Squatting to depth is the envy of many a strength athlete. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, it’s a must to avoid any red lights and missed lifts during your competition. And for weekend warriors looking to increase strength, deeper squats can lead to higher one-rep maxes and more confidence.
But if you want to squat deep, you need mobile hips. Without adequate hip mobility, sinking below parallel safely and efficiently will be hard. The more efficiently you move, the heavier weights you can lift.
Hip mobility isn’t all about the squat. More mobile hips often mean less low back pain; an easier time walking, running, and lunging down to pick up after the kids; and more effective lifting mechanics. One of the best mobility exercises for your hips is the 90/90 stretch. Learn everything you need to know about it right here.
- How to Do 90/90 Stretch
- 90/90 Stretch Sets and Reps
- Common 90/90 Stretch Mistakes
- 90/90 Stretch Variations
- 90/90 Stretch Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the 90/90 Stretch
- Benefits of the 90/90 Stretch
- Who Should Do the 90/90 Stretch
- Frequently Asked Questions
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
How to Do the 90/90 Stretch
No equipment? No problem. You don’t need anything fancy to perform the 90/90 stretch. A yoga mat or exercise mat will make this move more comfortable, but you don’t need any barbells or dumbbells to do an exercise that will contribute to a heavier squat.
Here’s how to do the 90/90 stretch, step by step.
Step 1 — Back Leg Set-Up
Sit on the floor with your feet straight ahead of you. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees. Lower your right leg so that the inside of your right knee faces the ground. Adjust your right knee to align with your right hip, with your knee “pointing” to the right side of the room. Maintain a 90-degree angle between your thigh and calf, keeping your ankle neutral. The bottom of your right foot should be facing the back of the room.
Coach’s Tip: Bracing your hands on the floor or even a yoga block while setting up is okay. Especially if you’re new to the position, keep your left leg loose and comfortable while getting your right leg into position.
Step 2 — Front Leg Set-Up
Credit: jack hanrahan fitness / Youtube
Keep your right (back) leg in position. Bend your left knee to 90 degrees. Lower your left leg so that the outside of your left knee faces the ground. Bring your left thigh in line with your hips so that your knee is “pointing” at the space in front of you. Maintain a 90-degree angle between your thigh and calf, keeping your ankle neutral. The bottom of your left foot should be facing the right side of the room. Try to keep your upper body tall.
Coach’s Tip: If you struggle to keep your upper body stable and supported, try positioning a yoga block or rolled-up towel under your front hip.
Step 3 — Chest Up
Make any adjustments you need to maintain this position. Once you’ve established both legs at 90 degrees, try to sink your knees toward the floor. Keep your shoulders back and down with a tall chest without shifting from side to side. Inhale deeply, sitting up straighter. Exhale deeply, sinking your legs deeper down into the ground.
Coach’s Tip: These steps have prepared you for the deepest part of the stretch. At this point, make any micro-adjustments before starting the most intensive part of the stretch.
Step 4 — Hinge and Breathe
Inhale to make your body longer. On an exhale, hinge forward over your front (left) leg. Keep your shoulder blades back and down but hinge forward as far as possible. For a maximal stretch, try lifting both your left ankle and left knee up toward your shoulders as you hinge down. Hold this position and breathe for 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Coach’s Tip: If you need to create more space for your upper body, set up a yoga block in front of you so that your hands can rest there instead of on the ground.
90/90 Stretch Sets and Reps
Mobility exercises like this don’t have the traditional set and rep schemes you’ll see with things like the best barbell exercises and other workouts. Instead, you’ll be holding these stretches statically.
- For Warm-Up: Perform two sets of 30 to 60-second holds per side.
- For Intra-Set Mobility: Perform one set of 30-second holds per side between strength sets.
- For Cool-Down: Stretch each side once or twice for up to 120 seconds. (1)
Common 90/90 Stretch Mistakes
For athletes accustomed to hefting heavy barbells, stretches are sometimes the most intimidating moves to tackle. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when doing the 90/90 stretch.
Forgetting to Breathe
Strength athletes often forget to breathe under a loaded barbell — at their own peril. But it’s perhaps even more common for athletes to neglect deep, steady breathing during isometric exercises like planks or mobility exercises like 90/90 stretches.
To help your muscles relax and benefit most from this position, try to breathe deeply and consistently throughout your stretch. Take deep, slow breaths into your belly. With each inhale, think about making your body longer. When you exhale, imagine sinking your body deeper into the stretch.
Using the Wrong Modification
Everyone’s body is different. As such, there is no one position that will look the same for everyone. It’s easy to give up or simply say, ‘This stretch doesn’t work for me’ if it doesn’t feel right on the first try.
As long as there is no pain with the positions, feel free to take your time and find a position that works for you. That might mean leaning into the stretch more on one side or the other, or only using one leg at a time for this stretch (a 90 stretch, rather than a 90/90).
If you need more space between your stomach or upper body and your hips if and when you sit up or lean forward, use a yoga block under your hands to bring the floor to you. Reach out and forward instead of directly down.
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[Read More: The Best Foam Roller Exercises for Mobility and Better Movement]
You can also place a yoga block or towel under your front hip if you’re having trouble keeping your chest up.
Regardless of yoga block usage, make sure your shoulders remain squared over your hips instead of leaning over to either side. Avoid sinking to the side to support an upright torso. Position a yoga block at your side as needed to bring the floor to your hand and support you in your efforts to keep your torso upright and centered.
Keeping Your Front Leg Passive
One of the deepest expressions of this stretch involves hinging down with your torso while pulling your front ankle and knee upward simultaneously. It’s easy to sit in the position and hinge forward without fully engaging your hips. By engaging your ankle and knee, you’ll actively recruit your hips and challenge your full range of motion.
It’s perfectly okay to sit in this position. Especially if you have very tight hips, you might not need to perform this move with the highest intensity level. But you might be ready for more and neglect to raise your ankle and knee.
Note: Raising your ankle and knee likely won’t actually move your leg at all. Instead, you’re aiming to activate your muscles and deepen the stretch.
90/90 Stretch Variations
The static 90/90 stretch is amazing but is not the only exercise variation. You’ll find moves adding a dynamic element to your mobility workouts here.
Active 90/90 Stretch
An active 90/90 stretch is what it sounds like. The regular 90/90 is performed statically — you’ll hold one position for a certain amount of time, then switch sides and do it again. Instead of a static stretch, this variation will have you shifting from one position to another fluidly.
[Read More: Active Stretches for Optimal Recovery & Performance]
Aim to keep your legs as far apart from each other as possible while you’re switching from one side to the other. If you need to use your hands to anchor yourself and keep your chest upright, do so. You can use a yoga block on either side of your body to help maintain a tall chest and a non-tilted position. Alternatively, you can lean back slightly to brace yourself with your hands behind you.
Active 90/90 With Hip Extension
Bring the active 90/90 stretch to the next level by adding a layer of hip extension to the end. You’ll raise your hips up — think, a single-legged hip bridge — at the end of each rep.
By adding a hip extension, you’ll be bringing your hips through an even greater range of motion. It’s normal for you to have a greater range of motion on one side than the other. Aim to emphasize your less mobile side to help bring balance to your form.
This move is similar to the 90/90 with hip extension, but you won’t be going into full hip extension. Instead, you’ll be starting in what will look like a low kneeling position and shifting into a tall kneel.
[Read More: Use the Dumbbell Deadlift to Perfect Your Pull]
With this move, you’ll be increasing your ability to move through different ranges of motion and bring your hips to a lockout position in the deadlift. Think of the 90/90 stretch as generally impacting your squat and also your deadlift. This movement variation will make it even more helpful to your deadlift, since it will mimic that lockout motion on each side.
90/90 Stretch Alternatives
If the full expression of the 90/90 stretch is too intense for right now, that’s okay. Here are some alternatives to integrate into your repertoire.
90/90 Hip Lift
For this move, you’ll be lying on the ground with your feet up on a weight bench. Scoot as needed to bring your thighs to be perpendicular with the floor.
Once you’re in a good position, you’ll lift your hips. This will take you through a range of motion you might not usually have in your program. It will also strengthen your hips at the top of your range of motion, paying special attention to your glutes. This will help you become both more mobile and stronger — an excellent combination for squats and deadlifts.
You might have encountered this move as a pose in a yoga class. But you can also sink into the pigeon stretch as part of your mobility training in the gym. Like the 90/90 stretch, you’ll be targeting one hip at a time with this move.
If you’re unaccustomed to this move, you can stay up with your hands on yoga blocks or the ground. As you get more comfortable in this position, you might scoot lower and eventually lower to your forearms.
The lizard stretch might be uncomfortable at first, as it’s a fairly advanced alternative to the 90/90 stretch. You’ll need to get accustomed to a very deep lunge. You can gradually increase your range of motion over time.
As with the pigeon stretch, you’ll start by supporting yourself on a yoga block or your hands. Gradually, you might work your way down to your forearms. It’s okay if it feels more comfortable on one side than the other. Over time, your range of motion will increase so that you’ll be more even on both sides.
Muscles Worked by the 90/90 Stretch
What does it mean to stretch your hips? Here are the muscles involved in the 90/90 stretch.
The backside of your front leg is going to get a lot of attention here, and your glutes are the biggest part of that. Aim to stimulate a stretch in the glute of your front leg as you sink into this position.
Your piriformis is responsible for helping your hips rotate — which is exactly what’s happening during the 90/90 stretch. The piriformis is part of your buttocks and it assists with pointing your leg and foot, as well.
[Read More: The Split Squat Can Improve Mobility and Leg Strength]
Giving it the attention it needs can be hard since it’s a small muscle and can get overwhelmed by the glutes. Targeting the piriformis is one reason the 90/90 stretch is so helpful.
The psoas is a muscle that runs along your lower back down through your hips. It helps flex your hips and is a crucial part of walking since it helps lift your thighs toward your body. This muscle will get a lot of attention from the back leg portion of the 90/90 stretch.
Benefits of the 90/90 Stretch
The importance of hip mobility can’t really be overstated, either for the general population or competitive strength athletes. Here are just some of the reasons that the 90/90 stretch can be helpful.
If you’re a strength athlete, you’re likely aiming to develop a deeper squat. Whether you’re looking to compete in a powerlifting meet or simply cultivate more confidence at depth, a deeper squat is the cornerstone of a great leg day.
[Read More: The Best Squat Racks for Home Gym]
Your legs might be very strong, but without the requisite hip mobility, a deep squat might be out of the question. Increase your comfort under serious challenges — especially at the bottom of a snatch — with the greater hip mobility that 90/90 stretches afford.
More Functional Movement
If you lunge down or hinge forward to put your puppy’s collar on when you go out for a walk, you’re tapping into hip mobility. To help you move more easily, doing stretches like the 90/90 can become an important part of your daily repertoire. Integrating this move into a daily, five-minute mobility workout can help you move much easier on a day-to-day basis.
Potentially Reduced Low Back Pain
Stretching through your glutes and your hips (which is what the 90/90 stretch is all about) may help reduce back pain significantly. Research suggests that static hip stretches can help reduce non-specific low back pain. (2)
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Your squat form may be likely to suffer if you have to overcompensate for a lack of hip mobility with other parts of your body. Whenever there are overcompensations, you may be more prone to injury and pain. Mobility won’t prevent all injuries, but it can help make you more resilient and less likely to inappropriately compensate in a risky way.
Who Should Do the 90/90 Stretch
Hip mobility is a crucial part of so many aspects of strength training. Even day-to-day life can be highly impacted by what your hips are able to do (or not do) without pain.
When you’re new to the gym, you’re likely just learning how to squat to depth, whether with your bodyweight, kettlebells, dumbbells, or barbells. If lunges are a part of your beginner’s repertoire, you’ll also need to tap into a deep well of hip mobility.
As a beginner, you’re just starting to develop confidence in yourself as an athlete. Increasing your hip mobility will help you learn to perform exercises to adequate depth, gain confidence in your movements, and set you up for success in the long haul.
Competitive Strength Athletes
As a powerlifter, you’d better hope you can hit a squat all the way to depth during your competition — otherwise, you risk getting a no lift call. To safely and consistently squat heavy weight to below parallel depth, mobile hips are pretty non-negotiable.
The same goes for strongman athletes who need to squat down to navigate extremely heavy loads — from stones to logs — into their laps and all the way up. Weightlifters also need to be extremely comfortable at the bottom of their range of motion under a heavy barbell. CrossFitters need all the hip mobility they can get for those high-end box jumps.
[Read More: Nutrition for Athletes — How to Eat for Muscle and Performance]
Mobile hips are a necessity in all these strength endeavors, and the 90/90 stretch is an effective way to cultivate that.
Even if you only exercise recreationally, mobile hips are an excellent asset. Stretches like the 90/90 will help you develop a bigger capacity for movement. You’ll also potentially get stronger at your end range of motion, which can help you develop a lot more confidence in your favorite exercises.
Stretching from All Degrees
The 90/90 stretch is a great way to help you move more during the day. It’s also extremely useful for intra-workout stretching, warm-ups, and cool-downs — an all-around win-winning stretch.
Whether you want a deeper, more confident squat or are just looking for another hip mobility stretch to add to your routine, opt for the 90/90 or any of its variations. Your range of motion will improve over time, and you’ll have stronger training sessions to show for it.
Still have questions about the 90/90 stretch? We’ve got answers.
What if your knees don’t touch the floor during the 90/90 stretch?
It’s alright if your knees don’t touch the floor. The stretch is less about what the position looks like and more about the intention behind it. If you’re sitting up tall and hinging forward over your front leg, imagine pulling your front knee and ankle toward your chest as you hinge down to create the biggest stretch. This tension, rather than what the position looks like, is what will produce your stretch.
Do your legs have to be at exactly 90 degrees in the 90/90 stretch?
The short answer is no. Everyone has different limb lengths and body types, so everyone’s angles and abilities will be different.
But the longer answer is that the closer you are to 90 degrees, the deeper you might be able to sink into the stretch. If your degree is smaller — say, 60 to 70 degrees — you might not be involving your hips as deeply as you could be.
- Konrad A, Močnik R, Titze S, Nakamura M, Tilp M. The Influence of Stretching the Hip Flexor Muscles on Performance Parameters. A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 17;18(4):1936.
- Hatefi M, Babakhani F, Ashrafizadeh M. The effect of static stretching exercises on hip range of motion, pain, and disability in patients with non-specific low back pain. J Exp Orthop. 2021 Jul 27;8(1):55.
Featured Image: jack hanrahan fitness / Youtube