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OCT 27, 2023

Strengthening Hip Exercises for Improved Mobility and Function

Discover effective exercises for hip strength and flexibility. Enhance joint mobility, reduce pain, and improve overall hip health.

Read time: 9 minutes

For athletes, fitness enthusiasts, or even weekend warriors, hip strength is not just about flexibility; it plays a crucial role in your overall body function. If you want the lasting ability to perform daily tasks more efficiently, excel in your favorite sports, or possibly bid farewell to lower back pain, improving hip strength is the answer for you.

What exercises will we be covering?

  • Targeted exercises such as 90/90 hip switches

  • Bear sit kickouts

  • Supine hip CARs

  • Prone hip ER liftoff

  • Supine leg swings up and out

  • Quadruped hip extension to abduction, alternating hip flexor to hamstring, groin rock backs, and many more.

While these exercises focus on strengthening the hips to improve mobility and function, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist before starting any exercise program - to ensure proper form and prevent injury.

Understanding your Hips and Mobility

The hip joint is one of the largest and most vital joints in the human body. It plays a significant role in supporting our weight, stabilizing movements, and facilitating mobility.

The hips are a ball-and-socket joint, where the rounded head of the femur bone fits into the acetabulum of the pelvis. This structural design allows for various movements in multiple directions, including the following.

  • Flexion (bringing the knee towards the chest)

  • Extension (moving the leg backward)

  • Abduction (moving the leg away from the midline)

  • Adduction (moving the leg towards the midline)

  • Rotation (turning inward or outward).

Maintaining optimal hip mobility is crucial for everyday activities like walking, running, sitting, standing, and bending. However, several factors can contribute to compromised hip mobility. These include sedentary lifestyles, prolonged sitting, muscle imbalances, previous injuries or surgeries, and age-related changes.

Muscles Involved in Hip Movement

Ok, time for a bit of science. The hips are supported by a complex network of muscles collaborating to produce smooth and coordinated movements. What follows are some major muscles involved in the hip movement:

  1. Gluteal Muscles: Comprising the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, these muscles play a vital role in hip extension, abduction, and rotation. Strong gluteal muscles provide stability to the pelvis and enhance overall hip function.

  2. Hip Flexors: Made up of the iliopsoas (consisting of the iliac and psoas major muscles), rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, and sartorius muscles, the hip flexors allow for the movement of lifting the thigh towards the chest and bending at the waist. Tight or weak hip flexors can contribute to limited hip mobility and lower back pain.

  3. Adductor Muscles: The adductor longus, brevis, magnus, gracilis, and pectineus are responsible for hip adduction, bringing the leg toward the body's midline. These muscles provide stability during walking and other weight-bearing activities.

  4. Hamstrings: Located on the back of the thigh, the hamstrings consist of three main muscles: biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. They assist in hip extension and knee flexion and are critical for movements like running and jumping.

  5. Hip External Rotators: This group includes muscles such as the piriformis, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, obturator internus, and externus, which are responsible for rotating the thigh outward.

  6. Hip Internal Rotators: Consisting of muscles like the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fasciae lata (TFL), and anterior fibers of the gluteus maximus, they help rotate the thigh inward.

And it goes without saying that when these muscles are strong and flexible, they promote better balance, stability, and overall hip function.

Strengthening Hip Exercises

Strengthening exercises for the hips are crucial for enhancing mobility and function, particularly for individuals experiencing hip pain or muscle imbalances. Weak hips can contribute to knee pain and limit overall movement capabilities. Therefore, incorporating targeted exercises to strengthen this area is essential for improving your quality of life.

One effective exercise for hip strengthening is the 90/90 hip switch.

90/90 hip switch

  • Begin by sitting on the floor with one leg bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you and the other leg bent at a 90-degree angle behind you.

  • Engage your core and glutes as you smoothly switch the position of your legs, maintaining proper form and control throughout.

Bear sit kickouts

  • Start in a seated position with your hands behind you and fingertips pointing towards your feet.

  • Bend your knees, lift your hips off the ground, and kick out one leg at a time while maintaining stability through your core muscles.

Supine hip CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations)

These are also highly effective for improving hip mobility and strength.

  • Lie on your back with one knee bent and your foot flat on the ground.

  • Slowly rotate your hip in a circular motion, moving through its full range while keeping tension and control.

Prone hip ER (External Rotation)

These liftoffs target hip strength from a prone position.

  • Lie face down with your legs extended.

  • Keeping one leg straight, lift it off the ground while externally rotating from the hip joint.

  • Lower it back down and repeat with the other leg.

In addition to these exercises, stretching exercises can help increase flexibility and prevent muscle tightness that may contribute to hip discomfort. But it's important to hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds without causing any discomfort or pain.

For instance, try the kneeling hip flexor stretch by kneeling on one knee while keeping the other foot planted in front of you. Gradually lean forward, feeling a stretch in the front of your hip. Repeat on both sides to ensure balanced flexibility.

Remember that hip strengthening exercises should focus on targeting the specific muscles without overstretching or causing pain. One-legged exercises can help address imbalances between the hips and improve overall stability and function.

While some exercises can be done at home to strengthen hip mobility and strength, it’s also worth considering physical therapy-oriented exercises that can provide professional guidance and tailored treatment.

Home Exercises for Hip Mobility and Strength

Only some people have access to a physical therapist, but you can still work on improving your hip mobility and strength from the comfort of your own home. You can do plenty of simple exercises with minimal equipment to support your recovery and enhance hip function.

One effective exercise is sidewalks, or crab walks with resistance bands.

  • Place a resistance band around your legs, just above the knees, and assume a slight squat position.

  • Step sideways, maintaining tension in the band, then step back to the starting position.

  • This exercise targets the hip abduction muscles, helping increase strength and stability.

Lying side abduction is another excellent option for engaging the hip abductor muscles.

  • Lie on your side with your legs outstretched and lift one leg toward the ceiling while keeping the toes pointed forward.

  • Slowly lower it back down and repeat on the other side.

  • This exercise helps enhance lateral hip strength, essential for stability during daily activities.

Transversus abdominis bracing with leg extension is an exercise that engages both core muscles and hip strength.

  • Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

  • Brace your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine while extending one leg straight out before you.

  • Alternate legs while maintaining control throughout.

These exercises are just a few examples of what you can do at home to improve your hip mobility and strength.

Remember to start with a comfortable number of repetitions and gradually increase as you become stronger and more confident. It's normal for these exercises to cause some discomfort initially, but they should get easier over time.

By consistently incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can gradually strengthen your hips, improve mobility, and alleviate any associated pain or discomfort.

Benefits of Strengthening Hip Exercises

Engaging in targeted hip-strengthening exercises brings various advantages beyond simply addressing hip pain or discomfort.

  1. One significant benefit is improved mobility. You can enhance stability and range of motion by strengthening the muscles around the hips. This improvement translates into increased ease during activities like walking, climbing stairs, and regular daily functional movements.

  2. Hip strengthening can help prevent injuries, particularly those related to muscle imbalances and poor biomechanics. Weak hips can lead to overcompensation by other body parts, such as the knees or lower back, resulting in issues like knee pain or lower back strain. Targeting and strengthening the hip muscles through targeted exercises can correct imbalances and reduce the risk of injury.

  3. Beyond injury prevention, strong hips contribute to better posture, balance, and alignment. Maintaining good posture becomes increasingly important for overall musculoskeletal health as we age. Strong hip muscles support the pelvis and spine, helping to stimulate proper alignment and alleviate stress on other structures in the body.

Furthermore, hip strengthening exercises can improve athletic performance in various sports or activities requiring lower-body strength. Whether you're a runner, a dancer, or in strength training, strong hips will enhance your power, stability, and movement efficiency.

Pain Management during Hip Exercises

When engaging in hip strengthening exercises, it's important to address the issue of pain management. While some discomfort may initially be experienced, it should gradually decrease as your muscles adapt and grow stronger. However, pushing yourself too hard can lead to further injury or exacerbate hip pain. Therefore, managing pain during these exercises is crucial for a safe and effective leg workout.

Another important aspect of pain management is exercising at the right pain level. It's normal for new exercises to cause discomfort, but it's important not to push beyond acceptable levels. The recommended scale is from 0-5 - where 0 represents no pain, and 5 illustrates the worst possible pain. Listening to your body and stopping or modifying an exercise if the pain becomes too intense is essential.

It's also important to note that practicing new exercises may cause short-term muscle soreness. And it shouldn’t really be that surprising, targeting areas you’ve never worked on is naturally going to involve some discomfort. But this soreness should ease after continuing your exercise routine.

However, if you experience significant worsening of symptoms or new pain after performing specific exercises, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for guidance.

Gradual Progression and Experience Over Time

When it comes to hip exercises, remember “gradual progression.”

  • Starting with low intensity and gradually increasing the difficulty level allows your muscles to adapt and strengthen over time. This approach helps minimize the risk of injury while still providing effective results.

  • To begin, it's recommended to start with 2 to 3 repetitions of movement exercises and gradually increase the number of repetitions as your strength improves.

  • Adding sets of exercises can also help build endurance and stability. It's important to take your time with this process and instead focus on steady progress.

In addition to increasing repetitions, incorporating stretching exercises into your routine can enhance your hip mobility and function. Holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds without causing discomfort is typically recommended. Stretching helps maintain flexibility and prevent muscle imbalances that can contribute to hip pain.

As you continue with your hip-strengthening journey, your overall experience will significantly affect your progress. With time, you’ll become more familiar with which exercises work best for your body and how far you can push yourself without crossing into excessive pain.

And it's also important to note that everyone's progression will vary based on individual circumstances. Patience, consistency, and listening to your body are key factors in achieving long-lasting hip mobility and function improvements.

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.


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