The above video is one of my favorite exercises that uses a piriformis release to access a piriformis stretch, as well as involving an IT band and hip flexor stretch. As with many of the exercises we offer involving tight hips everyone feels things differently as everyone’s body needs and does different things.
It goes without saying that if you are in pain you want to get out of pain. The question is how to get relief. The piriformis muscle, along with the psoas, is one of only three muscles (gluteus maximus is the other) that connect the legs to the spine. They tend to work overtime to hold us up and it is easy for them to fall into dysfunction. We believe that sometimes it is better to release tension from muscles before you go about stretching or strengthening them.
The piriformis muscle turns your feet out or helps you get out of a car. If you walk or stand with your feet turned out your piriformis muscle is chronically tight simply because of your everyday posture, and we have found that all the piriformis stretches in the world won’t change things if your deeply rooted habits like walking and standing don’t change.
The above pose is called ankle to knee and in one direction it is a strong piriformis stretch deep in the buttock of the top leg. Though often, depending on the hips, all of the feeling will be associated with the It band and the hip flexor, next door neighbors of the piriformis.
If you know that you have very tight hips start by crossing the right ankle over the left knee with left leg straight out in front of you and bend forward. If you feel this as a stretch in the hip maintain this position; if you feel this as a hamstring stretch at the back of the leg go into the full pose.
There is a neat trick involved in this exercise. On the surface it is a piriformis stretch and if you stack your shins and go forward you should feel it as such, though again you might only feel it in the IT Band or the hip flexor, and if you have really tight hips what you feel would defy the definition of stretch.
But then we move into the piriformis release as we try to move or lean backwards onto our forearms. From my perspective what happens now is the IT band stretches and the hips flexor stretches (again different strokes for different folks), which doesn’t happen often, and the piriformis releases.
Stay here for a couple of minutes if you can, trying to relax, and let the higher leg relax if possible. The piriformis release coupled with the IT band stretch and the hip flexor stretch, creates an environment for you to sit up and then bend forward feeling the piriformis stretch in a very new way.
This exercise is one of my favorites in the never-ending quest to release and open tight hips.