There are over 20 muscles that cross the hip, including the abductors (in the outer thigh), the hip flexors (in front), and the adductors (in the inner thigh), yet strangely enough, these muscles are often ignored in strength training routines. The results of neglect can be serious; when hips are tight, they can affect everything from our ability to bend forward, to overuse of the spine.
By performing exercises that stretch and strengthen our hips, we can avoid pain and injury, improve motion and circulation, and release energy. These are just a few reasons why we should make hip exercises part of our regular exercise routine.
The hip abductors
We use these muscles any time we move our leg away from the body’s midline - for instance, to step out of a car or to jump to the side. By exercising these muscles, we can reduce knee valgus (which give a ‘knock-kneed’ appearance), improve our balance and sporting performance, reduce painful injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome and iliotibial band syndrome, and more.
One simple yet effective exercise to strengthen this muscle group involves lying on one side, with one leg on top of the other, and knees connected by an elastic band. Keep feet together and lift the knee that is on top upwards and back down. Another exercise involves standing up, with a light ankle weight on one leg. Put your hands on your hips and lift the leg with the ankle weight outwards, keeping your trunk steady.
The hip flexors
Because these muscles are located at the front of the hip, they are responsible for important aspects of motion, such as our ability to kick, bend and run. When we sit for long periods they can become tight and cause discomfort or pain. In the same way stretching our thigh and chest muscles is vital before a workout, so too is working on our hip flexors.
To stretch your hip flexor muscles try the half kneeling hip flexor stretch, which involves kneeling on one knee, with the other knee out in front of you at a right angle. Just lunge your upper body forward, feeling a ‘burn’ in the front of your hip. Maintain the stretch for several seconds, repeating the exercise five times.
The hip adductors
These muscles work as ‘assistants’ in the movement of your quadriceps and buttocks. Although they rarely function by themselves, they often need strengthening during rehabilitation for an injury and strengthening them can increase stability and help prevent painful groin injuries.
One popular exercise for the hip adductors is the lateral squat, which stretches the muscles of the inner thigh as well. Just stand with your legs wide apart and your feet slightly turned outwards. Hold a weights bar behind your head and lunge down to one side, keeping the other leg straight and extended. You should feel your inner thigh muscles stretching.
Sometimes the cause of pain isn't muscle tightness but inflammation. Back up supplements with a diet that is rich in essential fatty acids, through foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. If pain persists, see your doctor.
The hips comprise many muscle groups. In addition to playing an important role in lower body movement, these muscles are important for increasing stability and reducing one’s injury risk. Just a few minutes of stretching a day is a great time investment, so if you work out daily, try to give your hips the importance they deserve.
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