How to Do the 90/90 Stretch for Healthy, Mobile Hips

illustration of a person doing the 90/90 stretch for hip mobility
Spend a minute each day in the 90/90 stretch for better hip mobility and a healthier back.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com

Tight hips? Welcome to the club. While there are lots of great hip mobility exercises and stretches out there, the 90/90 stretch is one of the best.

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Also called the 90/90 hip switch, this drill can help with your hip mobility and, specifically, hip rotation. That's good, because your hips' ability to rotate is probably shrinking each year. In fact, in a February 2012 Orthopaedis & Traumatology Surgery & Research study, scientists found that every year we age, our hip mobility decreases by 0.32 degrees.

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That might not seem like a lot, but over a decade, that's 32 degrees of motion — about a tenth of the way around a circle. And reduced range of motion in your hips has some big consequences — like low back pain and increased risk of injury to the knees, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

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The 90/90 stretch increases mobility both in external rotation — when your foot twists toward the center of your body — and internal rotation, when your foot is twisted out to the side. Here's what you need to know to add this hip-mobilizing move to your routine.

  • What is the 90/90 stretch?​ It's a seated mobility exercise that turns one hip in a position called "external rotation," while the other hip turns out in "internal rotation." It increases hip mobility, which can help reduce injury risk and pain.
  • What does the "90/90" position mean?​ When in the full stretch, your knees will both form 90-degree angles.
  • What muscles does it stretch?​ Hip flexion — the act of lifting your thigh up toward your torso or shifting it back toward your glutes — uses 11 different muscles in the hip. They're collectively called the hip flexors, and include the iliacus, psoas major and piriformis. This move targets these hip flexor muscles. It also stretches the glutes, the hip abductor muscles (which are located on the outside of the hip and help move the leg away from the middle of your body) and the hip adductor muscles, also called the inner thighs.
  • Who can do this stretch?​ This is an advanced mobility exercise, especially in its basic form, but most anyone can do it in a way that feels good (even great!) to them. If you experience pain or pinching in your obliques, back, hips or knees, stop doing the move and try one of the below variations.

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How to Do the 90/90 Stretch With Perfect Form

90/90 Stretch

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Skill Level Advanced
Type Flexibility
  1. Sit on a mat or the floor. Take a deep breath and make your torso tall and proud.
  2. Bring your right leg in front so your thigh is straight out from your waist, with your thigh turned so the outside of your thigh is on the floor. Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees and the outside of your shin, ankle and foot should also be on the floor. Keep your ankle in a neutral position so that your toes point directly forward.
  3. Maintaining a vertical torso and keeping your right leg in this position, bring your left leg out so that your thigh is pointing at a 90-degree angle away from your torso, and the inside of your thigh, shin and foot are on the floor. The knee of this leg should also be bent 90 degrees and your ankle should be in a neutral position.
  4. Keep your back straight and try to sit into both of your hips equally. If it’s hard to keep your torso up straight, place a block under your outside hand, or use one of the variations below.
  5. Hold this position as long as desired.
  6. Switch your legs and repeat on the other side.

Watch the Full Tutorial

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3 90/90 Hip Stretch Benefits

1. It Increases Hip Mobility

When your hip rotates your thigh so that your foot and calf come toward the midline of your body, it's called "external rotation." Lots of exercises and stretches, like a yoga pigeon pose, externally rotate the hip. The 90/90 stretch is unique in that it also rotates the hip internally; the back leg, where the thigh is turned away from the midline of the body, is rotated in this way.

In the ​Orthopaedis & Traumatology Surgery & Research​ study, scientists found that 47 percent of people had more external hip rotation than internal rotation. Only 13 percent of people had more internal rotation than external. So you may have the most room for improvement when it comes to internal rotation.

2. It Can Help Keep Your Knees Healthy

When athletes have less ability to internally rotate their hips, they're more likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligaments, or ACL, according to a September 2014 study in Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Athroscopy. ACL tears can sometimes happen when the knee collapses inward, a position called "valgus."

Because the 90/90 hip stretch increases your ability to internally rotate the hip, it could help reduce the risk of ACL injury.

3. It Can Improve Hip and Lower Back Pain

The connection between tight hips and low back pain is well established. And studies have also found that increasing hip mobility can help reduce that pain. For example, during a 2015 study in The Journal of Back Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, people reduced their lower back pain with just six weeks of hip rotation stretching.

4 Tips for the Best Stretch Possible

1. Keep Your Torso Straight and Centered

If your torso leans way over to one side, you're not stretching the hips evenly, or in the way the exercise is intended to work.

If you struggle with the 90/90 hip switch and have a hard time sitting up straight with your weight in both hips, place a block under one hand to bring your torso up to a vertical position — you'll feel your hips sink down as you do. You can also rest your front knee on a rolled blanket or mat.

2. Bend Your Knees at 90 Degrees

If they're not, you may feel a twist and pinch in your knee. Keeping them at 90 will help focus the stress of the stretch in your hips — which is right where you want it.

3. Don’t Lean Forward

When performing a yoga pigeon pose (in which the back leg is extended straight) some practitioners lean forward to deepen the stretch. But when doing the 90/90 for hip mobility, you should stay up tall: Leaning forward tilts your pelvis and takes some stretch out of the front hip.

4. Breathe and Sink Into Your Hips

To fully benefit from the stretch, you need to relax into it. That requires both deep, slow breathing ​and​ finding a comfortable position! Explore the position and variations to find the right fit for your body.

2 Modifications to Make the 90/90 Easier

If your hips are especially tight, you'll probably want to start with one of these less-intense versions of the 90/90 stretch. Modifying will allow you to get into the stretch properly and safely. Work your way up to the OG when you're ready.

Move 1: Mat-Supported 90/90 Stretch

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Skill Level Beginner
  1. Sit on a mat or the floor. Take a deep breath and make your torso tall and proud.
  2. Bring your right leg in front so your thigh is straight out from your waist, with your thigh turned so the outside of your thigh is on the floor. Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees and the outside of your shin, ankle and foot should also be on the floor. Keep your ankle in a neutral position so that your toes point directly forward.
  3. Place a rolled-up mat or blanket under the hip and thigh of your right leg so that your right hip is lifted off the ground.
  4. Maintaining a vertical torso and keeping your right leg in this position, bring your left leg out so that your thigh is pointing at a 90-degree angle away from your torso and the inside of your thigh, shin and foot are on the floor. The knee of this leg should also be bent 90 degrees and your ankle should be in a neutral position.
  5. Keep your back straight and try to sit into both of your hips equally. If it’s hard to keep your torso up straight, place a block under your outside hand, or use one of the variations below.
  6. Hold this position as long as desired.
  7. Switch your legs and repeat on the other side.

Move 2: Supine 90/90 Stretch

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Skill Level Beginner
  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent.
  2. Cross your left leg over so that the outside of your left ankle rests on your right thigh just above the knee. Your left knee should be bent around 90 degrees with your hip externally rotated.
  3. Grab the back of your right thigh with both hands — reach your right hand around your leg on the outside and thread your left arm through the hole created by your crossed legs to do so. Pull your right thigh toward your chest and make your right knee bend at 90 degrees.
  4. Hold this position as long as desired.

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