What Is the Groin, Exactly?
The groin is the general term used to name the spot where the legs connect to the pelvis. The muscles that make-up the groin include the hip adductors (inner thigh), the hip flexors (front of thigh), and to some degree, the hip extensors (back of the thigh, your hamstrings and glutes), explains Erin Abell, D.P.T. a physical therapist with Pure Barre.
In addition to helping you move and groove safely, your groin also plays a crucial role in keeping your knees, back, ankles, and core stable and healthy, she says.
TBH, Your Groin Is Probably Tight
Hate to be the bearer of bad news but unless you’re a professional dancer or yoga instructor, odds are your groin muscles are tight AF. “Our bodies adjust to the positions that we spend the most time in, and most of us sit for 10, 12, 14 hours a day,” explains Wickham. Unless you’re sitting criss-cross applesauce (and honestly, who is?), “all that sitting puts all your groin muscles in a shortened position.” And a shortened position = tight.
This tightness is exacerbated by the fact that, more often than not, our exercise routines have us only moving in the frontal plane (aka forward and back), explains Wickham. Runners, cyclists, walkers, and even CrossFitters, for example, almost never work their muscles side-to-side, through the transverse plane of motion. The result, is even more tightness in the hips and groin, according to Wickham.
Lifestyle factors such as dehydration, chronic stress, and poor sleep quality/quantity can also affect lead to increased muscle tightness, adds Abell.
Benefits of Improving Your Groin Mobility
To put it bluntly: Tight muscles hurt! (Hey, you’re not sitting here reading this article or complaining, “Oh my groin is so tight!” because it feels good, are you??). Well, according to Abell, working to improve your groin mobility can actually lessen pain and discomfort over time. Winning!
Increased groin mobility can also decrease the risk of groin-related muscle injuries like a groin strain, she says.
Oh, and remember that jingle “the hip bone’s connected to the knee bone”? Abell says it’s apt here. “The jingle describes the fact that one joints’ health is dependent upon the health of joints that are nearest to it.” It’s a concept known as regional interdependence in the world of physical therapy. Put simply, it means that “optimizing flexibility, strength, and coordination of the groin region can also help to protect your back, knees, ankles, and feet during daily activities,” she says.
Beyond just lessening pain and reducing injury risk, improved groin mobility can improve athletic performance—especially in sports that require lateral movements such as soccer, Martial arts, rugby, rock climbing, and yoga, says Meghan Braun, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., owner of Body Mechanics Physical Therapy in Jacksonville, FL.
The Best Groin Stretches for Mobility
To be very clear: Yes (!) it’s possible to increase groin mobility. It’s a slow process, but “consistently stretching and strengthening the groin muscles will help you increase and maintain groin mobility, and reduce risk of a groin injury,” she says.
Wondering how to stretch your groin, exactly? Wonder no longer! Below, six groin stretches physical therapists recommend to improve groin mobility and reduce the risk of a pulled groin.
This classic hamstring stretch is also perfect for loosening your groin. Do it regularly (read: every single day!) and “you’ll begin notice that you can work a bit lower into the position and open your legs into a wider straddle without bending your knees,” says Abell.
A. Start sitting on the floor with legs in a straddle position, legs straight, knees pointed at the ceiling, feet flexed.
B. Brace midline, then hinge at hips and gently walk hands forward. Lower chest to floor as low as possible, without rounding lower or upper back.
C. Hold for 30 seconds, then try to sink a little lower with every exhale. Repeat 3 times before walking hands back to start.
Known as Mandukasana in yoga, frog stretch is a hip-opening groin stretch you’ll feel. Trust. Because on hard surfaces this move can be uncomfortable, Wickham recommends padding your knee joints with two folded towels or ab mats.
A. Start on all fours, knees stacked under hips, wrists under shoulders.
B. Maintaining a 90-degree bend in each knee, slowly slide knees outward as far as possible. Shift to forearms or keep hands planted, whichever is more comfortable.
C. Get as low as you can, then contract adductor muscles (inner thighs) as hard as possible for 10 seconds. Then relax, breathe deeply, and lower more (if you can).
D. Repeat for 10 total rounds of 10-second contractions before returning to start.
Sure, this may have been your fave way to sit in Kindergarten, but decades later it’s not a ~casual position~, it’s a stretch. A good one, according to Abell. “Repeat this daily and gradually as your hips become more mobile, you will notice that you can lower your knees closer to the ground.”
A. Sit on the floor, soles of feet pressed together.
B. Brace core, keep proud chest, and draw shoulders down and back while allowing knees to fall open. To increase the intensity, move feet closer to the groin.
C. Hold here for 30 seconds, focusing on taking long, slow deep breaths. Rest for 30 seconds then repeat 2 more times.
Named because you’ll look like a dog taking a leak (on a fire hydrant, get it?) when you do it, this stretch is good at stretching your glutes, groin, and hamstrings, says Wickham. It also strengthens your abductors—the muscles on the outsides of your hip and glutes—which will help counteract any inner-thigh or groin tightness.
A. Start in a tabletop position on hands and knees.
B. Draw the belly-button up towards the spine to activate the core. Then, keeping back flat, torso tight, and a 90-degree bend in the right leg, lift it up to the side.
C. Lift as high as possible without dumping all your weight into your opposite leg, ideally to hip-height.
D. At the top, flex glutes and abductors for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat for 3 total times before bringing the leg back down and repeating on the opposite leg.
With or without weight, the cossack squat can help strengthen your quads, glutes, hip flexors, and core. But that’s not all this multitasker does. “The cossack squat also offers a solid groin stretch,” says Wickham.
A. Start with feet hip-width apart, then take a giant step out to the left.
B. Keeping a proud chest, simultaneously bend the left knee and shift weight into the left side, carefully lowering as far as you can. (This might be about hip height, or you might be able to descend farther so your butt is almost touching your heel.) Shift weight from right foot to right heel, lifting toes toward the ceiling.
C. Hold for 10 seconds. Switch sides; repeat. Do 8 reps per side.
If the Cossack squat felt too easy, Abell recommends this squat variation instead. If you were gritting your teeth while doing the Cossack squat or felt like it was ripping your hips open, continue with that slightly easier variation. (That said, to make this easier, you can place dip bars, a chair, or another sort of brace in front of you to make this one slightly easier, as shown in the illustration above.)
A. Stand with your feet a few inches wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at about 15 degrees.
B. Brace midline, then without letting your chest fall towards knees, press hips back and bend knees.
C. Continue lowering until you feel stretched, or until knees are bent to 90 degrees, whichever comes first.
D. Contract glute muscles, hold for 30 seconds. Release, try to sink a little lower. Then repeat 2 more times.
Wait…What If My Groin Is Already Strained or Pulled?
First things first, if you’re experiencing pain in your groin region, visit a PT or doc ASAP. If you can pinpoint when the injury occurred—for instance, maybe you felt something pull when you were playing soccer or felt a little “ouchie’ when you were squatting—Braun suggests seeking out a physical therapist because odds are you have a groin strain.
However, if you have zero idea when the “injury” may have occurred, she recommends going to your primary health physician instead. “A hernia, bladder infection, and issue during pregnancy often cause a very similar sensation in the groin as a strain,” she explains. “You want to rule one of these health complications first.”
Here’s the thing: If your groin is strained, you actually don’t (!) want to do any of the above groin stretches. Braun explains: “A groin strain occurs when the muscles get over-stretched.” Continuing to stretch an already over-stretched muscle is only going to make the strain worse, she says. Repeat: If you have a groin straight or a pulled groin, these stretches aren’t the answer.
While a physical therapist can put together a treatment plan ~just for you~, Braun suggests incorporating some dynamic stretches as well as icing the groin for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours (if possible) within the first 48 hours of the injury onset. Over-the-counter painkillers can also be used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
The good news is that Braun says a mild groin injury usually heals within 6 weeks with dynamic stretching, ice, and rest. And once it’s healed? These groin stretches we’ll be here waiting for you.