7 Hip Exercises

One of the most neglected parts of an endurance athlete's body is also arguably the most important

Paying attention to strengthening hips can't prevent overuse injuries. (Stocksy)

With a roster of muscles ranging from the powerful glutes to the small and agile abductors, the hips control practically all your movements. Almost every endurance athlete overworks some hip muscles while underworking others, causing severe imbalances: Runners are infamous for having weak hip adductors—the muscles on the side of the hip that help you step laterally—while cyclists tend to have massive quads and tiny glutes.

“As a result, they’re at greater risk of injury,” says physical therapist Ioonna Félix, clinical supervisor at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center in New York City. Many times, those injuries manifest themselves in ways that seem entirely separate from your hips, like IT band issues, low-back pain, or plantar fasciitis.

The good news is that a well-rounded strength-training program—like the one Félix provides below—can target every muscle in your hips to build better overall strength. Add this routine to your workout two or three times a week to target every muscle in your hips. For each move, complete three rounds of ten reps. If it’s a single-leg exercise, repeat those reps on each leg.

1. Single-Leg Squat

What it works: Using your hips and glutes one leg at a time will reveal imbalance and eventually help correct it. If you have poor mobility, start by using a bench or box to land—you’ll want the added stability.

How to do it: Begin with a 20- to 30-inch box or bench right behind you. Straighten one leg and lift your foot in front of you, bend your standing leg, and push your hips back as far as possible as if you’re squatting on two legs, but just doing it on one. Continue until your butt hits the bench, pause, then squeeze your glutes and drive through your planted heel to stand up. Do not relax and release the tension in your muscles as you sit. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time. (Once you master lowering to touch your glutes to the bench, lower the bench or try lowering to the floor.)

2. Barbell Deadlift

What it works: One of the most effective exercises for developing full-body strength, this move targets the muscles at the back of the hips while engaging the core for overall stability.

How to do it: With your bar on the floor in front of you, place your feet slightly narrower than hip-width apart. Make sure the bar is as close to your shins as possible, and position your hands on the bar, just outside your shins. With your shins perpendicular to the floor, flex your hamstrings and lift your butt up and back, extending your legs so they’re nearly straight, with only a slight bend in the knee. Slide the bar up and toward the shins. Then, bend your knees slightly and proceed to lift the bar all the way off the floor in a straight line. Extend your hips fully at the top and stand tall with neck relaxed, arms straight. Pinch your shoulder blades together, squeezing your abs and glutes. Keeping the bar close to your body and with a straight back, reverse the movement. That’s one rep.

3. Hip Extension

What it works: Also known as “donkey kicks,” these isolate the gluteus maximus, which is commonly weak in cyclists and anyone whose sport makes them quad dominant.

How to do it: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor in a tabletop position. Grab a resistance band and hold it directly beneath your shoulders. Loop one foot through the band so it sits halfway down the foot. When ready, move only the banded leg backward, keeping the knee at a 90-degree angle. Your foot should be facing the ceiling, and your hip, thigh, and knee should all be in alignment and parallel to the floor. As you move your leg backward, focus on contracting the glute and not moving the knee joint. When you can’t extend back farther without changing your leg position, stop. Slowly lower to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.

4. Standing Hip Abduction

What it works: The standing hip abduction primarily targets the hip flexors but also hits the groin and hip adductors.

How to do it: Stand up tall while holding onto a sturdy object like a chair, or rest your hands on a wall. Keeping your back straight and core tight, raise one leg up and lift it out to the side and away from your body, keeping your leg straight. Pause for one to two seconds, then return to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.

4. Bulgarian Split Squat

What it works: A single-leg strength exercise that targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings and is a sure-fire way to improve balance and stability.

How to do it: Put a 20- to 36-inch box behind you. With your feet hip-width apart, lift your leg and place the instep of your rear foot on the bench. Lower your hips toward the floor so your rear knee comes close to the floor, keeping your back straight. As you descend, make sure you don’t bend the torso excessively forward and your front knee does not pass your front toes. Pause when your rear knee is close to the floor and your front quad is parallel with the floor, then drive through your front heel to return to the start position. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.

5. Monster Walk

What it works: Monster walks are great for the hip adductors in the outer thigh and the lateral glute. They also fire up the hip flexors and extensors.

How to do it: Loop a mini resistance band just above your knees, and stand with your knees slightly bent and feet hip-width apart. Take a giant diagonal step forward with your right foot, then follow it to your left. Alternate your lead foot with each step. Repeat, stepping diagonally backward.

6. Barbell Back Squat

What it works: No workout is complete without squats, which strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quads while engaging your core and back.

How to do it: Rest the barbell across the upper traps on the back of your shoulders, as if it’s sitting on the collar of your shirt. Begin with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing about 15 degrees out, then widen your stance as needed so you’re comfortable. Make sure your knees are pushed out and your glutes stabilize your position. When you’re ready, push your glutes back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Aim for dipping your butt below your knees, but go down as far as you can without bending forward or losing balance. When you get the bottom of your squat, squeeze your glutes and drive up and through your heels back to start position.

7. Single Leg Deadlift

What it works: Switch up the regular deadlift to help improve hip mobility and stability.

How to do it: Grip the barbell so you’re standing straight with the barbell at arm’s length in front of your thighs. Kick your left leg back so it’s just off the floor. Bend over so you’re hingeing at the hip while allowing only a slight bend in the right knee, and lower the barbell to the floor while keeping it close to your body. Pause at the bottom, then reverse the movement back up to the top. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.

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