The hips are muscles that many people may overlook when it comes to injury. As a physical therapist, I know that hip strength and flexibility can play a key role in whole body wellness. A large number of aches, pains, and injuries can find some of their root cause in the hips. Hip exercises for strength and flexibility can help alleviate some of these issues
Because we all sit or find ourselves in the same positions day after day, the hip muscles are often tight and weak, and sometimes even painful. There is no shortage of hip exercises to choose from. Read on to learn more about the 10 hip exercises that I recommend first as a physical therapist. That doesn’t mean I don’t recommend others, but these are often my “go-to” ones.
Hip Muscles to Target
There are more hip muscles than you may be aware of, but there are a few that are often targeted.
Hip Muscles to Strengthen
- Gluteus Maximus- The gluteus maximus is the largest of all the hip muscles and provides the most power with dynamic movements. It’s responsible for lifting your leg behind you, helping with posture, rotating your leg and helping move it out to the side.
- Gluteus Medius– This muscle sits a little more to the outside of the hip than gluteus maximus and is a bit smaller than the maximus muscle. It helps with a variety of hip movements. When it comes to knee pain and joint pain, having a strong gluteus medius is important to help alignment and stability.
- Piriformis– The piriformis can be a source of contention. For this muscle, there’s a balance between it being strong enough but not too tight. In addition to helping rotate the hip, it also helps move the pelvis and helps with stability of the sacrum.
Hip Muscles to Stretch
- Tensor Fascia Latae/ IT Band– This area is notorious for being tight, especially in runners. The TFL is important to stretch to prevent pain. When the above muscles are weak, this area can get pretty tight. The IT band is important for posture and pelvic stability but, again, it can cause issues if it’s too tight.
- Iliopsoas (hip flexor)– the iliopsoas sits at the front of the hip and actually runs from the spine down to the hip joint. If the above muscles are weak, this muscle can get overused and tight.
- Piriformis– The piriformis, as stated above, can get either too tight or be too weak. That’s why it’s important to both stretch and strengthen it.
Flexibility Hip Exercises
The following are hip exercises for flexibility. Read on to learn about each stretch and modifications if the main exercise may not be a good fit for you.
- Figure-Four Stretching- Sit in an upright position in a chair, rest one ankle on the opposite knee. Slowly lean forward and gently press down onto your bent leg until you feel a stretch on the underside of your thigh. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times on each side. *Keep your back straight as you lean forward.
- Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch– Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times on each side.
- Butterfly Groin Stretch-Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
- Posterior Chain Stretch– Begin sitting with your knees at 90 degree angles with one leg in front of you and one out to the side. Rotate your trunk to the side of the forward leg and place both hands on the ground. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times on each side.
Strengthening Hip Exercises
- Hip Bridges– Repeat 10 repetitions and work up to 15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. Place a resistance band around the thighs for extra resistance.
- Resisted Side-Stepping- Place resistance band around thighs or ankles. Slowly step laterally over a 10-15 foot length and then repeat going the opposite direction. Repeat 2-3 times to each side.
- Single Leg Deadlift– Balance on one leg, slowly lower down while keeping leg straight and lifting one leg behind. Repeat 10 repetitions on each side, working up to 2-3 sets.
- Clamshells– Repeat 10-15 repetitions, 2-3 sets. You can perform this exercise with or without a resistance band. For an added challenge, try elevating the feet.
- Wall Squats– Start by holding the wall squat for 30 seconds and work up to 1-2 minutes.
- Quadruped Leg Lifts- Start on all fours, press one heel up towards the ceiling with the knee bent at 90 degrees.
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