The 5 Best Hip Stability Exercises

muscles of the hip

Humans are unique in that we are the only mammals that function upright and are bipedal. This function allows us to stand and walk for extended periods of time, jump, run and even climb.

The human pelvis is designed to allow for some mobility but mostly acts as a place of major stability so we can function appropriately during these tasks.

As discussed in the previous Family of Fast blog articles, the function of the pelvis and its surrounding musculature is extremely important for human function.

What Do The Muscles Of The Hip Do?

Humans have the largest gluteal muscles due to being bipedal. These muscles of the hip not only allow the legs to rotate and move in multiple directions but also to provide stability.

The hip muscles act like a “rotator cuff of the leg and pelvis” in that the muscles also provide isometric forces of the joints to ensure proper positioning for force production and absorption.

Who Are Hip Stability Exercises For & How Should You Perform Them?

The following exercises are very basic, foundational moves that anyone ranging from a beginner of fitness to an advanced athlete can do. These exercises are some simple, safe and effective moves used to train the motor control of the muscles of the pelvis to ensure proper stability.

As with all exercises, it is important that they are executed with a pure focus to ensure proper form and technique.

The reality is that during high-intensity workouts and hard efforts, some form and technique goes out the window.

Revisiting basics helps to prevent compensatory techniques and limit the chances of injury. Once these basics are mastered with proper form and technique, advancement to progressions of these concepts is warranted.

Are Hip Exercises For Rehab?

If you notice, some of these exercises look like “rehab” exercises. Ever wonder why that is? Why are athletes seen doing “basic things” in rehab, when they are capable of doing much more advanced moves?

It is because they have found a way to compensate and over route these foundational components.

It’s like having a really nice house on a garbage foundation. Eventually, it is going to collapse.

These exercises are suggestions, and may or may not help to improve any musculoskeletal based pain or dysfunction.

As always, if you are having pain with movements and activity, it is always best to consult a healthcare practitioner to confirm problems and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan.

Exercise #1: Single Leg Bridge And Leg Lock Bridge

single leg bridge exercise for hip

How to perform the exercise:

  1. Start by lying on your back with one leg bent and down and the other leg bent and up.
  2. Place a tennis ball or a lacrosse ball in the crease of your hip. Maintain hip flexion on the side with the ball by holding the ball between your thigh and torso.
  3. While maintaining this position, push through your other foot to raise your hips up. Aim to achieve a straight line from the knee of the leg that is down to the hip and to your shoulder. Ensure NOT to arch your low back.
  4. Make sure to drive the foot on the ground into the floor to help target the gluteals.
  5. This exercise helps to focus on core engagement and hip extension, which translates into more functional movements such as the lunge.
  6. Do 15 times for 2-3 sets on each side.

BEGINNER: If the leg lock with the ball is too advanced due to deficient core and hip flexor function, try holding the opposite leg.

Exercise #2: Side-Lying Hip External Rotation (Clam Shells)

clam shell exercise for hips

I bet everyone has at least seen this exercise at some point. This is a very common exercise used in rehabilitation and also done incorrectly most of the time.

This is also one of those exercises that most people, including athletes, NEED, but never do.

The usual comments in regards to this exercise are it is “ too basic and easy” and “not advanced enough” but that is the point I am trying to drill home.

I cannot tell you how many individuals, especially athletes, which I have treated that are unable to do the basics of movements. This basic exercise lights the hips up!

How to perform the exercise:

  1. Start by lying on your side, feet together with a band of light resistance around the top of your knees.
  2. While keeping the feet together, rotate the top knee away from the bottom knee.
  3. Make sure your pelvis DOES NOT rotate backward.
  4. If your groin starts to face the ceiling, you are doing it wrong. Make sure to stay on your side.
  5. Do 15 times for 2-3 sets on each side.

Research has investigated this movement a lot and it has been shown that pelvic rotation away from the neutral position nullifies the activation and effectiveness of the gluteals during this movement.

BEGINNER: If the band is too hard, then start with the same movement WITHOUT A BAND and hold the leg up for 3 SECONDS. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.

Exercise #3: Standing Three Way Hip Kick

standing three way hip kick exercise

This exercise helps train motor control of the core and pelvis in standing. The goal is to maintain a level pelvis and upright torso during the movement of one leg while standing on the other.

How to perform the exercise:

  1. Start by standing with a band of light resistance around the ankles.
  2. Keeping your pelvis level, kick ONE FOOT LENGTH in front of you while maintaining balance on the other foot.
  3. Return back to both feet together and then kick ONE FOOT LENGTH to the side.
  4. Return back to both feet together and then kick ONE FOOT LENGTH behind you.
  5. Make sure to keep your legs STRAIGHT the whole time. Attempt to do sets WITHOUT touching the foot down.
  6. Repeat 10-15 times each leg. One rep equals one round of the three kicks.

BEGINNER: Start WITHOUT the use of the band. Touching the foot down between each kick to ensure the proper balance is a good way to start with the eventual goal being able to execute kicking in each direction without touching the ground.

Exercise #4: Single Leg Stance With Weight

single leg stance with weight hip exercise

The amount of individuals and especially athletes that cannot stand on one leg efficiently is alarming.

Deficient single-leg stance control is a HUGE risk factor for injury.

If you think standing on one leg is silly, try being injured because of not being able to do the basics. That’s silly.

How to perform the exercise:

  1. Start by standing on one leg by lifting the opposite leg up so the hip is flexed to a 90-degree angle.
  2. Make sure the hips are level and the pelvis isn’t riding up excessively on the leg upside. Also, make sure to keep your torso upright and avoid leaning to one side.
  3. In the hand of the leg upside, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell ranging anywhere from 8-15 pounds. You want the weight to be heavy enough to challenge your balance.
  4. The weight will act to try to pull you over, resulting in targeting the hip muscles on the stance leg. This is where that isometric function of the hip muscles comes into play. The same motor control concept occurs on the stance leg of the previous exercise during the three-way kick.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 5 times each leg.

BEGINNER: If holding a weight is too challenging, then start with REGULAR single-leg stance practice.

If you have a really hard time standing on one leg with the inability to hold your balance for at least 10 SECONDS, then there is some more specific and targeted work that needs to be done in your case.

Consulting a physical therapist or strength and conditioning coach can be of benefit to help improve this movement dysfunction.

Exercise #5: Resisted Hip Side Stepping

resisted hip side stepping exercise

This is another common exercise often seen in rehabilitation and athletic training settings.

This exercise targets motor control training of the torso and pelvis with a dynamic component of lateral movement. It is often done incorrectly as many individuals tend to compensate with their lumbar spine by arching their low back and sticking their hips out.

Research has investigated this exercise as well, demonstrating that poor positioning of the pelvis reduces the activation of the gluteals.

Tucking the tailbone down and drawing the belly in while staying upright during the sidestepping is the proper way to train this movement. It ensures proper pelvic positioning through gluteal function.

Sidestepping should only be as far out as you can maintain proper form without leaning or waddling at the torso. If you look like a penguin when moving along, then you’re doing it wrong.

Repeat for 3-4 laps of 25 feet.

BEGINNER: Start without the use of a band. Work the sidestepping just outside shoulder length while making sure to maintain proper pelvic and torso positioning. Once you have the technique down you can then add a resistance band.

The Bottom Line On The Best Hip Stability Exercise For Athletes

In review, these exercises are basic foundation builders. You cannot go wrong with adding them to your program, especially during an off-season strength block or even on a taper week.

These exercises are designed to work motor control or in other words the neuromuscular component of executing a movement properly.

These exercises are different than a pure strength training session involving heavy lifts and compound movements such as powerlifting, Olympic lifting or plyometrics.

These exercises ensure you have the basic building blocks in place so you can engage in more advanced movements and activity.

About The Author:

Michael St. George, PT, DPT  (@icore_stgeorge on Instagram) is a physical therapist who works for Excel Physical Therapy and Fitness, which is a private practice that is based around the greater Philadelphia region and suburbs. He is FMS, SFMA, Y Balance, and Motor Control Test Certified with eight years of experience in outpatient orthopedics and sports medicine. His training consists of experience working with physicians and surgeons from the Rothman Institute and therapists in his field specializing in various manual techniques and advanced treatment procedures.

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