The hips are one of those body parts that most of us don’t really think about until they’re bothering us. When you hit the gym, strengthening your hip muscles specifically probably isn’t high on the agenda. But if you’re someone who spends most days sitting, you’re likely familiar with that hip ache and tightness that comes along with it. Maybe you’ve even started doing some hip stretches to combat that. But actually strengthening the hip area is something that will not only make you feel better, but help you move better, too.
Quick anatomy lesson. When we talk about the hips, we’re talking about any muscle that crosses over the hip joint, says Laura Miranda D.P.T., M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., a New York City-based trainer and creator of the Pursuit training program. Which, there are many, including all of the glute muscles, the hamstrings, the inner thigh muscles, and the psoas muscles (deep core muscles that attach your pelvis to your spine). Each of these muscles has some specific roles, but overall, the hip muscles stabilize your pelvis and thighbone as you move. They also allow you to bend at the hips, lift your legs out to the side (abduct), and bring your legs back in toward one another (adduct). Basically, they do a lot, and when they’re weak or tight or otherwise not working in an optimal way, you can not only end up with cranky hips, but other body parts may overcompensate and take on too much work—leaving you with other, seemingly unrelated, issues, like knee pain.
Most functional exercises—ones that mimic everyday movements such as squats, hip hinges (deadlifts, for example), lunges, steps-ups—stretch and strengthen your hip muscles in some way. So if you strength train and do a variety of these sorts of movements, you’re probably working these important muscles without even realizing it. On the other hand, if you mostly focus on exercise methods that have you doing the same movement over and over again, like running or cycling, there’s a good chance your hips aren’t as strong as they should be. And that can have a negative impact on not only your workouts, but how you move through life in general.
To help you strengthen these important muscles, Miranda put together a list of exercises, below. They include dynamic warm-up moves, meant to activate your hip muscles and prep them for the bigger movements to come; functional moves that train basic movement patterns, like the squat, hip hinge, and lunge; functional plyometric exercises that train explosive power; and a few moves that get you moving in different planes of motion, or directions.
You could do these moves all together as a single workout, or, as Miranda suggests, split them in half and do the first part one day and the second part another—”but do the warm-up with each one,” she says. Those first three moves are meant to not only “wake up” the muscles, but also get your brain ready for the movement patterns to come. For that reason, she says that doing the first three moves “would be a fantastic warm-up before any workout.”
Modeling the moves is Heather Lin, a New York City resident who does her best to fit exercise into her busy life, whether she’s biking home from work, deadlifting in the gym, kicking a heavy bag in Muay Thai, or pouring all of her effort into a bootcamp class.
Equipment needed for some moves: one medium-weight looped mini resistance band (like this), one medium-weight long resistance band (like this), a set of medium-to-heavy dumbbells, one heavy kettlebell, and a step or bench.
Do this circuit before any of the other exercises. You can also use this warm-up before your next cardio or regular strength workout.
- Double Banded Pull Through — 12-15 reps
- Side Plank With Knee Drive — 5-8 reps each leg
- Banded Hip March — 5-8 reps each leg
- Do 2-3 times.
Choose a few of these exercises to do as a circuit—Miranda suggests doing half one day and half another. Do 3 sets of each. You can also do all of these exercises for a full workout if you’d like.
- Bulgarian Split Squat — 12-15 reps each leg
- Step Up to Reverse Lunge — 12-15 reps each leg
- Dumbbell Sumo Squat — 8-10 reps each leg
- Kickstand Romanian Deadlift — 5-8 reps each leg
- Explosive Sprinters Lunge — 5-8 reps each leg
- Banded Jump Squat — 5-8 reps each leg
- Kettlebell Swing — 10-12 reps
- Lateral Lunge — 10-12 reps
- Banded Marching Hip Bridge — 10-12 reps