3 Easy Hip Abduction Exercises to Improve Hip Strength

The hip abductor muscles can be very underrated at times, but they’re incredibly important!

Why Are the Hip Abductor Muscles Important?

Maybe let’s begin with some basic details about the anatomy and physiology, including where the hip abductors are located.

The hip abductors are primarily located in the outer hip and thigh. The movement of hip abduction at the hip joint occurs when the leg is moved away from the center of the body.

Not only does this dynamic motion occur with hip abduction, but the hip abductors are also very crucial for supporting and stabilizing the lower half of the body, including the knee, hip and pelvic system.

Which Muscles Perform Hip Abduction?

A few muscles are involved in performing hip abduction.

The main hip abductors include three muscles: gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and the tensor fascia latae.

A second group of muscles are also considered hip abductors, but don’t contribute as much as the first group. These three muscles include the sartorius, piriformis, and a portion of the gluteus maximus.

Why Should You Care About the Hip Abductors?

care your hip abductors | feelgoodlife

Whether you are trying to achieve or maintain good joint health, an active lifestyle, or recovery from a lower body injury or surgery, hip abduction strength matters.

Function:

We mentioned before about the hip abductors’ role in supporting the lower half of the body. If you don’t have support and stability in the trunk, pelvis and legs, how in the world can you move?

You wouldn’t be able to do the simplest tasks, such as walking, taking the stairs, or bending down to pick something up from the floor.

Surgical Recovery:

The Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association agrees with this thought in their discussion of the importance of hip abductor strength after a total knee replacement.

They highlight the very true fact that reduced strength in the hip abductors contributes to general poor functional movement and a higher risk of falling.

Injury Prevention:

If weakness is present in the hip abductor muscles, this can also significantly affect the alignment of the trunk, pelvis and legs.

This is important because with poor alignment you can become more susceptible to injury.

The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy highlights this thought when evaluating the role of the hip abductors in the recovery of ACL reconstruction.

If the hip abductors are weak, this can create what is called a knee valgus, or knock-kneed presence.

This abnormal alignment of the knee can make the joint become more susceptible to even further injury before or after an initial trauma.

Okay We Got it… So, What Are These 3 Easy Hip Abduction Exercises?

As you can see, the hip abductors matter!

Now that we know this, what hip abductor strengthening exercises can be practiced?

Let’s look at 3 easy exercises you can do at home or in the gym for a hip abductor workout.

Side Lying Hip Abduction

  1. Starting position: On the floor, lay on your side. You may find it more comfortable to keep your bottom knee bent. Position your top leg straight and in line with your trunk. Your top leg will be your kicking leg.
  1. Squeeze the quads in the upper thigh on the kicking leg to support the knee.
  1. Slowly kick the top leg straight up towards the ceiling, stopping at about hip level.
  1. Slowly lower back down to the floor.

Repeat anywhere from 10-15 repetitions on average for 2-3 sets. You can make this more challenging by holding for a few seconds at the top of the kick.

Tip: Make sure the kicking legs remains in line with the trunk and doesn’t try to kick in a forward motion. If you do this, you’ll be activating the hip flexors more than the hip abductors.

Alternative Exercise If You Can’t Perform the Above Exercise:

If your abductors are pretty weak, you may not be able to lift the entire leg in the above exercise. If this is the case, an alternative exercise that is very similar, but considered a little easier, is the clamshell.

  1. Begin in the exact same starting position as the side lying hip abduction exercise, except keep both knees bent. Keep the knees and feet stacked on top of each other.
  1. Slowly lift the top knee up and back (don’t allow the pelvis and back to rotate with you).
  1. Slowly return to your starting position.

You can keep the reps/sets the same as the side lying hip abduction exercise. Once the clamshell becomes too easy, then you can advance back to the side lying hip abduction exercise.

How to Make the Exercise More Challenging for the Hip Abductors:

If you find the exercises are becoming too easy, consider a couple of options:

  • Increase the number of repetitions and/or sets.
  • Add resistance: You can try an ankle weight, a resistance band tied around the ankles for the side lying hip abduction, or a resistance band tied around the thighs for the clamshell.

Lateral Walk with Resistance Band

  1. Starting position: In a standing position, with feet close together. Tie a resistance band around the thighs or ankles (for a lighter workout begin with the band around the thighs; for a more challenging workout tie the band around the ankles).
  1. Bend the hips and knees into a shallow squat. Keep your weight towards the heels, as if about to sit in a chair, to avoid too much pressure on the knee joints.
  1. Initiate a sideways movement by stepping to the side about shoulder width apart with one leg, then have the other leg follow. You’ll end up back in your starting position.
  1. Continue side stepping for ~10-15 steps, then sidestep back in the opposite direction. Repeat 2-3 sets.

How to Make the Exercise More Challenging for the Hip Abductors:

  • Begin this exercise with a lighter weight resistance band to make sure you’re able to tolerate the movement without causing hip or knee pain. If this is too easy and you have no pain, you can gradually increase your resistance to a medium, then heavy resistance band.
  • If a shallow squat is too easy, then gradually increase the depth of the squat, as tolerated.
  • You can also increase the number of repetitions and/or sets.

Standing Hip Abduction with Resistance Band

  1. Starting position: For this exercise you’ll be in a standing position as well. Stand with the feet close together. Tie the resistance band around the ankles.
  1. Keep the legs straight, but make sure the leg you’re standing on isn’t locked back into knee extension (this can put a little too much pressure on the knee joint and won’t allow you to correctly activate the connecting muscle groups for best joint support).
  1. Slowly kick one leg straight out to the side, then return to your starting position.
  1. Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets, then switch legs.

Tips:

  • To help avoid locking into the knee of the standing leg, make sure to activate the glute muscles and core muscles.
  • If you’re concerned about losing your balance, be sure to stand next to something sturdy to keep the upper body supported, such as the countertop or back of the couch.

How to Make the Exercise More Challenging for the Hip Abductors:

  • Similar to before, you can increase the number of repetitions and/or sets.
  • Adjust the amount of resistance you’re using, varying between a light, medium or heavy resistance band.
  • If you want a greater balance challenge, try this hip abduction exercises without holding onto anything or you can try standing on an uneven surface, such as a piece of foam or a bosu surface.

Important Note

Important notes about hip abduction exercises

It’s important to remember that you should never experience pain with these exercises. The sensation of a muscle getting a good workout and challenge is very different from pain.

If you’re experiencing pain, first try to modify the way you’re doing the exercise. Consider lowering the amount of resistance being used, moving through a smaller range of motion, or performing fewer reps/sets.

If you’ve tried to modify the way you’re doing your exercise, and the pain is still there, you should hold on continuing.

Consult with your doctor or rehab specialist for further assessment to best identify what might be causing your pain.

Tying it All Together

The Trouble with Weak Hips:

Weak hips create all sorts of problems for our mobility and activity level.

We’ve seen how it can create a fall risk, increase risk of injury, impede recovery from an injury or surgery, and negatively affect our overall alignment and joint stability.

The Benefits of Strong Hip Abductors:

Strength in these muscles will assist in fall prevention, help to prevent injury, and help to prevent pain.

They also can significantly assist in recovery after major lower extremity surgery, such as ACL reconstruction or a total knee replacement.

The Essential Hip Abductor Muscles:

The gluteal muscles gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, as well as the tensor fascia latae are the main muscle groups responsible to abducting the hips.

We also can’t forget about the secondary group of hip abductors, which are a portion of gluteus maximus, sartorius, and the piriformis.

Knowing this matters because we’ll then understand the best way to strengthen the hip abductor muscles and the best hip abductor exercises in general.

3 Easy Hip Abductor Exercises:

The top 3 hip abductor exercises discussed include side lying hip abduction, lateral walk with resistance band, and standing hip abduction with resistance band.

How to Increase the Challenge of Your Hip Workout

Challenge and increase your limit for doing hip abduction exercises

Get more out of your hip abductor exercises (or really any exercise at all!) by considering the following options when your hip workout becomes too easy:

  • Increase the number of repetitions and/or sets.
  • Increase the amount of resistance or even increase the amount of tension on the resistance band you’re using.
  • Increase the range of motion you’re performing the exercise in.

Final Thoughts

The next time you’re looking to switch up your workout routine, consider adding these hip abductor exercises. You’ll notice the positive effects immediately, as well as how good you’ll feel and move!

FAQ:

  1. How do I know if I have weak hip abductors?

    A formal test can be performed by a healthcare provider, such as your medical doctor or a physical therapist.

    You may also potentially have weak hip abductors if you’re experiencing outer hip pain, are unsteady while walking, have poor balance, or are experiencing pain in other areas along the legs, pelvis or low back.

  2. Are there machines in the gym that I can use for my hip abductor exercises?

    Yes! For example, there is actually a specific hip abduction machine available in most gyms.

    You can also use the cables when positioned down to the floor, to attach around one ankle at a time and perform the standing hip abduction exercise with weight. There are many ways to get creative at the gym!

  3. Where can I get resistance bands to use for these exercises?

    You can find a wide variety of single and multiple packaged resistance bands in any sporting goods store and most online platforms.

    You’ll normally be able to see what level of resistance is available in the details section describing the product.

    When using resistance bands for the legs, try to avoid purchasing the ones with handles, as those are typically used for the upper body and can be a little awkward to use on the lower body.

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3 Easy Hip Abduction Exercises to Improve Hip Strength

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