Hip Abductor Exercises to Prevent Injury and Promote Strength

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on February 5, 2016Written by Katherine McMackin-Scoleri on February 5, 2016
abductor exercises

Hip weakness is a typical cause of activity-related injuries, especially in runners and cyclists.

Luckily hip strength is something that can be improved, which can help reduce injury and related pain. Strengthening your hip abductors takes time, so be sure to start slowly and progress safely.

Side Lying Leg Lifts

One of the simplest ways to strengthen your hip abductors is with this easy exercise. It can be done anywhere, anytime and requires no equipment at all.

Equipment needed: yoga or exercise mat or a comfortable, firm surface

Muscles worked: hip abductor muscles, including the gluteus medius

  1. Lie on your side with your hips stacked.
  2. Support your head by folding your floor side arm under your head.
  3. Place your top hand on the floor in front of you as a reminder not to lean forward or backward.
  4. Stack and flex both feet.
  5. Lift your top leg up just higher than your hip until you feel your hip flex and hold for 2 seconds.
  6. Lower down for a count of 3, returning to the start position.
  7. Repeat on 1 side for 10 reps and then switch to the other leg, working up to 3 sets.
  8. As you progress, aim to do 20 reps on each side.

Hip Drop

Hip drops are used to rehabilitate a weak hip abductor, which can lead to mechanical issues in the legs, such as iliotibial band syndrome.

This simple, yet intentional, move needs to be done with control and body awareness to ensure that the hip is initiating the move rather than the legs.

Equipment needed: a raised step, like the bottom of a staircase or a fitness bench on 1 or 2 risers

Muscles worked: gluteus medius

  1. Stand on a step or raised surface with 1 foot.
  2. Keep your standing leg straight.
  3. Lower the opposite leg down, initiating the movement from your hip.
  4. Keep the standing leg straight and the shoulders stable during the whole movement.
  5. Hold the lowered position for 2 seconds without letting our pelvis rotate.
  6. Return to neutral with your hips once again leveled.
  7. Make each lower, and lift slowly and controlled.
  8. Complete 12 to 15 reps, working toward 20 to 25 on each side.

Resistance Band Side Walks

Using resistance with lateral movement is an effective way to help strengthen the hips. Bodyweight lateral steps can be a starting point for those with very weak hips.

The addition of resistance targets the muscle and stimulates growth and strength to help prevent injuries.

Equipment needed: A small resistance band. You can find these at your local gym, sports store, or physical therapy studio. You can also order them online. They make great travel companions for on the road exercise.

Muscles worked: hips, glutes, and core

  1. Place the resistance band around your ankles just above the bone.
  2. Stand with your feet under your hips and squat down into a semiseated position. Keep your shoulders back and down and your gaze forward.
  3. Step out to the side, pushing with your heel against the resistance band.
  4. Step together again so your feet are once again hip-width apart.
  5. Focus on using the hips to drive the foot out and be sure to watch that your feet stay parallel. Your toe will have a tendency to try to lead the move. Keep tension on the band at all times.
  6. Continue stepping to the side for 10 to 12 steps.
  7. Return in the other direction for 10 to 12 steps.
  8. If you have limited space, you can also do these in a stationary position. Just be aware to press your body out with your foot and not let your foot do all the in and out motion by itself.

Advanced: Start with light resistance and work up to heavier resistance bands to increase strength.

Clamshell

This clamshell exercise looks a little silly, but is a great and easy way to strengthen the hips. It can be a useful tool in detecting imbalances in the hips as well.

Equipment needed: You don’t need any equipment, just a yoga mat or a firm comfortable surface.

Muscles worked: hip, gluteus medius, and hip abductor

  1. Lie on your side, folding your arm under your head like a pillow.
  2. Stack your hips and knees, bending them in so that your hips are flexed forward about 45 degrees.
  3. Be sure that your body is in a long neutral position and that your head, pelvis, and feet are in alignment.
  4. Keeping your feet stacked, engage your core, and rotate your top knee up and open using our hip.
  5. Hold this position for 2 to 3 seconds and then return to the start position.
  6. Complete this movement 10 times on each side, working your way up to 20 repetitions.

The Takeaway

As with all strength work, balance is key.

If one muscle is stronger than its counterpart, imbalances can force the body to compensate in undesirable ways. If you have a hip-related injury, seeking the advice of a physical therapist can help you safely regain strength and stability for long-lasting health!

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