Hip Strengthening Exercises (Improved Mobility & Stability)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: April 1, 2024
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Hip exercises target critical muscle groups such as glute muscles, hip flexors, and adductors, offering benefits like enhanced performance, injury prevention, and improved stability.

This article covers equipment-free options and exercises incorporating a resistance band or weights that I have successfully integrated into clients’ fitness plans over the years.

As a certified personal trainer, I will also discuss hip muscles, proper movement patterns, and techniques for optimal results.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • The best hip-strengthening exercises are deadlifts, hip thrusts, straight leg raises, Bulgarian split squats, and lateral lunges, among others.
  • The article covers a range of exercises, from equipment-free options to those incorporating resistance bands or weights, suitable for various fitness levels and goals.
  • The research highlighted on PubMed indicates that during the barbell hip thrust, peak electromyographic activity in the gluteus maximus was higher than in the back squat (by 4-56% of maximum voluntary isometric contraction) and split squat (by 6-58% of maximum voluntary isometric contraction), demonstrating the effectiveness of specific hip exercises in targeting gluteal muscles.
  • Drawing from my professional journey as a fitness trainer, I've learned that regular hip-strengthening exercises are essential for maintaining overall fitness, enhancing athletic performance, and preventing injuries.

Best Hip-Strengthening Exercises

A man doing deadlifts as hip strengthening exercise

The following are a variety of targeted exercises designed to enhance stability and power in your hips.

Deadlift

According to a study from the PubMed website, deadlifts are an excellent exercise for building muscle mass that can benefit anyone, particularly those concerned about muscle loss due to aging [1].

Deadlifts help improve overall strength, core strength, and stability.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Position feet shoulder-width apart and heels flat on the floor.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position and engage your abs.
  • Squat down, bending at the knees without rounding your shoulders or spine.
  • Grasp a bar with an overhand or mixed grip.
  • Lift your legs from your knees while your arms remain extended under tension.
  • Do not lift with your arms.
  • Stop when the weight reaches thigh level.
  • When reaching full height, pull back your shoulders without bending backward.
  • Lower to the floor with reverse motion, ensuring a straight back; repeat for desired repetitions.

Hip Thrust

A woman doing hip thrust

Hip thrusts are weighted glute bridges to improve extension, which is vital for daily movements like walking and climbing stairs.

in my experience, you can also use a quality home gym resistance band instead of a weight. Hip extensors contribute to the power needed for athletic performance.

Another study from the PubMed website shows hip thrusts work the gluteal muscles for sprinting more effectively than back or split squats [2].

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by sitting on the floor.
  • Have knees bent and feet wider than hip distance apart.
  • Place a weight bar across your hips and hold it in place without using your arms to lift.
  • Squeeze your glutes and press the bar upward, aligning your hips with your shoulders and knees.
  • Ensure your upper back is resting against the bench in the center.
  • Maintain core tightness throughout the movement.
  • Slowly lower the bar until your hips are a few inches off the floor, then squeeze your glutes to lift again.

Straight Leg Raise

Leg raises are a bodyweight exercise that targets your hip flexors and abdominals.

Here’s how to do them:

  • Lie on the floor with one leg straight and one knee bent.
  • Exhale and engage the core.
  • Inhale and lift the straight leg a few inches off the floor.
  • Hold for three seconds.
  • Exhale and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

“The hip is a major weight-bearing joint in the body and is responsible for many functional activities such as walking and running, sitting and standing, and climbing stairs.”

- Brett Sears, PT

Bulgarian Split Squat

A man doing Bulgarian split squat

Based on my experience, Bulgarian split squats are not only an excellent hip-strengthening exercise but also improve your upper body because you engage your core to balance on one leg.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand about two feet in front of a bench with your core engaged and shoulders back.
  • Place your right foot on the bench behind you.
  • Feet should remain roughly hip-width apart.
  • Engage your core and keep your chest high as you bend your left knee.
  • Keep the load balanced across your left foot as you hinge slightly forward at hips, ensuring your left knee remains aligned with your left toes.
  • Inhale through the downward phase until the left quadriceps is parallel to the ground.
  • Exhale and slowly return to standing.
  • Complete all reps on one side, then step your right foot off the bench.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Lateral Lunge

Lateral lunges develop hip strength, stability, and balance.

Here’s how to do them:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slightly bend your knees.
  • Have your shoulders over your hips and a neutral head/neck alignment.
  • Place hands on the sides of the hips and engage the core.
  • With a neutral spine and upright chest, take a giant step to the side with your left foot.
  • Lower until the left shin is upright with knee over toes and foot pointed forward.

Standing Quad Stretch

A woman doing a standing quad stretch

Stretching can loosen tight hips and improve mobility.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand on your right leg and lean on sturdy support if needed.
  • Bending your knee, bring your left heel towards your buttocks.
  • Reach for your left ankle with your right hand.
  • Pull in abdominal muscles and keep knees together. Relax shoulders.
  • Hold the stretch for 20–30 seconds, release, and repeat on another side.
  • Stretch each leg 1–5 times per session.

Related: Best Quad Stretches: Essential Stretching Guide

Standing Lunge Stretch

This hip exercise can be a workout warm-up, cool-down workout, or help loosen tight hip joints.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand upright with good posture.
  • Bend the right knee and step back with the left leg, keeping the hips even.
  • Rest hands gently on the right knee for stability.
  • Straighten the back leg, but do not lock the knee.
  • Keep abs engaged.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Low Lunge Twist Stretch

A woman being guided to do low lunge twist stretch
  • Begin with the left leg forward and the right knee on the ground.
  • Place your left elbow on the inside of your right knee.
  • Press the elbow into the knee and twist the torso to the right.
  • Reach your right arm behind you until a stretch is felt in the lower back and left groin.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Hip Circles

In my experience, hip circles can reduce hip pain from tight muscles or overuse.

Here’s how to do them:

  • Start by standing on your left leg with the right leg extended.
  • Use a wall or chair for stability, if needed.
  • Move the right leg in small circles.
  • Complete 20 circles, clockwise and counter-clockwise.

What Muscles You Should Be Targeting

A sitting man showing his hip muscles

To stretch and strengthen your hip joint, focus on the gluteus maximus and medius muscles.

Strengthening these muscles will improve the extensor and side movements of your hips.

Here’s a quick overview of your hip muscles:

Hip Flexors

Hip flexors are responsible for the bending of the hips. Four major hip flexor muscles include the Rectus femoris, Psoas major, Iliacus, and Pectineus [3].

Squatting, stepping, sitting, and pedaling a bike are all examples of hip flexion.

Hip Extensors

These hip muscles are the opposite of the hip flexors, which bend the hip.

The biceps femoris, commonly known as the hamstrings and gluteus maximus, are hip extensors that facilitate movements like standing up from sitting and kicking a ball.

These actions all extend the hip [4].

“Hip extension occurs when the angle between the hip and thigh increases. The main muscles involved in hip extension are the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and the posterior head of the adductor magnus.”

- Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD

Hip Abductors

A woman showing her hip abductors

The hip abductors help move the leg outward from the body.

These include the gluteus medius, minimus, and tensor fasciae latae (TFL).

The gluteus medius and minimus are located in the glutes, while the TFL attaches to the iliotibial band and stabilizes the hip and knee [5].

Hip Adductors

The hip adductors consist of five small muscles on the inner thigh.

They perform the opposite motion of hip abductors, bringing the legs inward or toward the body.

The muscles include Gracilis, Obturator externus, Adductor brevis, Adductor longus, and Adductor Magnus [6].

Related Posts:

FAQs

How Long Does It Take To Build Hip Strength?

How long it takes to build hip strength depends on how often you train the hips with targeted exercises. However, with consistency, you should be able to build hip strength in just a few weeks.

What Causes Weak Hips?

The common cause of weak hips is underuse, which causes muscle atrophy or degeneration. Weak hips result in the surrounding muscles compensating, causing many individuals to experience hip pain, especially when walking.

How Important Is Combining Hip Mobility with Strength Training for Optimal Hip Function?

Combining hip mobility with strength training is crucial for optimal hip function, as it enhances flexibility and range of motion while building muscle strength. This combination ensures balanced development and reduces the risk of injuries related to tight or weak hip muscles.

What Is the Role of Hip Strength in Injury Prevention for Runners?

Hip strength plays a vital role in injury prevention for runners by stabilizing the pelvis and reducing the strain on the lower extremities, thereby decreasing the risk of common injuries like IT band syndrome or the runner's knee. Targeted exercises for the hip abductors and external rotators are particularly beneficial in this regard.

How Does Hip Strength Impact Lower Back Health?

Hip strength significantly impacts lower back health by providing better support and alignment for the spine, thus alleviating lower back pain and improving overall posture. Strong hips contribute to a balanced distribution of movement and load, which is essential for maintaining a healthy back.

Why Are Hip Strengthening Exercises Important for Older Adults?

Hip strengthening exercises are important for older adults as they enhance stability, balance, and functional movements, which are key to preventing falls and maintaining independence. These exercises help in preserving mobility and improve the quality of life in the elderly population.

What Advanced Techniques Can Be Used for Hip Strengthening?

Advanced techniques for hip strengthening include incorporating plyometric exercises and using resistance bands for added intensity, which are effective for athletes or individuals seeking more challenging workouts. These methods help in further developing hip strength, power, and endurance.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32107499/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33332802/
  3. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Hip_Flexors
  4. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Knee_Extensors?utm_source=physiopedia&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=ongoing_internal
  5. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Hip_Abductors?utm_source=physiopedia&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=ongoing_internal
  6. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Hip_Adductors?utm_source=physiopedia&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=ongoing_internal
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About The Author

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
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Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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