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October 16, 2022 10 min read

Hip extensions are basic human movement patterns most people perform countless times per day without realizing their importance. Unfortunately, the many hours most people spend sitting cause the muscles that work the hips to become very weak.

The good news is that there are many hip extension exercises designed to strengthen the hip muscles of those with sedentary lifestyles.

You have hip flexors at the front, and hip extensors at the back of your hips. In a seated position, your hips are flexed, tightening the hip flexors, and making them stronger but weakening the extensors. Hip extension occurs when you stand up.

Imagine looking at the hip joint of a skeleton. As you move the femur, or thigh bone backward, the space between the ball and joint opens up, extending a group of muscles known as your hip extensors., and when the leg moves forward the space becomes smaller, flexing the group of muscles known as hip flexors.

Hip extension is the movement of your thigh when it moves away from your front pelvis.

The best example is the movement of kicking back, which occurs when you walk, run, jump, swim, and more. Picture yourself running, the movement of the front leg, or forward quad, is a hip flexion, and the leg at your back makes a hip extension movement.

What are the results of weakened hip extensors?

  • Hip joint pain and inflammation
  • Low back pain
  • Compromised  mobility
  • Poor performance in the gym
  • A soft, flabby butt
Low back pain from too much sitting – Image from Shutterstock

These should motivate bodybuilders to include hip extension exercises in their workout routines.

Although most gyms have machines and specialized equipment for doing hip extensions, there are many suitable exercises that require no equipment. Whichever way you choose to do hip extensions, the benefits will soon be evident.

Maintaining the proper form for hip extensions is crucial

Any exercise you do is designed to work specific muscle groups. 

If your posture is incorrect, you will work the wrong muscles,  making the exercise ineffective.

For example, if you shift your weight too far forward or arch your back while doing hip extensions, the targeted extensor muscle group will remain as weak as before.

Tips for the correct way to do hip extensions

All the hip extension exercises, performed with or without gym equipment, target the same muscles and require the same form to be effective

Proper form hip extension exercises – Image from Shutterstock
  • Warming up  — Never disregard the importance of warming up. Many pulled or strained hamstrings and other muscles have resulted from exercising cold muscles. A gentle jog or a quick walk will prepare your glutes and hamstrings for more intense exercising. At the same time, it will reduce injury risks.
  • Straight back  — Keeping your back straight will ensure you work the targeted muscles. An arched back will shift the focus and benefit non-targeted muscles. Keeping your chin down when the exercise allows will help keep your neck and spine aligned.
  • Engaged abs  — Avoid arching your lower back or tilting your pelvis forward by keeping your abdominals engaged.
  • Soft knees  — If you lock your knees, you transfer the force of the exercise, meant for the muscles, to the joints. Thereby, significantly increasing the risks of knee injuries.
  • Smooth movements  — Twisting and jerking motions while doing hip extensions could cause injuries like muscle strains and reduce the efficacy of your workout. Smooth slow movements produce the best results. 

Which muscles are worked during hip extensions?

Hip extensors include three main muscle groups:

1. Gluteus Maximus

glutes - Image from Shutterstock

Also known as the glute, the Gluteus Maximus is the strongest, largest muscle in the lower body. Although they form the rounded portion of your butt, they serve other functions as well.

The Gluteus Maximus connects your thighbone to your tailbone and help you stand upright, and they are also responsible for the thigh and hip movement.

If hip extensions form part of your exercise routine, stronge glute muscles  will improve activities like your daily walking, standing, squatting, climbing stairs, and more.

2. Hamstrings Hamstrings - Image from Shutterstock

Your hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of your thighs.

They are the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris.

Your hamstrings stabilize your hip joints as they stretch from the pelvis to the back of your knees. Furthermore, they help bend your knees and work with your glutes to make backward quad movements.

3. Adductor Magnus

Adductor Magnus - Image by Shutterstock

Your Adductor magnus is located on the inner part of your thigh, and its posterior head supports hip extension.

Best hip extensions with and without equipment

When doing hip extension exercises, the goal is to increase the range of motion of the hip extensors. While sedentary lifestyles and too much sitting play significant roles in the weak hip extensor problem, regular gym goers and even bodybuilders can have weakened glute muscles and hamstrings.

The lack of versatility in workout routines is often to blame.  For example, focusing on cycling and squats does nothing for the hip extensors. It may be a good idea to consult a certified personal trainer to design an exercise routine to suit your unique needs.

Here we will discuss the best exercises for hip extensors, with and without equipment.

1. Glute Bridges

Glute bridges are great exercises because they use hip extensions as the main movements.

Glute bridge with resistance band – Image from Shutterstock

Equipment needed:  None if you’re a beginner, but more experienced strength builders may choose to take the glute bridge to the next level by using a dumbbell or a mini-loop resistance band

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet hip-distance apart flat on the floor, and your arms at your side.

  • Brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and drive your heels into the floor to push your pelvis upwards, high enough so that your body forms a straight line from knees to your shoulders.
  • Hold that position for 2 seconds before slowly lowering your hips back to the starting position.

Repeat to complete 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps each.

2. Single-Leg Hip Extensions

Similar to the Glute bridge, except this time we isolate each leg while working both hips. It is a bit more challenging, and beginners might take some time to master it.

Single Leg Hip Extension - Image from Shutterstock

Starting position: Lie on the ground with your back flat and head flat on the ground

  • Knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and arms lying at your side with palms flat on the ground.
  • Keep one foot planted on the ground and extend the opposite leg straight up and out at a 45-degree angle.
  • With tight abs, drive your hips upward pushing through your heel and using your glutes to propel you up.
  • With a brief pause at the top, squeeze your glutes while lowering your hips slowly.
  • Most importantly,  maintain control when lowering because you should stop just before your butt touches the floor while keeping one leg in the air.
  • Do 6 to 12 reps for one leg, before switching over to the other to complete one set.

Perform 2–3 sets of 6–12 repetitions

3. Quadruped hip extension

This is a bodyweight exercise focused on the glutes and hamstrings, while it’s easy on the lower back.

Quadruped hip extension – Image from Shutterstock

Starting position: Kneel on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. With your lower back slightly arched, brace your abs and tuck your chin in to maintain a neutral neck.

  • While keeping your knee bent to 90 degrees, extend your left leg back and up with the sole of your foot facing the ceiling. By now, your left thigh should be parallel to the floor.
  • Most importantly:  Do not hyperextend your lower back, and don’t allow your hips to twist.
  • Lower your left leg and repeat for 10 to 12 reps before switching to the right leg.
  • If you’re experienced enough, you could amp up the quadruped hip extension by holding a dumbbell behind your knee or wearing ankle weights.

Aim to complete 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps for each leg.

4. Pilates swimming

Borrowed from Pilates, this is a straightforward but effective hip extension exercise.

 Pilates Swimming – Image from Shutterstock

Starting position: Lie face-down with your arms extended out in front of you.

  • Lift your arms and legs a few inches off the floor and move your arms and legs in a swim-like motion.
  • Without lowering your arms or legs, lift your left arm and right leg and alternate with the right arm and left leg moving them up and down.
  • Most importantly: Ensure your hips, rib cage, and shoulders are held firmly. Your body should not roll from one side to the other while you perform the swimming range of motions.

Continue until you can feel your hip extensors starting to fatigue, but aim for 12 to 15 kicks per set, and perform 2 to 3 sets.

Now we’ll move on to hip extension exercises utilizing equipment to get the required results.

5. Hip Thrusts with weight

Hip thrusts are one of the most popular hip extension exercises. However, it is vital to take care to do them correctly. Injury risks are high,  and if you choose to add a dumbbell or barbell to rev them up, the risks are even higher.

Hip Thrusts – Image from Shutterstock

Equipment needed:  A bench secured to a wall or to the floor, and a suitable weight, based on your experience and fitness.

Starting position:  Sit on the floor with your shoulder blades resting against a secured bench and your legs straight. Place a barbell across the crease of your hips, or hold a dumbbell.

  • Bend your knees and place your feet firmly on the floor, about hip-width apart.
  • Brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and drive your heels into the floor to push your pelvis upwards until your shins are vertical, your torso parallel to the ground, and your knees at 90 degrees.
  • Avoid pushing with your lower back and keep your chest in the same position throughout the whole movement. Focus on mostly using your pelvis by engaging your glutes to drive this movement.
  • Hold it for a second before slowly lowering yourself to the starting position, taking care to maintain control over the weight.

Aim to do 2 to 3 sets of 8–12 reps.

6. Prone hip extension on the stability ball

This exercise primarily engages your glutes and hamstrings.

 Prone Hip Extensions – Image from Shutterstock

Equipment needed: Stability Ball

Starting position: Lay face-down on your stability ball, placing your hips or lower stomach on the ball. Let your legs hang off the back of the ball and your toes gently touch the ground. With straight arms, put your hands on the ground in front of the ball.

  • Lift your legs off the ground by squeezing your glutes until they are in line with your torso.
  • Maintain contact with the ball and keep your core engaged.
  • Avoid extending the lower back, and keep your knees straight.
  • Slowly lower your legs to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Perform 3 sets of 10 reps each.

7. Glute bridge and hamstring curl on the stability ball

This is a compound hip extension exercise that might be a bit much for beginners. However, they can focus on the hip extension and advance to the leg curl as they progress.

Hamstring curl – Image from Shutterstock

Equipment needed:  Stability Ball

Starting position: Lie on the floor, facing up with your calves and feet on top of a stability ball. Keep your knees straight and place your hands at your sides, palms facing down.

  • Use your glutes and hamstrings to lift your bottom off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your upper back to your feet.
  • Starting from this hip extension position, use your legs to pull the stability ball toward your butt, performing a hamstring curl. Don’t speed up the movement because once momentum does the hard work, the targeted muscles don’t benefit one bit.
  • Slowly straighten your legs to return to a straight line. Keep your body lifted off the ground and begin another curl.
  • Repeat the range of motion 10 to 12 times.

Perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

8. Kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings are an explosive movement involving everything but your legs, which remain mostly stationary. It’s an effective hip extension exercise that will get your heart rate going.

Kettlebell Swings – Image from Shutterstock

Equipment needed:  Kettlebell or dumbbell

Starting position: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent but rigid. Use both your hands to hold a kettlebell in front of your hips.

  • Push your hips back and lean forward, lowering the weight between your knees.
  • Drive your hips forward to create momentum to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height.
  • Most importantly: Keep your arms straight, and your shoulders pulled down and back. Do not round your lower back.
  • Use the momentum to lower the weight, swinging it through the gap between your legs, and then immediately swing it up as you fire off another rep.
  • Reps should be determined by your experience, but start with 10 to 12 reps.

Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

9. Romanian deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a great hip extension exercise. However, your legs are mostly stationary in this exercise, and although the movement involves mostly the upper body, it is still an excellent hip extension movement.

 Romanian Deadlift – Image from Shutterstock

Equipment needed: Barbell

Starting position: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart with your shins almost touching the barbell. Keep your spine tall, chest up, and shoulders back and down.

  • Hinge from the hips and soften the knees, as your hips drop low enough to allow you to grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage all your core muscles to maintain this position and drive your feet into the floor and lift the bar.
  • Raise your chest, and stabilize the bar in front of your hips by engaging your lats.
  • Push your hips as far back as possible, flex your knees slightly and lower the weight to just below knee height.
  • Reps should be determined by your experience, but aim for 10 to 12 reps.

Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

This exercise can also be done using dumbbells.

10. Total hip extension machine

This machine is also called the four-way hip machine, and it’s a gym staple. It is an excellent way to work your hip extensors without too much concern about balance. Also, performing hip extensions on this machine is straightforward, involving no cuffs or cables.

Starting position: Adjust the lever arm to about hip height, and place your nearside leg over the movement arm so that the pad is directly behind your knee as you stand sideways to the machine. Hold the handle for balance.

  • Drive your leg down and back against the resistance of the machine.
  • Extend your hip as far as you can without hyperextending your lower back, and maintain the pressure for a moment.
  • Return to the starting position and do the predetermined number of reps with one leg before switching to the other leg.
  • Do the same number of reps on each leg.

Some of these exercises can be done at home and require no equipment. Others are best done in the gym.

Nevertheless, regardless of how you train your hip extensors, you’ll soon start to see and feel the benefits of your training. However, never lose sight of the important role played by nutrition.

For you to be healthy your body needs a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals and a healthy gut to perform at its optimal state.

Created with optimal health as the ultimate goal, The Essential Stack  will help take care of the fundamentals so you can hit the ground running each day.