The hip is a large, deep ball and socket joint that joins many muscles, ligaments and tendons. These include the hip flexors, extensors, rotators and abductors, and adductors. These muscles allow you to move your knees toward your torso and bend at the waist. They are also necessary for nearly every movement that involves the lower body, including walking, running, and even sitting.
Strong hip muscles are especially important for athletes and active individuals. For baseball players, strong hip flexors can make the difference between an average swing and a game-winning hit. For soccer players, strong hip flexors improve your passing and goal shots. For runners, strong hip flexors provide a more powerful stride. And even if your goal is to just stay in shape, strong hips are necessary for many exercises including squat, deadlift, overhead press, and even bench press.
Even if you spend hours every week strengthening your back, there is no substitute for strong hip muscles. This article contains exercises that you perform at home in order to strengthen your hip flexors. It is important that you consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Dr. Steve Hamilton, a board-certified hip specialist at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, can talk to you about exercises to strengthen your hip flexors. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Hamilton online.
The Muscles of the Hip
The hip relies on a complex system of muscles, ligaments, and tendons to move through its full range of motion. Even an ordinarily simple movement requires the coordination of several muscles.
Hip muscles are categorized as either flexors, extensors, rotators, abductors, or adductors. Flexors allow the hip to bend at the waist; extensors allow the hip to straighten; rotators allow the hip to rotate; abductors allow the hip to move away from the midline of the body; and adductors allow the hip to move toward the midline of the body.
Hip muscles can also be categorized as prime movers or synergists. The role of primary movers is to initiate and control a movement. Synergists help facilitate the movement. Whether a muscle is categorized as a prime mover or a synergist depending on the movement.
- Iliopsoas (Psoas and Iliacus)
- Rectus Femoris
- Gluteus maximus
- Biceps femoris
Hip Rotators and Abductors:
- Quadratus femoris
- Obturator internus
- Gluteus medius
- Gluteus minimus
- Adductor longus
- Adductor brevis
- Adductor magnus
- Obturator externus
The Benefits of Hip Strengthening Exercises
Reduced Risk of Falls or Fractures
Approximately 1.6 million hip fractures occur worldwide each year, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. Fractures result from a variety of causes, including: Falling on a hard surface or from a great height; blunt trauma to the hip; diseases such as osteoporosis, which weakens bone.
A hip fracture is a life-changing event that causes chronic pain, reduced mobility, and disability. In fact, 40% of people with hip fractures are unable to walk independently and may become totally dependent on assistance. Even more alarming: Up to 1 in 5 patients die due to serious complications in the first year following a hip fracture. Research suggests that the risk of dying remains higher over the first five years. Less than half of those who survive regain their previous level of function. For all of these reasons, it is important that you do all you can do to prevent hip fractures.
Fortunately, the hip is surrounded by your hip flexors which support and protect the joint. By strengthening your hip flexors, you are increasing the amount of protection your joint has against a direct injury. Moreover, strengthening your hip flexors will reduce your risk of falls as well as the overall amount of stress placed on your joint by day to day activities.
Increased Hip Mobility
Stiff hips are not only painful but they can drastically reduce your range of motion. While hip stiffness can be caused by a variety of causes—including injuries such as sprains or chronic conditions such as arthritis—sitting for too long is a common culprit. Regularly lengthening and strengthening your hip muscles will help them remain limber and able to move.
Improved Back Health
The deepest hip flexor in the body, the psoas muscle, is directly connected to the lumbar spine. As a result, tightness in the psoas muscle not only causes hip pain but also stiffness and discomfort in the lower back. Regularly stretching can relieve stiffness and improve your back health.
Weak hip muscles affect your posture in two ways. First, hip flexors that are not regularly stretched become shortened and pull you forward. Second, weak glutes muscles are not strong enough to pull you forward. As a result, you may tend to slouch. By strengthening your hip muscles, you can hold your body upright and maintain good posture.
Exercises to Strengthen Your Hips
- Straight Leg Raise
- Lie on your back.
- Bend the knee of your uninvolved leg (the leg that will remain stationary) and put your foot on the floor.
- Slowly tighten the muscles of the involved leg (the leg that will move).
- Slowly lift the entire leg 12 to 18 inches off the floor.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, then slowly lower the leg.
- Repeat 5 times, then change legs.
The straight leg raise is a versatile stretch. This version of the exercise is performed in order to improve hip flexion; however, variations can also be performed in order to improve hip extension, adduction, and abduction.
Extension: Lie on your stomach, straighten your knee, and slowly lift your entire leg towards the ceiling.
Adduction: Lie on your side, bending the opposite leg and placing the foot on the floor behind the involved leg. Straighten the involved knee and slowly raise the leg toward the ceiling.
Abduction: Lie on your side with the involved leg up and the bottom leg bent for balance. Lift your entire leg towards the ceiling.
- Clam Shell
- Lie on your side, with your legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle.
- Rest your head on your lower arm and contract your core muscles.
- Raise your upper knee as high as you can while keeping your feet touching and without shifting your hips or pelvis. Keep your lower leg stationary.
- Pause and then lower your upper knee to the starting position.
- Repeat 20 times, then change sides.
- Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back, with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and arms at your side with your palms down.
- Raise your hips off the ground until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line.
- Hold the position before lowering your body to the starting position.
- Hip Hikes
- Stand sideways at the edge of a small box or a step at least 4” high.
- Keep your hips squared and your shoulders level.
- Slowly lower one leg off the side of the box, keeping both legs straight. Your waistline should dip down toward the free leg.
- Raise your free hip up so your waistline is tilted up toward the free leg, then drop the leg down.
- Repeat 20 times, then change sides.
Talk to a Hip Specialist
You don’t have to dedicate a full workout each week to your hips, but these exercises should be incorporated into your regular routine. Common strength training exercises—such as squats and deadlifts—as well as mind and body activities—such as yoga and tai chi—also provide opportunities to strengthen your hip muscles.
It’s important that you talk to a physician before starting an exercise program. Dr. Steve Hamilton at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine not only specializes in the hip, but also provides world-class sports medicine. Dr. Hamilton can diagnose and treat an existing hip condition or work with you to develop a personalized exercise program to prevent future hip injuries. Whether you are a college or high school athlete, or just someone who likes to live an active lifestyle, Dr. Hamilton can help you. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Hamilton online.