. For example, the erector spinae muscles attach to the illium, sacrum, cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and the skull. The QL’s attach to the illiac crest and the lower ribs and the hamstrings attach to the sit bones and the tibia and fibula in the lower leg.

Understanding hip openers

From this we can see that we need to strengthen and stretch many other muscles than just the hip flexors and rotators because those other muscles will have a direct or indirect effect on those hip flexors/rotators.


If we look at the quads, we can see that if they are tight there is no way that we will be able to a kneeling position let alone padmasana (lotus).

It is also worth mentioning the importance of core strength in relation to our hips as the rectus abdominus is needed to support the back and lift the pubis up.

Sitting for long periods of time shortens the psoas (hip flexors) and tightens the piriformis (hip rotators). The knock-on effect of this is that the glutes become weak, which then affects posture, standing, walking and spinal stability.


The piriformis attaches at the sacrum and the head of the femur. It externally rotates the hip when the leg is straight and abducts the leg to the side when the knee is bent.

Therefore, in order to stretch this muscle, we need to internally rotate the thigh and adduct the leg towards the midline with the knee bent. I.e./ Marichyasana c with the foot crossed over to the outer side of the thigh.


Attaches at the sit bone and the greater trochanter of the femur. In order to stretch this muscle, we need to increase the distance between the two points of attachment as in a squat.


The antagonists to the abductors are the adductors. These are adductor brevis/longus/magnus, the gracillis and pectineus. All the adductors run from the pubis to various parts of the femur apart from the gracillis which attaches to the inside of the tibia. If these muscles are tight, we cannot take the legs wide or abduct the legs. If these muscles are weak, we cannot internally rotate the legs which makes the knees turn out and become unstable.


It is important to stress that the alignment of the knee, shin, ankle and foot when in standing remains the same while practising hip openers. For example in Dandasana a lot can be seen if the student is slouching, needs to have their knees bent, has to have their feet hip distance apart and their feet splay out to the sides- these are all signs of tight hips, hamstrings, adductors, QL’s, erector spinae and a weak core.

This same alignment must be kept in any position which externally rotates or abducts the hip i.e./ tree, lotus, triangle or warrior to name a few.


The hip is the rotator, the knee must not be twisting out of line and the ankle must not turn in or out. When the knee is bent in external hip rotation, it is crucial to stress the importance of squeezing the thigh and calf together. This ensures that it is only the hip which rotates in line with the knee, shin, ankle and foot.