The 90/90 stretch is a great way to train hip mobility and focuses on how well your hips can rotate. It has quickly become one of the more popular hip stretches and is part of the Kinstretch practice.
If you can comfortably sit up in this position your hips are probably doing okay and you can display mobility and strength in multiple ways in the 90 90 stretch chances are your hips are loving life.
The goal of this blog post is to provide a deeper understanding of the 90/90 hip stretch and how to utilize it for success.
This position is actually very advanced which is why we go into great detail to help each individual find success.
There are endless things you can incorporate and we go through the main exercises to get you started.
Why should you do the 90/90 stretch?
The 90/90 stretch is one of the most effective ways to target the hip capsule. It is a position that challenges flexion and external rotation for the front hip while the trail hip is in the abduction and internal rotation. The ability to rotate efficiently at the hip joint is crucial for overall health.
As a ball and socket joint all movement includes some degree of rotation, meaning even while flexing and extending the hip there is rotation happening. So whether you are walking, sprinting, or throwing a baseball hip rotation is crucial.
“The joint capsule contains a high number of mechanoreceptors because the capsule makes up the innermost tissue across the joint. The capsule is the first to perceive motion. Also, unlike muscles which only provide information about the length of a muscle, the capsule provides multi-directional and rotational information.” – Functional Anatomy Seminars
If you have 5-15 degrees of hip rotation in either direction do you think sitting on the floor in the 90/90 is for you? Probably not yet. We can find a regression to get you going which is what we discuss later in this blog.
How much hip rotation do we need?
Ahhhh one of the questions that leave everyone unsatisfied at the Functional Range Assessment certification. Unfortunately, the correct answer is IT DEPENDS.
Grandma probably does not need 45 degrees of hip internal rotation but if you are trying to beat the world record snatch going “ass to grass” you better have way more than grandma.
Many educational resources suggest 45 degrees of external rotation and internal rotation This study from the Carémeau Teaching Hospital Center in France represents some interesting findings.
My favorite finding is the small difference from position to a position which really hits home for me.
A huge part of my thought process towards mobility is obtaining the most foundational capacities first.
If the hip rotates well and there is only a small difference how it rotates in three different testing position then it will most likely rotate well when squatting… then jumping, and further progresses.
Of course, it always depends but building the foundation of capacities at the joint level is what our approach to mobility training is all about.
Demystifying FRC Terms for the 90/90 Hip Stretch
The video below will coach you through the details involved in finding the correct sensations, progressions/ regressions and how to implement PAILs/RAILs.
PAILs/RAILs = Progressive and Regressive isometric loading: Isometric protocol created by Dr. Andreo Spina and taught at the Functional Range Conditioning certification. We have a full blog post explaining what PAILs and RAILs are
The goal of PAILS/RAILS is to expand our active range of motion.
Here we have the overview of the 9090. Using yoga blocks are a great tool to prevent compensations.
1. Not using the correct regression
Far too often do people spend hours on the gym or living room floor falling over or hanging on for dear life. When we talk about EXPANDING range of motion within our mobility training we never want to be unstable.
We must convince the nervous system with adequate force to achieve an adaption. In doing so we have our best chance when we combine leverage and stability.
We have found the IR Table Regression to be highly effective for those with limited hip mobility.
2. Prioritizing more range of motion over the correct SENSATION.
Communicating what we should feel during mobility work is crucial. There is always an opening angle and a closing angle of a joint.
If you ever feel a pinch or painful sensation on the closing side of a joint please back out of that position.
Shown below is the most common mistake I see when working on external rotation on the front hip.
Notice how rounded and flexed my spine is which also posteriorly tilts my pelvis. These both take tension off the correct area of the back side of the left hip.
When you are in class you probably cannot see yourself so clearly but when the instructor says pull yourself deeper and the bendy person next to you is…. we naturally feel like we should lean forward no matter where we feel it.
This second picture shows the internal rotation example of this when we say reach for the trail leg as a progression and even the people falling over go for it. This is usually followed by “My obliques cramped but I did not feel much in the hips.”
3. Losing intent when sinking back into the passive stretch.
This one is a real mind trick. When performing level three PAILs and RAILS, which is the equivalent of a 1-3 rep max of mobility training, we start the process with a two-minute “passive” stretch.
The number is not an exact one but the research does indicate before two minutes generally deals with the stretch tolerance and after two minutes we can start to affect the viscoelasticity of that tissue.
Basically, a real change takes adequate time under tension just like building biceps so setting the timer for two minutes is a safe bet at starting an adaption.
When we do this two minutes in the 90/90 hip stretch it’s far from passive because we are using maximum intent with our breathing and positioning.
Implementing breathing strategies can relax tension allowing us to find the correct sensations. We also can explore different lines of tension that are specific to your hip.
4. Setting up in the 75/85 instead of the 90/90.
I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone said they feel nothing and then I just put them in 90-degree angles.
Eyes light up, hip cramps, and hallelujah. The ankle being dorsiflexed on the trail hip is sneaky but makes a huge difference for most people.
If you want to do work at different angles that is definitely an option. The shin box is a great position but your intent should always match your outcome and if we are getting after a rotation at the capsule then the 90/90 is where we want to be.
Now that we have provided a ton of detail into the mistakes we see concerning positions let’s continue onto specific progressions and regressions.
First, how do we choose a regression/progression?
What factors dictate where someone should be along the 90/90 positional continuum?
If we are not assessing then we are guessing – Dr. Michael Chivers
This is an entirely separate blog post, but it is something we offer with our Individual Programming.
Let’s keep it simple with one more question for your thought process.
How do you measure progress without an assessment that establishes a baseline of objective data?
In other words, if we do not have a record of where we started then how do we know if we are headed in the right direction?
If we are talking about choosing a 90/90 hip stretch entry point, we know we are talking about hip rotation primarily so assess your hip rotation. You can refer to the external/internal hip rotation examples above.
If you have 10 degrees of hip IR do you think sitting in 90 degrees is going to be the best move? Probably not.
Do you need 90 to sit in the 90/90 hip stretch? Definitely not which is why we also factor in our next topic.
Defining closing angle pain and how it feels is the highest priority of every Kinstretch class I teach. You should never feel any pinching or pain during your mobility training.
To make progress we need to take it a step further and ensure the proper sensations are being felt.
Think about someone squatting or deadlifting and saying they did not feel the hips at all but they felt a strong effort in my lower back… might be time to re-evaluate our exercise selection.
The Elevated 90/90 puts a focus on the front leg
Wait for it. Wait for it…..
I know that’s not what you want to hear, but the truth is anyone who knows what they are talking about should be starting with that answer.
We are complex dynamic systems making general advice a near-impossible task.
Let’s lay out some samples and guidelines now that we have made the “it depends” point. Here is how we usually progress our students when introducing PAILs/RAILs.
90/90 Coaching Sequence
First, own two minutes of just being able to breathe in for 4 and out for 4 exploring lines of tension. Basically, before anything let’s make sure we can achieve the position and breathe.
Second, let’s add some specific tension implementing low-level PAILs. After step 1, perform 1-3 sets of 30-second low level 0-30% Max Voluntary Contractions. In between rounds take 3-5 quality breaths sinking into the stretch.
Next, let’s show how strong we are at getting out of this position by ramping our PAILs to a full 100% MVC. This goes far beyond pushing down as hard as you can.
Pick an increment of 1-10 % and meticulously control the ramping of tension. Visualize someone slowly turning the volume knob up.
What you will discover is maintaining continuity is very difficult where you might go from 75 to 65 and then jump to 90 percent of your max.
When you are a real Jedi…… reverse this and work on slowly turning the volume down with precision. Aim for 10-20 seconds to get to 100% and 10 maintaining the max effort.
This is an application of Dr. Andreo Spina’s Isometric ramping which trains the nervous system for both up and down-regulation.
The next addition is the one and only RAILs.
We oftentimes hear people say “FRC is just PNF” which is simply false. This could be another easy full-length blog post but for now, let’s just stay on track with the next progression of adding the RAILs contraction to our training.
While PNF is a contract and relax.. our RAILs contraction is quite the opposite of that where instead we contract the other side of the joint to ACTIVELY pull us deeper into the position.
By doing this we are creating a ROM that will be useful in the future. This contraction is after your max PAILS and lasts 10-30 seconds.
To put this perspective imagine throwing a baseball… you work really hard to load the hip and get the shoulder into external rotation and then you just relax. Chances are we are not delivering the gas. Now if we train both sides of the joint. Cy Young City.
Lastly, we take a few breaths and sink back into the stretch. This concludes one official round of Level 3 PAILS/RAILs. This is training.
This is what leads to some of the most intense soreness sweet baby Jesus has ever witnessed.
Within each of the details above we can manipulate the numbers to individualize the application based on the student. For example, maybe betty sue works up to 70 percent tension three times before hitting a true 100% MVC.
Alternatively, the contortionist, yogi or hypermobile person might do PAILs for weeks before needing to expand ROM with the RAILs.
What else can I do in the 90/90 hip stretch?
There are countless Isometric Movement paths that start in 90/90 hip stretch, but the best place to start is transitioning to the opposite 90/90.
9090 transitions and how to start adding them to your routine now.
We often use the sequence below to get students to feel both sides of the trail hip which helps with their PAILs/RAILs. Try a few reps from the position that is best for you.
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Regress to progress with your @Kinstretch practice Hit the sign up link to enroll in our Level 1 #KinstretchAnywhere class. The FABER sequence from the 90/90 is a phenomenal way to train rotation, Flexion, and AD/ ABduction. There are so many people who will make more progress way faster just by regressing their positions. Swipe through and see 3 ways to change the difficulty here. Tag some who needs this message?? @kinstretchanywhere @markowtrainingsystems
“Training is hard, repetitive, and it is a practice.” – Hunter Cook
How many times a week should I do the 90/90 hip stretch?
Do you feel it coming? You were right! It depends. Depending on progressive overload and because of that, it depends on your current capacities which I can not speak on.
It probably takes more time than you originally thought and that is okay. The best things in life always do. Here are a few general suggestions.
When you reach step 4 of our programming advice detailed above start with that 1 time a week. Progress with multiple rounds until you can get 3 full rounds of PAILs/RAILs. Be consistent for at least 8 weeks.
Save your work with follow-up movement. Remember we are not putting in this hard work to be cool in the 90/90… we do it because healthy joints are the foundation of all physical endeavors.
When you are done with your PAILs/ RAILs do more CARs, especially hip capsule C.A.R.’s. Simply put after temporarily expanding hip rotation then go rotate your hip more.
Accumulate time in the position every week. Then spend more time there the next week.
Never miss a day of Controlled Articular Rotations. Even if it is 3 quality reps.
Interested in taking a hip mobility class? Try our Hip Mobility Guide via our Elite Video Membership.
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Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!