Most people don't give much thought to their hip joints until they feel achy or painful. Your hips are some of the largest joints in your body and involve a complex network of bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and muscles. Without your hips, you wouldn't be able to walk, let alone lift weights, run or hike.
Which is exactly why it's so important to keep your hips healthy and strong — so they can support all of the efforts you make to reach your fitness goals.
Read more: 3 Big Benefits of a Strong Lower Body
Why Hip-Strengthening Exercises Are So Important
The hip muscles "are paramount for many strength-related exercises and functional movement patterns we perform daily," James Shapiro, New York City-based personal trainer and owner of Primal Power Fitness, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Most people need to implement their hips in their training because most times it is the source of dysfunction for the discomfort or issues they experience with their lower back, knees or directly in their hips," he says.
Think of your hip muscles as a protective sheath around the inner workings of your hip joint, i.e. the tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone. By strengthening your hip muscles, you can protect those other components of the joint from injury and everyday wear-and-tear from movements like swinging your legs out of bed in the morning, shuffling sideways through a small space or crouching down to pick something up.
Tightness or weakness in your hip muscles can lead to dysfunction in any movement or activity that requires your core or your legs, Shapiro says (which basically means everything except upper-body isolation moves).
Read more: 14 Exercises to Offset Sitting All Day
How Do You Strengthen Hip Muscles?
You can strengthen your hips by adding resistance exercises to your workout routine. A number of different muscles affect your hips; not all of them are always explicitly considered hip muscles.
For example, most people don't think of their quads as a hip muscle — just a leg muscle — but your quads are largely responsible for any forward and vertical motion of your hips, such as lifting your leg to put your foot on a step, according to a January 2010 report in Gait & Posture.
The muscles involved in hip function are:
- Hip adductors (responsible for squeezing your legs tightly together)
- Hip abductors (responsible for moving your legs away from your body)
- Hip flexors (responsible for flexing your hip)
A good hip workout will include exercises for your adductors, abductors, hip flexors, glutes and lower body as a whole.
The Best Hip Abductor Exercises
Your hip abductors move your legs laterally, or away from the midline of your body.
Side-Lying Leg Raise
- Lie on one side with your feet stacked.
- Lift your top leg away from your body.
- Lower your leg to start and repeat for your desired number of reps before switching sides.
- Position yourself on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
- With your knee bent, lift your right leg up and away from your body until your inner thigh is parallel to the ground without rotating your spine.
- Lower your leg while still keeping your hips parallel to the ground and repeat.
- Complete your reps, then switch sides.
- With a mini resistance band just above or below your knees, step your left leg to the left, then follow it with your right leg.
- Continue to shuffle in this way until you've taken 10 steps to the left.
- Repeat with 10 steps to the right.
Don't let your knees buckle inward under the tension of the resistance band. Always keep your knees in line with your ankles.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Squeeze your butt to lift your hips off the floor until your knees, hips and spine are in a straight line.
- Slowly lower back down and repeat.
The Best Hip Adductor Exercises
Your hip adductors move your legs inward, toward the midline of your body — think of squeezing your legs together when you do these.
Standing Hip Adduction
- Secure a resistance band around a pole or sturdy object and place your right leg inside the band.
- Stand with your right side toward your anchor and far enough away from it to have tension in the band. Engage your core and stand tall.
- Use your inner thigh muscles to pull your right leg toward your left leg for your desired number of reps, then switch sides.
Single Leg-Glute Bridge
- Lie face-up on your back with your left leg lifted toward the ceiling and your right leg bent with your right foot flat on the floor.
- Push your hips up using your right leg only until your spine is straight.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top before lowering yourself back down.
- Switch sides and repeat.
- Lie on your right side with your legs stacked.
- Lift your left leg into the air. Then, lift your right leg to meet your left.
- Lower both legs down together and repeat.
The Best Hip Flexor Exercises
Your hip flexors lift your legs, like when you bring your knee to your chest.
Lying Flutter Kick
- Start lying on your back.
- Tighten your abs and keep your lower back pressed into the floor.
- Alternate lifting and lowering each leg about six inches.
Banded High Knees
- With a mini resistance band around your lower thighs, slowly march in place.
- Focus on pulling each knee up as high as possible.
Compound Exercises for the Hips
Compound lower-body exercises work your hips while also strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Try:
Try This Sample Hip Workout
To put it all together into the ultimate hip-strengthening workout routine, pick two exercises from each group and perform 3 to 5 sets of 10 reps each. A good hip workout will include both compound and isolation exercises to ensure you work your hips from all angles. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps of each movement in this example:
- Barbell back squat
- Kettlebell swing
- Bulgarian split squat
- Side-lying leg raises
- Standing hip adduction
Is Squatting Bad for Your Hips?
A squat should come naturally to all humans, but sedentary lifestyles and poor posture have made squatting one of the most difficult movements for many people.
Done correctly, squats are not bad for your hips — in fact, they're one of the best ways to strengthen all of the muscles involved in hip function, according to a small January 2020 study in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. Squatting is only harmful to the hips if you're doing it with improper form or in a pattern that's not the best for your particular anatomy, Shapiro says.
"No one person is designed like the other," he says, so everyone's squat form will be slightly different. "But squats are still an excellent exercise for the hips if you know how to regress or progress the motion based off your fitness level."
Squatting might be hurting your hips if you don't have the mobility to reach full squat depth, so you compensate by tucking your tailbone under, shifting your weight onto your toes, leaning forward or rolling your feet and/or knees inward. These squat faults can be harmful to a number of joints and result in lasting pain if you repeatedly force yourself into the position without correcting your form.You can try a few simple fixes to improve your squat form.
3 Ways to Improve Your Squat Form
- Hold onto a stable object, such as a suspension trainer (like TRX), for added support.
- Squat in front of a stable chair or bench as if you were about to sit down on that surface. This will help guide you into proper squat position.
- Squat facing a wall with your toes touching the wall to help you keep your knees behind your toes.
If possible, test your squat form in front of a mirror or have a workout buddy film you so you can evaluate your stance and positioning. You can also always ask a trainer at your gym for guidance.