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June 13, 2022 8 min read

The clamshell may not look like much but it is an effective movement that strengthens your glutes, hip adductors, and abductors.

When done with proper form, a clamshell will help to strengthen the gluteus medius, core, and the gluteus maximus.

These glute muscles are in charge of not only hip stabilization but also of power and balance. So building the strength in these muscle groups helps to protect your knees and prevent back pain

The basic clamshell is the best place to start but as you get stronger and your hip flexors loosen up you might want to consider adding resistance or modifying the movement. By adding resistance to the movement you will work your glutes, core, and lower back muscles even more.

What Muscle Groups Do Clamshells Work?

Your glutes are made up of three muscles on each side of your body, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. 

The gluteus medius is the main abductor and external rotator of the hip.

The gluteus maximus extends the hip and assists with abduction and external rotation of the leg. This is the largest muscle in the body, and the one most people are looking to define and strengthen with lower-body movements.

Lastly, the gluteus minimus serves as the primary internal rotator of the hip joint, which helps with abduction and inward rotation at the hip.  

The importance of your medial glutes can’t be talked about enough, with responsibilities that include hip stabilization, balance, and power.

Strong medial glutes guide you through every step.

They stabilize you, propel you, and protect your knees and lower back from unnecessary strain by taking on a majority of the workload involved in lower body movement.

That includes any side-to-side action that you might take in a weightlifting or agility workout.

Why Clamshells Are Good For You

Clamshells can be beneficial for building the glutes, which are the main stabilizer for the pelvis. Stronger glutes can lead to better posture, stability, and performance.

Glute Activation

When performing moves like a squat or deadlift in which one of the primary goals is to build glute strength, it’s important to first activate the muscles that will be doing the work.

Warm-up with a couple of sets of clamshells prior to your big lifts in order to activate your glutes and improve your flexibility. This also helps to ensure that they’re engaged and working as the primary movers.

Hip Strengthening

As a general exercise, the clamshell can help strengthen your medial glutes, bringing more power and stability to your hips.

This can also translate to a decreased risk of injury throughout the entire lower body, greater stabilization in agility workouts, and more strength and power in your lower body movements.

Muscle Definition

Another benefit of the clamshell exercise is its decent effect on muscle shape and development. Especially If you add resistance to the clamshell, doing ten or more reps can leave your glutes burning.

If you really want to try and maximize the muscle-defining benefits of clamshells then try going for burnout sets or adding variations of the movement into your workouts. So anyone looking to tighten up their posterior and work on their muscle definition should make these moves a part of their workout routine.

Alternative Clamshell Variations

There are different ways to perform the clamshell exercise whether you need more of a challenge or just some variety. 

Clamshell Exercise with a Resistance Band

By adding resistance to the clamshell you turn an exercise that many consider a stretch into something worthy of being put into your lower body workout.

With a resistance band, you will be adding a decent amount of difficulty to aid in the building and strengthening of the glutes and core.

If you're doing these for the first time, make sure to choose a lighter band, and work your way up to a heavier resistance band. To prevent knee pain do not place the band around your knees, it should sit comfortably just above them. 

How to do it:

  1. Start by laying on your right side and make sure your hips are stacked on top of each other. Place the resistance band around both legs and let it sit just above your knees.
  2. Stretch your bottom arm out along the mat. This helps to support your head and keep your body stable throughout the movement. Make sure to keep your neck neutral to avoid unnecessary strain.
  3. Knees bent to a 45-degree angle and stack your left leg on top of your right leg.
  4. Pull your belly button towards your spine as you engage your core. This helps to stabilize your spine and pelvis.
  5. Use your left hand for control. You can place it on the ground in front of you or we recommend putting it on top of your side.
  6. Keep your hips, pelvis, and upper body stationary throughout the entire movement.
  7. Your feet will also remain together as you lift your top knee as high as you can without losing form. Your bottom leg should stay firmly on the floor.
  8. Pause at the top of the movement and focus on squeezing your glute muscles.
  9. Return your left knee to the starting position on top of your right.
  10. Repeat on the other side.

Reverse Clamshell

 

The reverse clamshell is a modified version of the clamshell exercise that targets the inner thighs and helps to sculpt and tighten the muscles.

This glute exercise also strengthens the outer thighs, tones the glutes, and helps stabilize the pelvic muscles.

We recommend starting with just your body weight, but as you get stronger you can add a resistance band to add resistance. The band would go just above your ankles.  

How to do it: 

  1. Start by laying on either side and make sure your hips are stacked on top of each other. This can be performed either on an exercise mat or the floor. 
  1. Stretch your bottom arm out along the mat. This helps to support your head and keep your body stable throughout the movement. Make sure to keep your neck neutral to avoid unnecessary strain.
  1. Bend your knees to 45-degree angles and stack your top leg on top of the bottom leg. 
  1. Pull your belly button towards your spine as you engage your core. 
  1. Use your top hand for control. You can place it on the ground in front of you or we recommend putting it on top of your side.
  1. Your feet are finding movement in this variation. Rotate your top foot out and toward the ceiling. Your knees stay together throughout the entire exercise.
  1. Pause at the top of the movement and focus on squeezing your glute muscles. 
  1. Return your left knee to the starting position on top of your right.
  1. Repeat on the other side.

Side Plank Clamshell Hold

Planks are already a challenging movement, so adding the clamshell to the plank forces you to stabilize your core muscles while also building and strengthening your glutes. 

The combining of spine stability and hip mobility is not for beginners, so it's recommended that you make sure you can do both exercises perfectly as individual exercises before doing them together.

Combining the two movements together requires focus to make sure it is done properly. To make sure you have the focus necessary, make sure to check out Amped-AF.

If you are able to do this exercise with relative ease, then add a resistance band to the movement. You could also add resistance by holding a dumbbell on top of your hip.  

How to do it: 

  1. Start by laying on either side and make sure your hips are stacked on top of each other. This can be performed either on an exercise mat or the floor. 
  1. Stretch your bottom arm out along the mat. Bend your knees at 45-degree angles and stack them on top of each other. 
  1. Pull your belly button towards your spine as you engage your core to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Use your opposite hand for control. 
  1. Press through your bottom forearm and shin while lifting up your hips. There should be a straight line from the top of your head to your knees. 
  1. Keep your lower and upper body stationary in a straight line. Your feet remain together as you lift your top knee as high as you can without losing form. Your bottom shin should stay firmly on the floor.
  1. Pause at the top. Return the left knee down and then drop your hip back to the floor to the starting position.
  1. Hit your targeted reps and switch sides and complete on the left side.

Clamshell Leg Raise  

 

A clamshell leg raise is a single-leg lift variation that is fantastic for increasing your glute and core strength. To make the lateral leg lift more challenging add a short circular band around both of your thighs right above the knee then try the exercise making sure to not let your toes turn towards the ceiling.

How to do it: 

  1. Start by laying on either side and make sure your hips are stacked on top of each other. This can be performed either on an exercise mat or the floor. 
  1. Stretch your bottom arm out along the mat. Keep your legs straight and stack them on top of each other. 
  1. Pull your belly button towards your spine as you engage your core to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Use your opposite hand for control by placing it on top of your hip.
  1. Pull your top foot towards your face, this helps prevent your toes from turning towards the ceiling and opening your hips up. 
  1. Lift your top leg off of the bottom one and pause at the top for a two-second count.
  1. Lower to the starting position and repeat.

High Clamshell

High clamshells are another advanced clamshell variations that require some serious coordination to do them properly. We recommend warming up for this with normal clamshells and then working a couple of sets of these in at the end. You can add resistance to the high clams by adding a band just above your knees. 

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your side with your hips and shoulders in a straight line. Stack your hips and shoulders directly on top of each other vertically.
  1. Place your top hand on the floor in front of your chest.
  1. Bend your knees so that your thighs are a little more open than a 90-degree angle.
  1. Rest your head on your outstretched top arm.
  1. Keep your knees together and down as you lift your feet away from the mat, making sure to keep them together the entire time.
  1. Once in the raised position in step five, rotate your top knee open as you keep the inside edges of your feet together.
  1. Keep your feet up but bring the top knee back down to join the bottom knee.
  1. Repeat as necessary until that side is complete, then work the other side.  

Tips For Getting The Most Out of These Variations

Stick to the 10-15 rep range if you’re trying to strengthen your glutes and core.

If you have to do 20 plus repetitions to feel a burn with clamshells, then you’re  going to be training muscular endurance rather than strength and hypertrophy. Don’t be afraid of adding resistance with bands to increase the difficulty of the movements. 

Don’t add resistance to the exercises until your muscles are completely warmed up. 

Your core should be engaged throughout the exercise, so don’t let them slack off. This helps to keep your spine in alignment and strengthen your abdominal muscles at the same time.

Don’t forget to keep your neck in neutral alignment throughout the exercise so you don’t strain it. Try to rest your head on your arm and remain in one position throughout the exercise.

While doing clamshells or any of the above variations try to isolate your glutes. You should only be rotating from your hips, not from your lower back. 

Final Words 

The clamshell may not look like much but it is a great strengthening exercise for your gluteal muscles, hip abductors, and adductors. When done with proper form, the clamshell and the variations can help to build strong glutes and core. 

The glutes and core help to stabilize the rest of the body, and without them, your posture and overall strength and movement could suffer. Integrating the clamshell into your workout routine can create a stronger, more stable body for better lifts and quality of life.