June 06, 2021 10 min read

Anytime your leg moves away from the midline of your body, it’s the work of your hip abductor muscles. These muscles include your gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae.

When your leg rotates at the hip joint, moves forward or backward, or extends out to the side, these are the muscles being recruited. Building strength in these muscles with the right combination of supplements and hip abduction exercises not only prevents injury to the three muscles mentioned above but also helps reduce pain in the hip and knee joints.

While there are many hip abductor exercises, the ten we’ve included in this guide are the best for building functional strength, preventing injury, and reducing hip and knee pain. Include a few of them in your exercise routine to protect the most important joints in your lower body.

Hip Abductor Functions

Before we get into the ten best hip abductor exercises, let’s review a few important terms so that you can better understand the movements being described.

Abduction

The movement of the leg away from the body, say out to one side or forward or backward, is called hip abduction. Think of sidestepping or getting out of a car for a couple of the most common examples of hip abduction in daily life.

Adduction

When limbs move toward the body’s midline, that’s referred to as adduction. It’s the opposite of abduction. Muscles that help perform this movement are called adductors.

Flexion

Any movement that decreases the distance between two body parts is called flexion. Wrist flexion involves the movement of your hand toward the forearm, for example. In the case of the hip joint, flexion involves raising the leg up and in front of you.

Extension

The reverse of flexion is called extension. It increases the distance between two body parts, creating a kind of opening up motion depending on the joint where it occurs. Hip extension occurs when the leg kicks out behind the torso.

Muscles Involved in Hip Abduction

You may already have heard of the hip abductor muscles in the course of your fitness research. Generally speaking, that term describes the three muscles we already mentioned (gluteus minimus & medius, tensor fasciae latae) and is used as a catch-all term. The two gluteal muscles are on your posterior and the tensor fasciae latae, or TFL, is on the outside of your hip.

To build true functional strength, you want to exercise these muscles as well as their opposing equivalents. Most strengthening exercises already incorporate forward and backward motion for this purpose, but keep in mind that you want to match forward or sideways movement with movement in the opposite direction to keep your body ready for anything.

In addition to your main hip abductors, there are some other muscles involved when you take a step and flex or extend your hip joint. The rectus femoris, which is part of your quadriceps, is included in a group of muscles called the hip flexors that activate whenever you take a step. Other adductor muscles in the inside of your upper thigh also help move your leg behind you.

You don’t need to remember these muscles by name but bear in mind that they can get short and tight after prolonged periods of sitting. If you have a desk job or spend a lot of time in a seated position, you could experience some resistance from these muscles when you first start to work them out.

For common hip abductor exercises like the lunge, your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps are also employed. As you can see, the hip abductors are difficult to isolate because they are central to some of the most basic lower-body movements.

They’re also key for stabilization, so any single-leg exercises that require you to maintain core stability will involve the hip abductors to some degree as well.

10 Best Hip Abductor Exercises

These are the best hip abductor exercises to rotate in and out of your leg day routine for optimal strength and flexibility in your hip joints.

Keep in mind that there is also a hip abduction machine that targets your hip abductors will also build strength and reduce pain from knee and hip conditions. In the interest of covering as much ground as possible, we’re concentrating on other hip abductor exercises for this guide.

1. Clamshells

A great exercise for the warm-up or cooldown part of your leg day routine, clamshells prime your hip abductors and adductors for the workout to come and also give them a unique motion that most other lower body exercises leave out.

You might feel a little strange doing this move at the gym when you first start, but it’s great for inner thigh activation and should be included in your routine for that reason alone.

How to Do Clamshells

To get into the starting position, you need to lie down on your side. A foam roller or yoga mat will make this exercise more comfortable.

Your arms won’t get much of a workout from clamshells, but you can use your lower arm to prop your head up. The upper arm can simply rest along your top leg. Bend your knees at around a 45° angle and keep your heels directly in line with your butt.

Leading with your glute muscles, lift your knee slowly. Make sure your hips don’t move at all as your knee rises. You should feel it in your gluteus medius after a few reps.

Repeat these clamshells for about a minute. If you feel you can do more without injuring yourself, add more sets at the end rather than continuing on one side for a long time. Switch to the other leg by turning over and lying on the other side of your body.

 woman doing fire hydrant exercise

2. Fire Hydrants

Most likely taking their strange name from the habits of some urban-dwelling dogs, fire hydrants are similar to clamshells in that they provide your hip abductors with a unique test of strength. You can think of them as clamshells with a different starting position.

Both of these exercises are more challenging when you use a resistance band. Loop it around your legs above the knee to push your muscles throughout the exercise.

How to Do Fire Hydrant Exercises

You’ll still benefit from a yoga mat or some other kind of cushion between yourself and the floor for this exercise. Once you have one laid out, kneel on the ground with both knees and then lean forward to support your upper body with both palms flat on the floor.

Keep your knees bent at a 90° angle throughout this simple exercise. Raise your left leg out to one side without altering the bend in your knee to put full pressure on your hip abductor. Make sure your elbows are locked and not bending like they would during a standard push-up.

Once your left leg is as high as you can get it, slowly return to the starting position. Continue for a total of ten reps, then switch to the right side.

3. Side Leg Raises

Also referred to as the side-lying hip abduction, the side leg raise might be a better alternative for people who want a more straightforward movement than fire hydrants or clamshells provide. Ideally, you can fit all three in your weekly routine, but if you’re dealing with hip pain or back pain that makes the position for either of the first two exercises less than ideal, these side leg raises provide many of the same benefits.

How to Do Side Leg Raises

Lie down on either side with your legs straight. You can support your upper body with one elbow the same way you did for the clamshell exercise at the beginning of this guide.

All you need to do is lift your top leg as high as you can and then gently return it to the starting position. Make sure you aren’t lifting with your hips. Just as you did with the fire hydrants, you should feel the burn in your glutes and, eventually, in your hip flexors.

Switch to the opposite side after 10 or so reps and then continue to do a few sets on both legs.

4. Side Plank With Leg Lift

Working out your hip abductors also gives you a good opportunity to give your core muscles some exercise. Since both muscle groups are important for stabilizing your body, targeting both with this move is smarter and more efficient.

It’s very similar to the side leg raise. The side leg raise is the same exercise minus the core exercise from holding the plank position. If you can’t hold the side plank for long enough to do this exercise, swap it for side leg raises and work on your core separately.

How to Do Side Planks with a Leg Lift

Get into the same starting position as you would for a standard side leg raise. That is, on one side with your legs out straight and your upper body supported by the elbow of your lower arm. Before you raise the top leg, lift your hip off the ground by bracing your core muscles.

When you have a straight line running along the lower side of your body, you’re in the full side plank position. Now, raise your top leg as you would for the side leg raises. Don’t forget to switch to the other side of your body to keep the workout even.

5. Resistance Band Deadlifts

Deadlifts are one of the best compound exercises there are, offering the chance to work out your upper body and important lower body muscles like your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. When you don’t have access to a barbell or even smaller  dumbbells, you can still knock out a few deadlifts with nothing but a resistance band.

You’re going to mimic the effect of a barbell’s weight by standing on the center of a resistance band. Either large loop bands or the kind with handles on either end is suitable for this deadlift exercise.

How to Do Resistance Band Deadlifts

Stand on the center of a resistance band with your legs about shoulder-width apart. Hinge forward at the hips so that you can grab onto the ends of the band. You’ll need to bend your knees to accommodate the forward hinge. 

Once you have the band in each hand, pull your shoulder blades back and then straighten your knees to complete the lift. Reverse the movement back to the starting position to complete one rep.

6. Curtsy Lunge to Lateral Raise

Lunges are a terrific exercise for your lower body. This variation on the standard lunge has your legs going out to each side in a very unique direction that is rarely copied in daily life. Nonetheless, preparing your abductor muscles for such a movement can help avoid injury in the future.

How to Do Curtsy Lunges With Lateral Raises

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. You’ll also incorporate your upper body into this exercise by holding a pair of dumbbells.

Move your right foot behind your left leg and out to the left side of your body, then bend your left knee and sink toward the ground. The right knee should just about touch the ground and your left thigh should be parallel to the floor.

As you bring your right foot back to the starting position, raise your arms to each side until they are parallel with the ground. Then bring them back down before doing another curtsy lunge on the other side of your body, leading with your left foot this time.

7. Iso Squat with Hip Abduction

Squats work out some of the most important muscle groups in your lower body. They can build glute strength and also prevent injury in your lower back, knees, and hips. In this exercise, you’re going to hold a half-squat position while you run through some hip abduction movements to challenge your body on multiple fronts.

How to Do Iso Squats with Hip Abductions

Sand with your feet shoulder-width apart and then sink your butt back like you were about to sit down, or as if you were performing a squat. Stop about halfway, well before your thighs are completely parallel with the ground.

While in this position, move your knees outward simultaneously. It’s a similar movement to the clamshell exercise at the start of this list.

Do 10 - 15 reps of these squats with abductions and then take a brief rest. Do 3 sets. If you want a challenge, loop a resistance band around your legs.

8. Mini Band Side Step

A slightly more functional exercise than some of the others in the guide, the mini band side step puts your hip abductors through a more realistic stepping motion, albeit to either side rather than forward.

The mini band should be tight enough to offer some resistance without limiting your ability to take a large enough sidestep that your hip abductors feel the burn.

How to Do the Mini Band Side Step

Begin in a standing position with your feet together and the band wrapped around your ankles. You can hold dumbbells if you want to give your arms something to do.

Step out to one side with your left leg. Bring your right foot to the left to complete one “step” or bring your left leg back to the starting position and then step out with your right leg, depending on how much space you have available.

Do 10 -15 steps on each leg, making sure that both legs get the same workout so that they build similar levels of strength.

9. Step Up with Leg Raise

With the slight addition of a lateral leg raise, the step-up exercise becomes a great source of activation for your hip adductors. The step-up action also adds a small amount of cardio to your workout routine.

How to Do Step-Ups with a Leg Raise

Find a bench or a small platform that’s at least 1 - 2 feet off the ground. However high you’re comfortable stepping is fine, just make sure it’s at least a little challenging.

Step up with your right leg and then lift your body by driving through the right ankle. Put your left foot on the platform and then pull your left leg back. This will directly activate the adductors on your inner thigh. If you haven’t worked them out before, you could be quite sore after a few reps of these step-ups.

Bring the left leg back in, then go back down to the starting position and repeat the action with the left foot leading. Repeat the same number of reps on each leg.

10. Seated Hip Abduction

If you like to work out from a desk or whenever you have a spare moment, you can use this simple exercise. It’s very similar to a few of the other exercises in this guide, and just like those other moves, you can wrap a resistance band around your legs to make this one more challenging.

How to Do Seated Hip Abductions

Sit down in a chair with your back straight and your knees bent at a 90° angle. You can place your hands on your hips for stability.

Move your knees outward without moving the soles of your feet on the ground. It should give you the idea of a sort of seated clamshell. Although it’s one of the simplest hip abductor exercises, it’s also one of the most effective.

Conclusion:

Exercising your hip abductors is important for avoiding injury, reducing pain, and creating stabilization strength. Pair the hip abduction exercises in this workout guide with the right strength-building supplements and you’ll have tons of functional energy in your lower body’s most important joints in no time.


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