One year after a hip fracture, about one in three people either end up dependent on family, or in a nursing home.
And hip fractures are also one of the most common fractures there is. In fact, 1.6 million hip fractures occur worldwide every year!
However, hip fractures— like all fractures— are avoidable. And one of the best things you can do to protect yourself is hip-strengthening exercises.
The following three hip strengthening exercises are designed to improve your hip strength and the muscles surrounding them. And while these are low-impact exercises done on a mat, they are effective for everyone at any fitness level.
The Benefits of Hip Strengthening Exercises
Reduces Risk of Falls and Fracture
Aging is accompanied by loss of muscle mass, bone loss and an increased risk of falls that lead to fractures. In fact, hip fractures are the most common fracture among seniors, with nearly 75% of all hip fractures occurring in women.
There is substantial evidence that exercise and training intervention can enhance balance, muscle strength and prevent falls in older people. Hip strengthening exercises (like the ones we show below) that focus on the gluteus medius muscles play a significant role in the way we walk, run and balance. So if you improve balance, you reduce your risk of falls and thus, fracture.
Increase Hip Mobility and Maintain Proper Gait
Don’t discount the importance of range of motion and mobility! While stamina and speed tend to be highlighted when it comes to athletics, the ability to move your joints and limbs through their full range of motion is critical.
Your hips and shoulders are known as ‘mobility gatekeepers’. As they provide all three planes of movement and connect your torso to your outer extremities. So without them, successful movement would not be possible.
When it comes to your hips, if you have limited mobility, you start to compensate other muscles in the lower back and knees, which can cause, inefficiencies, pain and muscle imbalances.
As a result, the way you walk, also known your gait, can become compromised. Reduced hip muscle strength can lead to altered gait pattern characteristics. When these muscles become weak, walking can become impaired, as well as other daily life activities. That’s why the following hip strengthening exercises will not only increase hip mobility but ensure the muscles remain strong for daily life!
Improve Back Health
Do you suffer from low back pain? You’re not alone. According to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience low back pain at any given time. And it’s the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
The ability to activate the muscles in your hip plays a crucial role in lumbar (back) stabilization. Leading researchers have stated that when applying an exercise program for the relief of low back pain, strengthening the hip muscles is important. Research shows that adding hip strengthening exercises (like the ones we cover below) for chronic low back pain patients is helpful for rehabilitation and quality of life!
3 Exercises That Strengthen Your Hips
The following hip strengthening exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home or on the road if you’re traveling. Other than a recommended yoga mat or soft surface to lie on, no further exercise equipment is needed.
Side Leg Raise
The side-lying hip-abduction exercise or simply, side leg raise, is one of the best exercises for activating your gluteus medius! The gluteus medius is located on your upper buttock and is crucial for running, walking and single leg weight-bearing. In fact, it’s the main muscle involved in stabilizing your hips!
Weak glutes are associated with lower-limb musculoskeletal disorders, or in layman’s terms, conditions that affect your bones, joints, and muscles. For example, if the muscles start to weaken, your hips can begin to drop unnaturally and your pelvis inevitably compensates and internally rotates. You can physically identify this compensation when you start noticing your knees collapse inwards (aka knock-knees) during a movement like the squat. This can create problems for your knees, lower back and your iliotibial (IT) band.
- On a mat, lie on your side with your legs straight and stacked on top of each other. Rest your head on your bottom arm or support your head like I am in the GIF below.
- Use your other hand to stabilize yourself by placing it on the floor in front of you.
- Activate your abdominals by pulling your belly in and engage your gluteal muscles.
- Then, lift your top leg straight up keeping your hips steady. Do not rotate forward or backward.
- Gently lower your leg back down, maintaining control the whole way.
- Complete 15-20 times on each side for two sets.
Advanced: Once you have mastered the side leg raise, you can use a resistance band to challenge yourself. Place a resistance band just above both knees. The movement of this exercise will be the same as the side leg raise, but now you will have some tension from the resistance band.
Remember Suzanne Somers touting the “Thighmaster” in the early-mid 90s? You may see similarities in this clamshell exercise.
The clamshell is one of the most commonly prescribed exercises for those with knee pain as it targets the gluteus medius and hip abductor muscles. In fact, when these muscles are weak, knee pain is often experienced, especially in women. After a few reps of this exercise, you should really start to feel how your knees and hips are connected to one another.
Furthermore, one study published by the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that the clamshell and the unilateral bridge (an advanced exercise that we will discuss below) are some of the best exercises to strengthen hips for injury prevention and treatment.
- Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other, with your legs bent at a 45-degree angle.
- Rest your head on your lower arm or prop it up as I have done in the GIF above.
- Ensure that your hips are also stacked on top of each other. You don’t want your hips to rock backward.
- Engage your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in (think of it as pulling it towards your back).
- Then, raise your upper knee as high as you can while your heels are still touching. Do not shift your hips or pelvis or move your bottom leg off of the floor for the beginner version of this exercise. (I lift my leg slightly to make the exercise a little harder as I’m not using the floor for stability.)
- Hold for 1-2 seconds and then slowly bring your top leg back down to its starting position.
- Complete 15-20 times on each side for two sets.
Advanced: There are many different variations of the clamshell. The one above requires no equipment and is the most basic form. Once you have mastered this exercise, you can challenge yourself with more repetitions or try using a resistance band. Place the resistance band around both of your legs, just above your knees. And continue the exercise as instructed above.
The glute bridge, also known as the glute raise, is one of my favorite exercises as it activates all three of your gluteal muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. Did you know the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body? Strengthening the muscles of your gluteus has also been shown to relieve chronic low back pain. In addition, the glute bridge strengthens your lower abdominal muscles, hamstrings and lower back. For those who have difficulty with squats — whether from knee, hip or back pain — the glute bridge is a great alternative as it does not place any pressure on your joints, while still working these muscles!
- Lay down on a mat with your feet on the ground, arms by your side and your knees bent. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. You can change how far your feet are from your buttocks. The closer in will engage more glute, the farther out will engage more hamstring.
- Engage your glutes and abdominals and lift straight up through your heels and upper back as high as possible. Keep your core engaged to help keep your back strong..
- Hold and squeeze your glutes for 2-3 seconds at the top.
- Then release back down slowly to your starting position.
- Repeat 10-15 times.
Advanced: Once you have mastered the basic glute bridge, you can try the Unilateral (Single Leg) Bridge. Remember the study above? It talked about the unilateral bridge being one of the best exercises to strengthen hips. It’s also a safe and convenient exercise to help increase hip joint stability.
To do the unilateral bridge, follow the same directions as you would for the basic glute bridge. But when you lift, you are only raising one leg up off the ground. You can lift that leg straight up towards the ceiling, or keep it bent at a 90-degree angle.
This exercise also produces a higher level of activation on your hamstring versus the regular glute bridge. So that may mean you have to do fewer repetitions until you increase hamstring strength and endurance!
These three hip strengthening exercises are great to do as a full lower body workout. Try doing them every other day so you give your muscles some time to recover.
Interested in strengthening your core, too? Check out our planking exercises for stability and bone strength.
Please let me know if there are any other exercises you are interested in by commenting below!
Disclaimer: If you have low bone density, osteoporosis or other health concerns, you may need to avoid or adjust exercises accordingly. If you are unsure, please check with a physician or doctor before attempting this or any exercise.