hip abduction exercises

10 Hip Abductor Exercises For Stronger Hips and a Tighter Backside

February 14, 2021

Hip abduction exercises work three primary muscles, which together, move the leg away from the body, improve balance, and provide stability. When working out your glutes and your lower body, it is important to place focus on this often forgotten muscle group. Through hip abductor exercises, you will get a tighter, more toned backside, stronger hips, and even stronger, more stable knees. This exercise is also great for those who experience low back, hip or knee pain or are seeking to prevent pain before it occurs.

In the rest of this article, we are going to dig into three major points:

  • The muscles worked during hip abduction exercises
  • The benefits of hip abduction workouts
  • A series of different hip abductor exercises

By the end of this article, you will understand how you can include hip abduction exercises as a part of your regular workout routine.

hip abductor exercises

Hip Abductor Strengthening - What Muscles Do These Exercises Target?

The target muscles of hip abductor exercises are a small group in the outer thighs and around the glutes. They include the following:

  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus 
  • Tensor fasciae latae (TFL)

By extension, hip abduction exercises may also target the Gluteus maximus. Below, we will dig into what these muscles do for your body.

hip abductor muscles worked

What Does The Gluteus Medius Do?

The gluteus medius is a partially covered muscle beneath the gluteus maximus. It assists in your walking form, otherwise known as gait, making sure you have a normal stride.

This area is prone to muscle damage due to jumping or nerve issues, especially if exercising improperly. Working out this muscle can improve stability in your stride and improve the appearance of one's backside. The muscle change is more apparent in those who have limited body fat. Strength in this muscle can also help prevent pain when you get older.

Related: Best Gluteus Medius Exercises

What Does The Gluteus Minimus Do?

It is in front of the gluteus medius and is a muscle for hip extension. Its primary use comes in when the leg on the opposing side is in the air. It stabilizes your position as you stand on one leg, which is an essential skill in balance.

As you might expect, this muscle doesn't get a lot of attention. Working it out can be incredibly helpful in the long term, as you have more balance control when this muscle is healthy. 

What Does The Tensor Fasciae Latae Do?

The TFL is connected to the pelvis and is a band that travels down the leg. This band assists you in moving your legs in a normal stride. The TFL muscle is activated when you are walking and putting one foot in front of the other.

Given that the TFL controls your gait, internal rotation, and general abduction, the strength here can significantly improve stability control. When stabilizing your hip and knee, you have more significant performance potential. If you deadlift or squat (or play any kind of high impact sport), you know the importance of remaining stable and balanced.

What Does The Gluteus Maximus Do?

When people tell you to work out your glutes, they are typically referring to the Gluteus Maximus. As one of the strongest muscles in the human body, this area is not underserved. It is responsible for moving your hips and thighs. 

Anytime you're standing up or walking up an incline, the Gluteus Maximus works with the hip abductor muscles to ensure you are doing it optimally and with balance and control. When you hear about hip abduction exercises working on your "side butt," this muscle is where you see those primary benefits. A tight butt comes from working all four of these muscles in tandem.

These muscles combine to give you control over the position of your legs relative to your pelvis. They also assist you in having a proper gait, climbing stairs, and standing at attention. Abductors also exist in your arm, and like the hip abductors, both of them work on stretching and rotating in your joint. 

hip abductor strengthening exercises

Hip Abduction Exercise Benefits - What You Need To Know

The benefits of exercising hip abductors apply in a few different situations:

  • People who want to improve the level of performance and effectiveness in their workouts. 
  • People who seek out a toned and defined backside. 
  • Those who have knee valgus, patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), or iliotibial band (IT) syndrome 
  • People who have regular hip pain
  • Those who have sedentary jobs 

How Can Hip Abduction Help Improve My Workout Performance and Backside Appearance? 

While most people already understand the importance of having a toned butt (gluteus maximus), there are still those who might question the importance of working out these other muscles. 

To answer your questions, it's essential to address the need for strength in your pelvic system. When you can activate these smaller muscles with greater ease, it provides you more excellent stabilization. Learning muscle control in these smaller areas is key to understanding how to engage your core fully. 

Having a portion of your workout focus on your hip abductors allows you to maintain balance in these muscle groups. If you know anything about having unbalanced workouts, they can cause significant injuries (like tears or strains) down the road. 

By working on muscles that stabilize your hips, you will control your glutes and core more effectively. This effort results in much more effective workouts and a toned and defined backside. It becomes especially apparent if you have low body fat.

This workout can also prevent and assist in handling those who have experienced injuries.

What is Knee Valgus?

Knee valgus is when your knee falls inward when bearing a load. Typically, this happens during squats, other lifts, or running. It is more likely to occur if you do not exercise with proper form or you have weak hip abductors. Knee valgus can also be the result of genetic issues. Hip abduction exercises can help strengthen against and prevent this condition. 

benefits of hip abduction exercises

What is PFPS?

The patellofemoral syndrome occurs when you have an aching pain in one or both knees. A sign that you have the syndrome comes from a cracking or popping sound when you use your knees.

Unlike knee valgus, doctors treat this with ice, elevation, and medication. This syndrome is common in those who sit for long periods. Hip abduction exercises can help strengthen the hip and knee balance needed to prevent this syndrome.

Related: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Home Treatment Guide

What is IT Band Syndrome? 

Otherwise known as ITBS, this syndrome causes pain above your knee joint. Much like PFPS, it is caused by sitting too long. It also might occur in those who work too hard when running or riding a bicycle. Hip abduction exercises are known to assist against pain with this syndrome. 

How Does Hip Abduction Help Those Who Have Hip Pain?

Based on a study from the Journal of Athletic Training (JAT), those who experience hip pain (PFPS specifically) benefit from performing hip abductor strengthening workouts. 

If you do have pain in your hip abductor muscles or knee joints, consult a doctor before incorporating this as part of your routine. The right movement and form are essential to ensure you are not injured. 

Ideally, hip abduction workouts will act as more of a preventative to pain. Those who already have strength in this underserved muscle group are less likely to have these conditions.

Related: Mobilization Exercises for Hip Pain

In the rest of this article, we will dig into workouts to add to your strengthening and pain prevention routine. 

hip abductor muscle

10 Hip Abduction Strengthening Exercises For Your Routine 

Here are the 10 hip abductor exercises that we will be covering.

  1. Seated hip abduction 
  2. Cable hip abduction 
  3. Hip drop with step
  4. Sitting hip abduction with resistance band
  5. Fire hydrant circle with a dumbbell 
  6. Side lunge
  7. Curtsy lunge
  8. Clamshells
  9. Leg side circles
  10. Side plank hip abduction

Some of these hip abduction exercises involve machines or free weight equipment, while the others are bodyweight only. With that, you can strengthen your hip abductor muscles effectively from home and the gym. 

Two Hip Abductor Exercises With Machines

Machines provide you with an easy way to isolate specific muscles in your body. In this first section, we will tell you what you can do with a local gym membership with cable machines and a hip abduction machine. 

1. Seated Hip Abduction 

hip abductor machine

Machine-assisted hip abduction affects all areas of your gluteus muscles, piriformis, and external obturator. The piriformis is a muscle connection between your hip and your butt and stabilizes the hip joint. The obturator externus (or external obturator) is a muscle in the pelvis which moves the leg toward the body. 

Below are the steps you need to handle this hip abduction exercise: 

  1. Sit with your legs located on the inside of the pads.
  2. Grab the side lever that you can pull to push your legs together. 
  3. Release the lever when your legs are locked in an inward-facing position and press your back against the area. 
  4. Inhale before you begin. 
  5. Exhale as you spread your legs to push against the pads. Hold the extended position for two to three seconds. 
  6. Inhale as you return your legs slowly back to the first position. 
  7. Repeat this movement for 10-12 reps.

When performing this workout, be sure not to overdo it on the weight. Putting too much strain on this muscle set can cause the problems you want to prevent. If visual instruction would help with this, there is typically a graphic on the machine's side that can help. Also, move slowly, with control. Really feel the muscles working. 

Hip Abduction vs. Adduction - What is the Difference?

While hip abduction is the act of pushing the legs away from the body, adduction is the movement inward. The two movements rely on different sets of muscles located in the upper thigh and hip area. It is important to strengthen all of these muscle groups, as the targeted work will help your overall stability.

Try and combine abduction and adduction whenever possible, as the two muscle groups work together.

2. Cable Hip Abduction

hip abductor exercise with cable machine

A cable-based hip abduction targets the three muscle groups of importance in the abduction. As a result, using a cable machine properly is how you can isolate your target on these muscles. If your local gym has a cable machine, you can follow these instructions:

  1. Connect one of your ankles to the available strap and set the cable pulley in the lowest position. 
  2. Stand directly to the side of the pully and step away from it so that the cable is firm and pulled out a bit. 
  3. Inhale before you begin.
  4. Ensure you are stable before you pull your strapped leg from the machine. Exhale as you perform this motion.
  5. Hold the position for a second at the top. 
  6. Inhale as you release your leg back down.
  7. Repeat this motion for 8-12 reps. Switch ankles after the first set.

When doing this, be sure that the rest of your body remains engaged and unmoving. By allowing other muscles to assist with the movement, this exercise won't be effective. 

If your gym does not have a cable machine or you work out from home, you can perform this same movement using a resistance band. Just anchor it to any pole or stable structure. 

Three Equipment-Assisted Hip Abduction Exercises

If your gym doesn't have these machines, you have the option of picking up free weights or purchasing equipment. In this section, we will let you know how to perform hip abduction strength exercises using a step, resistance band, or dumbbell.

3. Hip Drop With A Step

hip exercises

You can perform this exercise with any heightened platform. 

  1. Your starting position involves standing on any sort of platform. 
  2. Inhale before you begin. Lift one foot to the air, so it is hovering a bit. Using your planted foot, bend your knee until your foot drops just below the platform. Exhale as you do this.
  3. Lift your body using the support of your single leg. Do so for 10-20 reps and switch to your other foot to follow the same motion. 

If this exercise is too easy, you can increase the difficulty by holding onto kettlebells or dumbbells. 

4. Sitting Hip Abduction With A Resistance Band

hip abductor workout 

This is essentially the exercise as the first exercise but with a booty band (aka hip band) instead of a machine. This exercise will require room for your legs, so be sure to give your legs space and sit on a hard surface. 

  1. Sit down on any available surface with an ample amount of room for your legs. 
  2. Loop a hip band around your thighs just above your knee (if you only have 41" loop resistance bands, just loop them twice and it should work just as well).
  3. Sit with your knees at a 90 degree angle. Make sure that your toes stay on the ground as you are in this position. Inhale before beginning the next step. 
  4. Pull your knees outward using your hip abductor muscles. Exhale as you do this, inhaling again as you allow your knees to return to each other. 
  5. Repeat 10+ reps, typically up to three sets depending on the strength of your band.

To practice form, you can decide to do this exercise without any weight or resistance. The form is key to ensuring that your movement remains effective. That said, it is a pretty easy exercise to nail. 

Buy a Booty Band

 

booty band hip abductor exercises

 

5. Fire Hydrant With Booty Band

best hip abduction exercises

If you have ever seen a dog lift its leg next to a fire hydrant to pee, then you know what this one looks like. For beginners, your bodyweight alone might be enough, but if that's too easy, a booty band or dumbbell can be used for additional resistance. 

  1. Loop a band around your thighs, above your knee, and then get into a quad position on your hands and knees.
  2. Keep your back flat. Inhale before you begin. 
  3. Lift your leg out to the side, stretching the band. Move your knee in a circular position, pointing your foot to the ceiling. Exhale as you do this. 
  4. Performing a circular motion, drop your knee until it is back in the starting position. 
  5. Complete around ten reps and switch over to your other leg when finished.

As long as you keep your back, butt, and core engaged, this exercise can provide excellent results for your glutes. This hip abductor workout is also great for people who prefer bodyweight exercises. 

If you want an additional exercise in this position, you can combine them with leg circles. We will be discussing this exercise in the next section. 

fire hydrant with band

Five Bodyweight Hip Abductor Exercises

If you don't have access to a gym or weights, don't worry, your ability to build a considerable amount of muscular strength is doable with only bodyweight exercise. In the rest of this article, we will show you how to develop hip muscles with no equipment (although they can be done with equipment or bands to increase difficulty, which we will make note of).

6. Side Lunge

bodyweight hip abductor exercises

The side lunge is a good beginning exercise to target your hip abductors. By keeping two feet on the floor and shifting your weight from left to right, you naturally work both sides of your body. Check out these instructions to see how you can perform this workout:

  1. Your starting position is to spread your feet wider than your shoulders. Keep your toes pointed at a slight angle away from your core.
  2. Inhale before you begin.
  3. Bend with your left knee to the left side. 
  4. Exhale as you return to the original position, doing the same thing with the opposite side of your body. 
  5. Repeat for twenty reps for two sets depending on your comfort level. 

As a beginner exercise, this is great for those who have hip abductor weakness. It does require some hip mobility, so go as low as you can without losing form. Over time, your hip mobility will improve because of this exercise.

Make this exercise harder by holding a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells (or a steel mace for lateral lunges)

7. Curtsy Lunge

hip abductor exercises at home

The curtsy lunge is great at working your hip abductors as well as your lower body as a whole. 

  1. Take the same position as a regular side lunge. 
  2. Inhale before you begin.
  3. Take your right foot and bend it back and behind your left leg.
  4. Bend your body down until your leg is nearly touching the floor. 
  5. Lift your leg back up in the original standing position. Exhale as you do this and repeat the process with your other leg. 
  6. Do this for 10-20 reps.

You can add additional effort to this exercise by carrying around two dumbbells, kettlebells or a steel mace (i.e. steel mace curtsy lunge). Have your arms up and engaged as though you will do a shoulder press, being sure not to drop them down where your legs are moving. 

Buy Kettlebells from SET FOR SET

 

kettlebell hip exercises

 

8. Clamshells

clamshell exercise

Imagine two of your knees pressed together to be a closed clam. With this in mind, you should have a pretty good idea of where to start. For an additional challenge, you can wrap your knees with a fabric hip band

  1. Start by laying down on your side with your legs on top of each other.
  2. Bend your knees a bit and make sure your upper body is comfortable before beginning. Inhale before you begin. 
  3. Keep your feet together and lift your right, or left, knee open (depending upon your position).
  4. Lower it slowly so that your knees are back together.
  5. Exhale when you lift your knee and inhale when you drop your knee.
  6. Ensure that your back and core remain engaged as you do about 20 reps, switching to the other side when done. 

Be sure that you are thinking about keeping your shoes together as you begin. Imagine yourself as the clam, and the mental reminder of keeping areas pressed together should be more effortless.

9. Leg Side Circles

hip abduction workout

Imagine your dog decided to pee on the fire hydrant but left his leg in the same position and began to circle it instead of bringing it down. With this exercise, you will be taking that position. When you do this, it's a practical exercise that is great at engaging your glutes. 

  1. Assume the same position as the fire hydrant (hands and knees on all fours)
  2. Inhale before you begin.
  3. Lift your leg and point your foot, starting with the left side of your body. 
  4. Remember to breathe as you begin to rotate your leg in a circular motion.
  5. Change the direction of your leg rotation every so often.
  6. Trade your leg to the other side to make sure that you balance your work. 
  7. Perform 10-20 reps on each leg. 

Much like the fire hydrant, the key to this exercise is to keep your back,  butt, and core engaged. 

Increase the difficulty of this exercise with a booty band.

10. Side Plank Hip Abduction

hip abduction exercise at home

Among advanced options, we have the side plank hip abduction. Planking, if you aren't aware, is a simple maneuver. However, planking by itself provides you an excellent method of core engagement. A side plank also brings the hip abductors into play.

This exercise can be challenging, especially if you weigh more.

  1. Start by positioning yourself on your left or right side.
  2. Keep your upper body lifted by setting your left elbow under your shoulder. 
  3. Keep your feet together and your hips on the floor.
  4. Place your other arm on your hips for a stable posture. 
  5. Inhale first. Start to exhale after you lift your hips off the floor and raise your right leg, so it extends far. 
  6. Return to your starting position with an exhale.
  7. Do this for ten to 20 reps, repeating this motion on the other side of your body. 

This excellent exercise is a full-body workout that includes abdominal muscles.

You can increase the difficulty of the hip abductor portion of this exercise by wearing a hip band (place it around your thighs just above your knee). 

hip band exercises

glute band exercises

How Can I Fit Hip Abduction Into My Regular Exercise Routine?

These workouts should be part of your routine around one to two times per week. If you really want to work on your hip abductors, then as many as three times is doable.

Choose 3-5 exercises and do them for an adequate amount of reps. If you are new to hip abduction exercise, limit your effort to bodyweight-only workouts. Adding weight too early can prevent you from mastering the form.

Do these on the same day you perform exercises targeting your lower body. If you have a day specifically for glutes, this is the perfect time for you to perform hip abduction exercises.

Related: Bodyweight Leg Exercises That You Can Do Anywhere

importance of hip abduction exercises

Hip Abduction FAQs

Does hip abduction make hips bigger or smaller? 

Hip abduction exercises work small muscles located on your hips and butt. Through repetition and different work levels, one is more likely to see the muscles get tighter and toner. However, with the right diet, you can most definitely build muscle.

Is hip abduction good for glutes?

Hip abduction exercises target the Gluteus medius and minimus. By extension, many of the workouts listed above may also target the gluteus maximus. Because these muscles' combination works to support movement in the hips, hip abduction and adduction can make glute muscles stronger. 

Is the hip abduction machine terrible for you? 

There is some discussion in the fitness community that the machine for hip abduction is bad for you. The theory is that there is no human movement remotely like what's you are doing with abduction machines. Regardless of what this resource may say, abduction machines strengthen muscle groups when you hold good form.

The biggest problem most people have with hip abduction machines comes from their tendency to overextend the muscles. That means if you follow the instructions and don't do anything crazy, these machines can strengthen muscles that generally get no attention. 

side butt exercises

Final Thoughts

Hip abduction exercises should not be the highest priority on your gym list. However, implementing them into your routine can strengthen key hip muscles to build an underserved group and completely tone your backside. This workout can also prevent the potential for future pain, especially for those who work sedentary positions.

If you need some other assistance working the lower half of your body from home, we recommend checking out some of our other resources:

Remember, incorporating hip abduction with your lower body routine (specifically days where you work on your glutes) will help you remember this muscle group. Keep it between two and three days a week, and you will feel the difference in your hip strength and see the difference in your backside!

Buy a Fabric Hip Band (It's the best tool you can have for your glute workouts!)

 

banded hip abductor exercises

 



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