When it comes to which elements of your stride you can improve, your hips don’t lie. That’s because hip flexors—the muscles that allow flexion at the hip joint—play a huge role in fluid running, and a set of tight ones can really mess with your mechanics.

The iliopsoas is the strongest group of muscles in the hip flexors, connecting the spine to the femur, and it’s what helps contract and pull the thigh toward the torso, allowing you to bring your knee toward your chest.

Strategically opening and strengthening your hip flexors needs to be part of your routine. The easiest place to start is with active warm-up drills that are often underrated and underutilised. Two to three minutes of high knees, butt kicks, skipping, and running backward will open up the hips in the front, side, and back planes of motion.

Incorporate strength work in different planes of motion to keep all the muscles in and around your hip flexors, especially your glutes, firing correctly. You can’t have good hip flexion if your glutes are tight or weak, it’s important that you’re always stretching and strengthening the front of your hip flexor and the back, which are the glute muscles.

Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips.

Whether you’re at the gym or just training at home , these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keeping them loose long-term. Below,  is five hip stretches.

1. Crescent Lunge Knee-Up

How to:

  • Start in high lunge with left foot forward, knee bent at 90 degrees, hips square, and toes facing forward.
  • Lift arms straight up as you stand and draw right knee toward chest.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Complete 10 reps, then repeat on opposite leg.

What it does: Strengthens glutes (especially the gluteus medius) and hip flexors.

Related article: 8 Yoga Poses To Strengthen Your Lower Back & Abs In 10 Minutes

2. Full-Range Figure Four

How to:

  • Sit upright with knees bent, hands resting behind you.
  • Cross left ankle over right knee.
  • Let right knee travel out to the right, then back to centre.
  • Slowly move right knee through a full range of motion, then hold for five breaths when you feel a good stretch.
  • Repeat on the opposite leg.

What it does: Opens hip joints and stretches glutes.

Related article: The Best 5-Minute Warm-Up To Do Before A Strength Workout For Optimal Results

3. Low Lunge Variation

How to:

  • Start in a low lunge with left foot planted, knee bent to 90 degrees, and right knee on the floor.
  • Place palms flat on each side of left foot. Un tuck right toes and lift right arm above head as you lean to left side.
  • Hold for five deep breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

What it does: Strengthens quads and hips, lengthens psoas.

Related article: Total Body Healing With 6 Exercises Using a Foam Roller For Warming Up and Cooling Down

4. One-Legged Bridge Lift and Lower

How to:

  • Lie face up with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms resting at sides.
  • Press into heels and engage glutes to lift hips.
  • Transfer weight to left leg and extend right leg straight out for five breaths.
  • Inhale as you lower right leg to hover over floor for five breaths, then exhale as you lift it back up.
  • Perform 8 reps, then repeat on opposite leg.

What it does: Activates glutes and lengthens and strengthens hip flexors.

Related article: 6 Exercises To Target The Glutes And Make Them Grow

5. Skating Squat

How to:

  • Stand with legs just wider than hip-width apart.
  • Send hips back and bend at knees to lower into a squat.
  • Shift weight to right leg as you rise up to standing and extend left leg back (like you’re gliding on skates) while tightening your glutes.
  • Return to squat and repeat on opposite leg.
  • Continue alternating for 60 seconds.

What it does: Strengthens glutes and strengthened hip flexors.