Mar 12, 2023

Hip Abduction: Tools, Exercises, Why It's Beneficial

Flexibility and strength training are good for the abductor muscles

Hip abduction is the action that moves your thighs straight out to the side, like during the first half of a jumping jack. This movement is primarily performed by the gluteus medius muscle—one of three muscles commonly called the glutes. Hip abduction exercises strengthen abduction movements and improve pelvic stability, particularly when you're standing on one leg.

This article discusses hip abduction exercises, how to do them, what they're good for, and what happens when your hip abductor muscles are weak.

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The hip abductors are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis and controlling leg movements. Hip abduction is essential for daily activities such as walking and getting into and out of your car, bed, and shower.

While these exercises won't make your hips "wider," they can give your backside a rounder appearance.

Hip pain is often categorized as orthopedic (related to muscles or bones) or non-orthopedic (related to something else) and is usually caused by one of the following:

Exercises that target your hip abductors can be performed in various positions. You can also use a machine in the gym designed specifically for hip abduction.

Whether you're exercising your hip abductors for fitness or rehabilitation, you may consider using a hip abduction machine. Here's how to do it safely:

Keep your toes pointed forward throughout the exercise to ensure you target the correct muscles when performing side-lying hip abduction. Perform as follows:

Make this exercise more challenging by adding a cuff weight (between 3 and 5 pounds) to your ankle.

Clamshells target the hip abductors on the leg that are positioned on top. Perform as follows:

If your hips start to rotate backward during this exercise, decrease the height that you lift your top leg.

Standing hip abduction works muscles on both sides of the body simultaneously—open chain hip abduction on the leg that is moving and closed chain hip abduction on the leg you are standing on. Perform as follows:

Make this exercise more challenging by adding ankle cuff weights or wrapping an elastic resistance band around your lower legs.

Start with a thinner resistance band and work your way up to thicker ones to increase tension when you can perform it with the proper technique. Too much resistance shifts the pressure on your spine, leading to back pain. Perform as follows:

Make monster walk exercises harder as your strength improves by placing the resistance band around your ankles. Perform as follows:

You can do monster walks, walking forward or backward.

Before trying banded squats, make sure you can squat without resistance, using the proper technique. Perform as follows:

The hip hiking exercise targets the hip abductors of the leg you are standing on. Perform as follows:

Hold onto a sturdy surface, such as a handrail or the back of a chair, to assist with balance during this exercise.

Consult a healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise routine. If done incorrectly, some exercises can lead to injury or increased pain.

The gluteus medius is the primary hip abductor muscle. It is located deep in your gluteus maximus—the main muscle that gives your buttocks their shape. You can feel the top of this muscle above the gluteus maximus. To find this muscle:

The tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle is a small muscle on the outside of the hip that helps with several hip movements, including abduction. To find this muscle:

If you have difficulty finding your TFL, place your fingers on the outside of your right hip. Balance on your left foot and lift your right leg out to the side (abduction). You should feel the muscle tighten under your fingers.

If you have weak hip abductors, your body may overcompensate by engaging surrounding muscles to overcome the weakness. This can lead to pain, weakness, or injuries in the pelvis, knees, and ankles and contribute to various symptoms and conditions, including the following:

Hip abduction is the action of moving your legs outward and to the side. Muscles that perform hip abduction—primarily gluteus medius—also help maintain pelvic stability. Strong hip abductors can help prevent other symptoms or conditions, such as low back pain, hip pain, and patellofemoral syndrome. Hip abduction exercises can be performed in a variety of positions.

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By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHTAubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.