Clamshell exercise

Squat, lunge, leg press…clamshell?

Perhaps you’ve never heard of this particular leg and hip strengthening exercise, but it’s one you should consider adding to your workout repertoire. Named for the way your legs and hips resemble a clamshell when performing the movement, this exercise will strengthen your hips and thighs while also stabilizing your pelvic muscles and toning your glutes.

You can do the clamshell exercise almost anywhere, with minimal space and little to no equipment needed for an effective lower body workout.

Why should you try it?

Not only is it incredible for strengthening the hips, glutes, and pelvis, but the clamshell can also help to prevent injury and ease lower back tension.

A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that the clamshell exercise is one of the best for hip strengthening and helping with injury treatment and prevention. The clamshell exercise is often used in physical therapy to help with back pain and sciatica. It helps to reduce pain by strengthening the core and lower back muscles.

Over the years, there have been various workouts targeting the glutes, with the goal of lifting, tightening, and toning your lower half. What most people don’t realize is that there are multiple muscles that make up your posterior, and all of them need to be worked in order build tone and strength.

The three key muscles of the butt are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. While the gluteus maximus usually gets all the glory because it’s the biggest of the buttock muscles and impressively the largest muscle in your entire body, the other gluteus muscles are just as important. If they are weak, then other muscles will eventually have to overcompensate, which can cause pain and injury.

The clamshell exercise can specifically help to strengthen the gluteus medius, which lays on the outer edge of the buttocks and is responsible for stabilizing your pelvis. Clamshell exercises can help to balance the muscular effort between your inner and outer thighs and your pelvic floor. Creating balance in the leg and hip muscles helps to prevent overuse and injury.

Who should do it?

Hip strengthening exercises are especially important for runners or anyone who plays sports where running is involved, such as soccer or tennis.

Runners can benefit from this hip-strengthening exercise because they’re more likely to be prone to injuries stemming from weak hips. Most runners don’t realize that the cause of most foot, ankle, and knee pain originates in the hips!

In fact, inadequate hip stabilization can be the underlying cause of many running injuries. To prevent such injuries, exercises such as the clamshell can create balance between the thighs, glutes, and pelvic floor. Not to mention, this exercise feels great on tight hips.

How to do a basic clamshell exercise with proper form

  1. Lie on your side, with legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Rest your head on your lower arm, and use your top arm to steady your frame. Be sure that your hipbones are stacked on top of one another, as there is a tendency for the top hip to rock backward.
  3. Engage your abdominals by pulling your belly button in, as this will help to stabilize your spine and pelvis.
  4. Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Don’t move your lower leg off the floor.
  5. Pause, and then return your upper leg to the starting position on the ground. Do 20 reps on each side.

There are many variations of the clamshell exercise. Here are a few to get you started.

Clamshell exercise with a resistance band

To up the ante of a regular clamshell rotation, try adding a resistance band. This will help to work the glutes and hamstrings even more, for a strong core and back.

  1. Place the band around both legs, just above the knees.
  2. Lie on one side with knees at a 45-degree angle, legs and hips stacked.
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize your core.
  4. Keep your feet in contact with one another as you raise your upper knee as high as you can, without moving the hips or pelvis. Don’t allow your lower leg to move off of the floor.
  5. Pause at the top for a few seconds before returning the top knee to the starting position. Do 20 reps on each side.

Clamshell with dumbbell rotation

To do double duty and work both the upper and lower body at the same time, try adding dumbbells. This will increase the burn to your glutes, as well as help to tone the obliques and shoulders. Talk about a full-body workout!

  1. Lie on your side in traditional clamshell position, with knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Hold a 3-, 5-, or 8-pound dumbbell in your upper hand, keeping your elbow in at your side.
  2. Lift both your upper arm and upper leg to the ceiling at about 90 degrees, keeping hips stacked and core engaged. This is a twist on the regular clamshell, in which you raise your entire top leg, as opposed to just your knee.
  3. Keep your elbow pressed into your side and your lower leg on the ground.
  4. Hold at the top for a couple seconds before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 times, and then switch sides.

Clamshell with stability ball crunch

This is a different variation on the clamshell, but it will work your abs and fire up the core.

  1. Lie on your back, with a stability ball placed between your lower legs.
  2. With your hands placed behind your head, simultaneously lift your legs off the floor while also lifting your shoulders off the floor. This will work your abs, hip flexors, and pelvic muscles.
  3. Hold for a few seconds before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 times.

Clamshell exercise tips

  • Keep your core engaged! This will activate your abdominal muscles and protect your spine.
  • Try to isolate the glutes. You should only be rotating from the hips, not the lower back.
  • Be sure your neck is in a neutral position so you don’t strain it.