How to Strengthen Hip Abductors: Best Exercises
by Evelyn Valdez·
Hip abductors might not be a strong focal point for some, but we should never take them for granted. Without them, our legs would be close to useless. Unfortunately, we don't always put the time and effort into training this muscle group. This area is almost always activated during any lower body workout. However, it's good to find simple exercises that will target the hip abductors at a deeper level.
What do the hip abductor muscles do?
Hip abduction is when our legs are moved away from the midline of our body. These muscles are activated every time we walk, run, stand, and literally any movement that involves moving our legs. It's also how our legs are able to rotate in the hip joint.
The three muscles involved with hip abductions are the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and the tensor fasciae latae. While the gluteus maximus is responsible for most of the power behind the glutes, the medius and minimus are the primary muscles that cause hip abduction. The tensor fasciae latae, despite being a much smaller muscle is located in the upper thigh and supports the legs anytime we move our legs.
Health benefits of hip abduction exercises
While the hip abductors might not be remembered as often as other muscle groups, training this part of our body is crucial for several reasons.
- It helps prevent injuries, strains, and imbalances in the lower body.
- Strong hip abductors keep our knees from moving inward and touching. This is known as knee valgus, aka "knock-kneed" appearance. The knees will stay like this even if you're standing straight.
- Weak hips make it difficult to move swiftly and quickly change directions. The way to improve our agility is by training our hip muscles. This is an especially important area to train if you're an athlete.
- Hip strengthening exercises definitely help us get perky glute muscles, but they also prevent and treat hip pain and knee pain.
- The phrase "don't skip leg day" is always stated to stress the importance of having strong leg muscles, but rock-hard hamstrings and quads aren't all we need to maintain proper stability. One of the most common overuse injuries caused by decreased hip strength is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). PFPS causes an aching pain in the front of the knee and around the knee cap by performing simple activities, including sitting for too long or climbing up the stairs. You may have heard some doctors refer to this as "jumper's knee" or "runner's knee".
Top 9 hip abductor exercises for an intense burn
It's hard to isolate the hip abductors because they are a central part of most lower-body movements. Single leg exercises are usually the best way to target this area. No need to contort yourself into weird positions to feel a deep burn.
Cable hip abductors
- Set up the cable pulley on the lowest rung and start out with a low weight.
- Attach the ankle strap to your outside ankle and hold onto the cable machine for balance.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep both legs as straight as possible without locking your knees.
- Contract your hip abductor muscle to help lift your leg up to the side.
- Squeeze your muscle at the top of the exercise and lower your leg back down.
- Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders. Keep a tight core and a straight back.
- While keeping your left leg bent, lift your leg out to the side and stop right at your hip.
- Squeeze your side hip and lower your leg back to the starting position. Repeat with your right leg.
Side lunge (additional weight optional)
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You can add a dumbbell or kettlebell for an extra challenge.
- Shift your weight to your right leg and bend into your knee while keeping your left leg straight.
- Continue switching between each leg for several reps.
- Start in a standing position and keep your upper body straight throughout the movement.
- Step your right foot back behind you, like you're trying to curtsy, and place your foot down to the left. Your right knee should rest just behind your left ankle. Bend your left knee at a 90-degree angle so it's directly over your left ankle.
- Push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat the move with your left foot.
Seated hip abductions
*You can either use resistance bands or an actual hip abduction machine to perform this exercise.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and feet hip-width apart.
- If you choose to use resistance bands, put both your legs through the band so it sits just above your knees. If you're using the machine, depending on the design, you'll rest both knees on the inside or outside cushion pads.
- Press your knees outward against the resistance band or the weighted machine. Grab on to the side handles if using the machine. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
- In a controlled motion, bring your knees back together. For those using the abductor machine, you can increase the intensity of the exercise by standing while keeping your lower body at a 90-degree angle. Only attempt if there's a safe way to hold onto the machine.
- Lie on your left side and wrap the resistance band above your knees.
- Stack your knees, and bend them to a 45-degree angle. Bend your left arm at a 90-degree angle for support.
- Keep your feet together as you lift your right knee open to push against the resistance band. Engage your core and keep your back straight throughout the movement. Make sure you're not leaning forward or tipping your hips too far back.
- Hold for 2 seconds and slowly lower your knee back down. Complete your set and switch to the right side.
Side-lying leg lift
- Lie on the left or right side of your body and use your arm to support your head. Place your other hand either on your hip or in front of your chest.
- Lift your leg up toward the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Keep both legs as straight as possible. Be sure you aren't lifting your hips up to compensate for weakness in your leg.
- Finish your set and repeat on the opposite side.
*There are a couple deadlift variations you can do, including the conventional deadlift, sumo, or stiff leg. You can also perform this exercise using a free weight barbell, dumbbells, or a Smith machine.
- Stand up straight with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at your hips to reach down and grab the bar. Grasp it with your hands slightly wider than the width of your shoulders. You can hold onto it either with an overhand grip or have one underhand grip and one overhand grip.
- Push your hips back while maintaining a tall spine and keeping your head and chest up facing forward.
- Tighten your core and engage your lower body to lift the bar up and return to an upright position.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and slowly lower the bar back down to the floor. The bar should remain close to your body throughout the exercise.
Side plank (with optional hip abduction)
- Lie on your side and use your arm to support your weight. Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder.
- Raise your hips up in the air while engaging your core so your body forms a diagonal line going from your feet to your head. Place your other hand on your hip for balance.
- Here, you have the option of adding a hip abduction for some extra heat. Simply raise your leg in the air and slowly lower it back down. Otherwise, keep both feet together and hold for at least 30 seconds.
- Repeat the same exercise on the other side of your body.
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