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August 31, 2022
The hip joint may not be at the top of your priority list when it comes to hitting the gym. But, as it is responsible for connecting your lower body to your upper body and involved in every movement you make, you'd be remiss not to bump the hip muscles up to your "muscles to build" to-do list.
To ensure optimal performance and strength while mitigating injury, having the correct exercises for your hips is vital. This article will explain what you need to know about your hip structure and the importance of strengthening the hip muscles, both to improve your performance in the gym and mitigate your injury risk.
The hip consists of a hip and a hip joint. The hip bone consists of three parts:
The hip is a ball and socket synovial joint. The femur inserts into the hip (upper leg bone), meaning it connects the legs to the upper body. Its primary job is to help support the body while also manipulating leg placement, which can occur throughout a wide range of motion, including everything from kettlebell sumo squats to any of these lunge alternatives.
As a result, it's a highly complicated joint with many different muscles and structures connected to it.
Due to the amount of stress put on the hip joints during movement, a lot can go wrong with "weak hips."
Common issues related to hips include nerve damage, overuse injuries, trauma, structural damage, and nerve damage.
And even though there are many different reasons one may experience pain or discomfort, if you drill down, the primary cause of injury or pain is due to weak hip muscles and poor mobility.
When we mention strengthening your hips, we are talking about strengthening your hip muscles. Due to the hip muscles' wide range of functions, there are quite a few important muscle groups to train here.
Here are the muscles included when we're addressing strengthening the hips.
The glutes include three different muscles involved in virtually every hip movement. The inability to maintain good posture has also been linked to weak glutes.
To have well-functioning hips, you must have strong glutes, meaning glute isolation exercises need to be an important part of your routine.
The three gluteal muscles include:
Hip adduction refers to the motion of pulling your leg medially toward your center.
This movement is done by the work of 5 different muscles:
Emphasizing hip adduction exercises will help strengthen your inner thighs.
The iliopsoas is composed of two muscles: the psoas major and iliacus muscles. Together, these muscles cross the anterior portion of the hip joint.
Due to its location, it acts as the primary hip flexor. The rectus femoris, the largest of the four quadriceps muscles, also assists the iliopsoas with hip flexion. Struggling with hip or back pain? Psoas exercises can help.
These are 6 small muscles responsible for externally rotating the hip. As this plays a vital role in many human movements, strengthening the hip external rotators is essential.
As seen, many muscles and bone structures are involved with the hip joint and hip mobility. This is to facilitate the massive range of movements seen by it. Here are the different movements patterns and muscles involved.
Hip external rotation is the movement made when your knees are bent and your legs "open up," like when doing a butterfly stretch.
The muscles involved include:
Hip internal rotation is limited to the structure of the hips. Imagine sitting on the edge of a bench with your knee flexed and feet hanging off. Now, push your feet out, so your knees cave inward.
The internal rotators are:
We all know hip extension. It's perhaps the most fundamental movement involved in weight lifting.
This is when your hips are in a flexed position, and then you pull your hips forward, strengthening them. Think of a deadlift.
Muscles involved include:
To be clear, your other posterior chain muscles, including the hamstrings and erector spinae, are involved as well.
Hip flexion occurs when the lower body moves toward the upper body, closing the hip joint angle, like in leg raises.
Muscles involved with hip flexion are:
Hip abduction, and hip abductor exercises, occur when you lift your leg out laterally. Hip abductors include:
Hip adduction occurs when you pull your thigh toward the middle of the body. Hip adductors include:
Whew. That's a lot.
As you can see, we weren't lying when we said the hip is complex. A ton of stuff is going on, making it important to use a variety of hip moves in your exercise program to ensure you're hitting everything.
There's a saying in the world of strength and conditioning: "Strong things don't break." The best method to prepare your hips for life stresses is to strengthen them.
Here are the best hip exercises for real strength. Make sure you do some hip warm ups as well (we provide some ideas later on), which could be as simple as hip circles in both directions or hip marching.
The Romanian deadlift is an amazing hip extension exercise to strengthen the glutes. Because we're looking at strengthening and function of the hips, we chose the Romanian hip hinge deadlift over the traditional deadlift because of its greater range of motion and glutes muscle activation. This exercise is also great for your outer thighs.
How to do the Romanian Deadlift:
Another fantastic movement for hip extension and hip abduction, the hip thrust strengthens the glutes so well that it's commonly referred to as the best glute exercise.
How to do Barbell Hip Thrusts:
The kettlebell swing is an amazing hip extension movement. The kettlebell is basically a bunch of hip extensions on repeat. This is not only going to strengthen the muscles, but it will condition them as well.
And since your core is engaged the whole time, it's also a great abdominal exercise. Last, you'll also get in some nice upper body conditioning.
How to do the Kettlebell Swing:
The plie squat, otherwise known as a sumo squat, is a squat focusing on hip extension and is performed with your hips externally rotated. It is so much so that your knees are pointing in almost opposite directions.
Because of this external rotation, you will give the hip abductors a much more intense workout.
How to do a Plie Squat:
The sumo deadlift emphasizes hip extension and hip adduction and can be used for the same reason as the plie squat. It's a familiar movement that emphasizes the adductors and inner thigh. What makes the sumo deadlift stand out compared to conventional deadlifts is it provides a significantly greater range of motion in the hips1.
Spend time with the starting position as it's crucial for proper form.
How to do a Sumo Deadlift:
When it comes to front squats vs. back squats, the back squat, preferably using the low bar, is a great movement to strengthen the hip muscles through hip extension and hip abduction.
Again, the primary muscles used are the hip extenders. However, your hip adductors and abductors will be put to work and need to keep proper knee alignment.
In fact, knee valgus (when knees cave in) is a prominent problem with squatters. There are a few causes for this, but research has shown that weak abductors are one of them2. The fact is strong squatters have powerful hips. If possible, use a low bar position as this squat position causes the hips to close more.
How to do a Back Squat:
We really like the low bar squat as it forces us to improve our hip mobility and loosen up tight hips.
We love body weight workouts. You can use weights for these, they're often difficult enough just with body weight, particularly if you're just starting out. If you do use weight, opt for lighter ones, as we suggest using high reps to condition the hip muscles.
Recommended rep scheme: 3 sets x 8-15 reps
Not only is the step up a great exercise for saddlebags, but it's also a simple movement that emphasizes hip extension and flexion. This is done by stepping up on a box. However, we can easily engage the hip flexors as well by adding a knee drive movement at the end.
How to do Step Ups With Knee Drive:
There are tons of lunge variations, but for hip strengthening, lateral lunges are our favorite. Lateral lunges will strengthen and improve the mobility of your inner and outer thigh muscles to a greater extent than a traditional lunge or reverse lunge. As the name implies, unlike a normal lunge position, you will step out to the side. This move focuses on hip extension, abduction, and adduction.
This sounds relatively easy but will quickly identify weak abductors, abductors, and poor mobility. Go slow.
How to do Lateral Lunges:
The lateral shuffle is a simple and effective movement that works on hip adduction and abduction. You can either warm-up with these or use them as a finisher. You can just use bodyweight here, but adding a resistance band will make it even more challenging.
How to do Lateral Shuffles:
Like the lateral lunge, the lateral step up will increase the strength of the inner and outer hip muscles, working on hip extension, abduction, and adduction. Again, the basic pose is the same as the traditional method, but you move laterally.
How to do Lateral Step Ups:
Another great method to keep your hips strong is to take the weight down and utilize mobility exercises. The strongest muscle in the world is nothing if it can't function with a full range of motion.
Use these exercises to help keep the joint working smoothly. These moves are also great for those who experience hip pain.
The clamshell exercise may look funny but is a great hip abduction exercise requiring external rotation. This movement makes it great for a warm-up of simple mobility work. It's also a great exercise for women training for wider hips.
How to do Clams:
Monster walks are simple, safe, and great for stretching and strengthening the hip flexors. You can do them as is, but for a better stretch and additional strengthening, add a resistance band. We highly recommend testing your mobility to help track your progress.
How to do Monster Walks:
This amazing floor hip flexors exercise strengthens the hip extenders and is also a great butt lifting exercise.
How to do the Glute Bridge Hip Abduction:
Whether you need to create a new exercise plan or add a couple of these hip exercises to your existing workout split, working on your hip muscles is a must. Focusing on strengthening your hip and pelvic muscles is a smart idea for anyone looking to avoid injury and improve performance.
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