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January 12, 2023
Are you quad-dominant in nearly all lower-body movements? Have you tried exercises to activate the glutes but haven’t found the right one? Well, look no further!
The clamshell exercise is a glute activation move that does an incredible job of strengthening the glutes and stabilizing the hips.
And trust us, once you start to feel that deep glute activation and see the progress you're making on your sculpted glute goals, you'll want to continue incorporating the clamshell into your routine.
Keep reading to learn how to perform the clamshell, along with its many great variations and progressions.
This article will explain:
The clamshell exercise is a side-lying lower body activation and strengthening exercise. With proper alignment from the hip complex and lower back, it is an efficient way to activate the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.
This movement is commonly used in rehabilitation programming and physical therapy to help restore hip strength post-injury. Utilizing this exercise in your routine can help build strength through the gluteus medius and hip complex, which can improve your movement quality while decreasing your risk of compensatory injuries.
These directions are specifically for a side-lying, bodyweight clamshell, which is the baseline for this exercise.
To ensure proper form and ideal muscle hypertrophy results, it's best to learn proper form with just your body weight. Then, once you've built a solid foundation, you can begin adding variations and progressions.
How to do the Clamshell Exercise:
Perfect your clamshell form and ensure you're targeting your inner and outer thighs, in addition to your gluteal muscles, by avoiding these common glute isolation exercise mistakes.
The clamshell is one of the best isolation exercises for the glutes, also targeting the hip muscles, helping assist with hip strengthening and hip mobility. Here's a closer look at the clamshells muscles worked.
The three primary glute muscles are the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Here's a look at each of their functions.
The clamshell exercises target the gluteus medius, the abductor of the leg which is located on the outside of the glutes, along with the gluteus maximus, which starts at the hip bone and stretches down to the femur.
Adding resistance to the clamshell can help increase the strength of both gluteus muscles, directly translating to increased stability of the pelvis. The function of the glutes includes balance and power skills that are crucial for a functional body.
Since the clamshell works one side at a time, it can also help connect asymmetries between sides, helping recognize muscle imbalances, weakness, and compensations, which is why it's one of our favorite glute exercises.
Looking for a good reason to add the clamshell to your workout routine? We'll give you more than one! Here are 5 great clamshell exercise benefits.
When completing compound movements like squats and deadlifts, it is common for the quads to take over, affecting the full benefits that strong glutes can provide. Strong glutes are crucial for walking, running, explosive movements, and rotational exercises.
The clamshell exercise is also great for maintaining a mind-muscle connection, which helps isolate and send tension to a specific area of your body. This is especially important if you find yourself struggling to feel your glutes in lower body exercises.
Ready for another of our favorite benefits of clamshell exercise? The clamshell can help strengthen the gluteus medius and maximus, bringing more stability to the hip complex and correcting inadequate hip stabilization.
With stronger hips, the chance of lower-body injury is decreased. Lower body compound movements like squats and deadlifts will start to feel more connected and stable.
Glute strength and knee stability are directly correlated. One of the gluteus medius roles is to help stabilize the knee.
Any compensations or weakness in the glutes can lead to compensations down the chain of joints, with the knees being directly affected.
The first three benefits are grouped under one umbrella of injury prevention. The overarching goal of movement programs is to build strength to maintain a functioning body and limit compensations that can lead to injuries.
In rehabilitation settings, the clamshell is used as a glute strengthening exercise for anyone experiencing injuries in the lower back or hips, along with those struggling with knee pain.
Last but not least on our list of clamshells exercise benefits is the movement's ability to build muscle in your glutes. It takes consistency and a variety of exercises to shape the gluteus muscles.
Adding resistance to the clamshell and adding it consistently into your routine adds to your glute's muscle development.
Starting the clamshell with just your body weight is a simple and easy way to modify the movement. Without external load or resistance, you’ll be able to move freely, focusing on activating your glute muscles.
Another modification is to limit the range of motion that you’re moving in. If the movement is bothersome in any way, decrease the range of motion of the clamshell, working to slowly increase the range of motion over time. In addition, an easy modification is to change the position of your body to help you connect to the clamshell.
Depending on your body's alignment, this can mean shifting your legs more toward the backside of your body, using a pillow to slightly elevate the hips, or coming up in the seated position. Play around with what position feels best.
Looking to spice things up with some clamshell variety? Try these 6 variations of the clamshells exercise. Pro Tip: These variations make for great glute activation warm-up exercises.
Add a resistance band right above the knees for your standard clamshell form with the clamshell exercise with band variation. This addition will create resistance for the glutes and outer hip to work against. Instead of lowering your upper knee all the way down, lower just enough until the resistance band is still stretched out. Fight against the band the entire time, while stabilizing your hips.
As a side note, adding any of these best resistance bands options to your home gym is a relatively inexpensive way to make multiple bodyweight moves, like this one, more challenging!
Adding resistance with a dumbbell is a simple and accessible way to add intensity to the glute muscles. With your top hand, grab a light to medium dumbbell and place it on your top mid-thigh area.
Repeat the standard clamshell form as you hold onto the dumbbell. Feel the extra resistance of the weight and push through your glutes. Complete the full range of motion of the clamshell.
Start in your standard clam shell exercise position, and lift both of your feet off of the ground in the elevated clamshell. Keep your feet glued together and proceed into your clamshell repetitions, opening and closing the top knee.
This variation changes the angle of glute activation. You may prefer holding your feet off the ground if you feel a deeper stretch and activation in this position. This move also happens to be a great butt lifting exercise.
Core stability training is essential to every routine, and the side plank clamshell does a great job of working your abs and glutes. Begin in the starting clamshell position, with your knees bent and one leg on top of the other.
Bend through your bottom arm and position your elbow right underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body. Lift your hips off of the ground to a modified side plank stance. From your side plank, open your top leg in the clamshell.
This variation targets the abdominal muscles, in particular the obliques, making it much more challenging to maintain constant tension throughout the exercise. If you’re looking to add additional core work to your routine, this variation is worth trying.
In your side-lying position, keep your bottom leg bent and straighten your top leg. Start with your foot by the ground then activate your glute and lift your straight leg upward toward the ceiling.
Make sure your leg stays in line with your hips instead of coming forward or backward. With the straight leg variation, you'll be able to reach a greater range of motion and you may prefer this position over the clamshell position.
Instead of a side-lying position, take a seat on a bench to perform the seated clamshell exercise. Attach a glute loop or resistance band right above the knees. Slightly hinge forward so you feel your glutes stretch in this seated position. Keep your feet close and your knees apart.
Push your knees out until you feel your glutes activate, then return to your start position while feeling the constant tension of the band. In the seated position, you’re working both glutes at the same time. It’ll also be easier to find your form and resist arching or rounding through your lower back.
Ready to add some more weight to your clam exercise? Here are 2 progressions to consider adding to your workout split.
Position the pulley at its lowest attachment and use an ankle attachment for your ankle. Face the side of your body to the pulley and attach the pulley at the ankle of your outside leg (the one that’s further away from the pulley).
Cross your resisted leg slightly in front of your stable leg then open out to the side without shifting through your hips. Open just enough to feel the activation of the outside of the glute then return to the starting position.
This progression is an exceptional outer thigh exercise and is a great way to start increasing the resistance of the abduction motion of the hips. Make sure to stand tall and to keep creating tension through the body to resist motion anywhere else other than the active hip.
If available to you, utilize a stationary seated abduction machine. Similar to your seated banded abduction, slightly hinge through your hips and position your torso forward.
Actively press the pads of the machine outward until you feel a deep glute activation. Using a stationary machine is a great way to start to target muscles and train for strength and physique-specific goals.
There are several ways to incorporate the clamshell into your training routine, specifically for leg workouts. One, you can use the clamshell as a part of your warm-up.
Complete 1-2 sets of high-volume repetitions (20-30 reps per side) or utilize a time cap (1 minute for each leg). The goal of the warm-up is to focus on the activation of the glutes and bring awareness to the area.
Another way to incorporate the clamshell is to add it to a working set of lower body movements. For example, complete one set of heavy back squats and active muscle recovery with seated banded abductions (30 total). This is a great method for active recovery in between strength movements while focusing on glute activation.
In addition, the clamshell and its variations can be utilized in circuits or as a burn-out. With circuit training, these movements are typically higher repetitions and more cardio-based. The circuit can be a mix of full-body or lower-body-focused exercises.
If your goal is a workout finisher that will hit the glutes hard then stick to all lower body movements. In this case, complete higher repetitions of the clamshell and make sure to have proper form even through fatigue. Where you start to incorporate the clamshell into your routine really depends on the goal.
If you’re looking to activate and bring awareness to the glutes, a warm-up set or active recovery set is plenty. If you’re looking to change your physique, working in the clamshell (and its variations and/or progressions) into your circuit work will be the most effective option.
Looking for a great clams workout to get your lower body activated? This sample clamshell workout routine is just what you need!
It’s common to overlook simple exercises as a solution to muscle activation, muscle hypertrophy, and stabilization. As it turns out, it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of the clamshell.
Proper form, variations, and progressions can help improve your lower body’s movement quality. Ready to start feeling more connected to your glutes? Add the clamshell in, ASAP!
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