The Best Hip Exercises For Women
The shape and size of women’s hips are often scrutinized, but the muscles that surround the hip joints play a much more important role than how they look.
From helping to move the legs, to stabilising the pelvis and core, the hips play a huge part in everything we do, from sitting to standing.
Here, PureGym Personal and Assistant Gym Manager at PureGym Southampton Bitterne Trainer Emma Dunkley looks at the best exercises for women’s hips and why stretching and strengthening the hips is so important.
What Muscles Make Up The Hips?
There are multiple muscles that make up the hips, with the main ones being:
The glutes are the group of muscles which sit on the back and side of the hips. They help to abduct the legs (moving them away from the midline), rotate the hips internally and externally, and extend the legs (pushing them backwards).
The adductors are the group of muscles that run from the inside of the groin to the knee. These muscles help to adduct the legs (bringing them to the midline), flex the legs (bringing them forward), and internally rotate the hips.
The hip flexors sit at the front of the hips, running up to the middle of the torso. They help to flex the legs and torso, and rotate the hips externally.
The piriformis also sits at the front of the hips, and helps with external rotation of the hips, and with hip abduction.
What Are The Benefits Of Hip Exercises For Women?
Strengthening the hip muscles has multiple benefits, including:
Better posture. The hip muscles help to keep the pelvis in a stable, neutral position. Imbalances between the hip muscles can cause pelvic postural issues like anterior pelvic tilt, which can cause poor posture.
Reduced pain. The hips are connected to both the core and the legs, and issues with the hips can cause pain in the lower back, knees, feet, and more. Strong, healthy hips can help to improve joint and muscular pain and decrease future risk of injury.
Healthy range of motion. Stretching and strengthening the hips can improve flexibility, increasing your pain-free range of movement.
Improved balance. The hips help to stabilise the core, which can lead to better overall balance and stability.
Preserve and build bone density. Resistance training exercises can help to preserve and build bone density, which is particularly important for women who are more prone to osteoporosis, especially following the menopause.
Ease of daily activities. The hip muscles help with almost every lower body movement and strengthening the muscles will improve efficiency and endurance in day to day life.
Better lifts. Improving strength and mobility in the hips will help with sports and weightlifting, including better squat depth, jumping power, speed, and more.
What Causes Weak, Stiff, Or Painful Hips?
One of the main reasons people struggle with tight and weak hip muscles is a sedentary lifestyle. Prolonged periods of sitting mean the hip muscles are inactive for most of the day, and often do not have their full range of motion used. This can quickly lead to a loss of strength and mobility.
Poor posture can also cause weak or tight hips (and vice versa). Tight or weak muscles in one area of the body can lead to other muscles overcompensating.
There are potential medical causes that can cause hip pain too, including arthritis, differences in limb length, and soft tissue injuries like bursitis. It’s always worth speaking to a doctor or physiotherapist to rule out any pain, especially if it’s a sudden onset of pain.
Can Hip Exercises Help To Lose Fat?
Hip exercises won’t spot reduce fat from the hips, but they can help to tone this area. The only way to lose fat is through a calorie deficit, and even then it’s not possible to choose where fat comes from. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the hips will help to shape this area and create a more sculpted appearance.
The Best Hip Exercises For Women
For healthy hips, you need to both strengthen and stretch the muscle groups.
Best Exercises To Strengthen The Hips
Add some of these exercises to your leg day workout or create a 30 minute hip focused workout you can do once a twice a week. Start with a level you can do 3-4 sets of 8 reps and work up to 12 reps, then increase the intensity by adding weight or time under tension so you can only manage 8 reps, and repeat.
Squats are an incredible lower body compound exercise, which means they train multiple joints and strengthen multiple muscle groups. All the hip muscles are worked in the squat, along with the thigh muscles, calves, and core.
Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart. Brace the core (think about tensing the muscles while pulling the belly button in towards the spine) and then sink the hips down by hinging slightly forward while bending the knees. Once the thighs are at least parallel with the floor, drive through the feet to push back up to standing.
You can find instructions for different squat variations here if you want to add weight to your squats.
Glute bridges strengthen the glutes and stretch the hip flexors and are great for combatting long periods of sitting.
Lie on your back and place your feet flat on the floor close to your glutes. Engage the core and pull your belly button into the lower back to create a neutral spine, the push through the glutes to bring your hips and lower back off the floor, creating a straight line from your knees to your chest. Pause before slowly lowering back to the floor, ensuring you keep your core engaged to prevent your lower back from overextending.
Lateral step ups
Lateral step ups, or side step ups, strengthen the glutes in extension and abduction and strengthens and stretches the adductors.
Start by standing to the right of a step or box. Place the right foot on the box and push through the foot to bring your body off the floor before gently tapping or stepping your left foot on the box. Return your left foot to the floor by bending the right knee and hinging at the hips. Complete desired reps and repeat on the other side.
We have more tips for lateral step ups here.
Side lying hip raises.
Side lying hip raises also train abduction while stretching the adductors.
Lie on your right side with legs extended out and stacked on top of each other. You can rest your head on your hand for support. Slowly raise your left leg up to the ceiling, making sure to keep it slightly behind your torso to engage the glutes. Hold at the top for a second before returning to the start. Finish your reps and repeat on both sides.
You can make this exercise harder by holding a weight on your thigh or wrapping a resistance band around both legs. Find more advice for side lying hip abduction here.
Donkey kicks are a glute exercise that trains hip extension. It can be done bodyweight only, with bands, or by holding a dumbbell in the knee crease.
From kneeling, go on to all fours so hands are in line with shoulders and knees in line with hips. Engage the core to create a neutral spine. Keeping the knee bent at 90 degrees, kick back the right leg until your foot is facing the ceiling. Hold for a second before returning to the start. Finish reps and repeat on the other side.
Learn how to do donkey kicks and other glute kickback variations here.
Hip adductor/ abductor machine
Most gyms have hip adductor and abductor machines (sometimes combined into one) that allow you to train the glute abductors and adductors.
To use the machines, select an appropriate weight and sit in the chair. For adductors, you want the pads set wide with your knees on the outside, then squeeze your legs together to bring the pads in. For abductors, you want the pads close together with your knees on the outside, then push your legs apart to drive the pads away.
Fire hydrants are similar to donkey kicks but performed laterally, with the leg raised to the side instead of the back. This is a great glute exercise that strengthens hip abduction.
Start on hands and knees, core engaged with a neutral spine. Keeping the knee bent to 90 degrees, sweep one leg out to the side until it’s parallel with the floor. Hold for a second before returning to the start position. Finish your reps on one side and repeat on the other side.
Best Exercises To Stretch The Hips
Stretching the hips can help to relieve stiffness and improve your flexibility. Stretching after a workout when your muscles are warm will help to avoid injury and also allow you to get deeper into the stretch.
Try holding each stretch for three sets of 30 seconds, or one set of 60 seconds but slowly making the stretch deeper with each breath.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch
The kneeling hip flexor stretch helps to stretch the hip flexors and can help to combat tightness caused by periods of sitting.
From kneeling, step one foot forward so both knees are bent 90 degrees with the back shin on the floor. Tuck your pelvis under to create a neutral spine and then lean forward until you feel a stretch at the front of your hips, then hold. You can also do this stretch dynamically by leaning into the stretch for a few seconds, returning to the start position, and repeating several times.
The butterfly stretch stretches the adductors and groin.
Sit on the floor and place the soles of your feet together in front of you to create a diamond shape with your legs. Bring the feet as close to your groin as possible, then gently lean forward while maintaining a neutral spine. You can also press lightly on your knees to take them closer to the floor.
90/90 hip stretch
The 90/90 stretch can improve internal and external hip rotation and help with overall hip mobility.
Sit on the floor and place one leg in front of your body so both the knee and foot are on the floor with the knee bent 90 degrees. Position the other leg to the side with the knee bent 90 degrees, foot and knee both on the floor. Keeping your back straight, gently hinge forward while keeping both hips in contact with the floor. Repeat on both sides.
Figure four stretch
The figure four stretches the hips, glutes, and lower back, as well as the IT band (fibres that run from the outside of the hips).
Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Place your right ankle on your left knee and draw the left thigh towards your chest so you can grab the thigh. Keeping your lower back on the floor, gently pull your legs towards your chest. Repeat on both sides.
Leg swings are a dynamic stretch that can be used as a warm-up or between leg exercises to improve mobility.
Stand side on to a wall, with your hand on the wall for support. Keeping your torso upright, hips squared and legs straight, swing the leg furthest away from the wall forward as high as you can, before swinging it back as far as you can. Repeat this 5-10 times then switch sides.
Aim to strengthen and stretch the hips twice a week and you should start to see an improvement in how you feel within a few weeks. Noticeable mobility gains can take a few months so monitoring how stretches feel, squat depth, and overall ease of movement, is a good way to track small improvements.
Ready to get started? Find your nearest PureGym here.