Whether you’ve had hip pain for years or are just looking for new workout moves, these hip exercises will help strengthen your hip muscles and increase mobility over time. Stretching and building up muscles that move our hips will aid in creating more stability and flexibility that will allow for us to move easier and more pain free AND prevent injury. By working out the muscles that support our pelvis and femur (thigh bone), we can start help our bodies age gracefully!
Before diving into exercises, we need to learn a bit about the anatomy of our hips. Our hip bones, or pelvic bones (right), are actually 3 bones (on each side) that have fused together. These strong bones support nearly 30 muscles to help your body bend, twist, walk, run, and hop.
The femur, or thigh bone, connects to your pelvis similarly to the way your arm connects to your shoulder; called a ball and socket joint. This means that we can rotate our hips nearly 360° (all the way around) for full range of motion.
However, with age comes deterioration of the cartilage between these two joints. Cartilage creates a cushion between the bones so that they don’t scrape together and cause pain as we move through life (osteoarthritis). Another thing that can happen as we age is loss of bone density (osteoporosis). This means that bones won’t be as strong to support your body weight, the impact of a fall, or your upcoming practice with Cowboy’s kicker Greg Zuerlein.
There are many muscles that attach to the pelvis and femur that can be stretched and exercised for optimal support as we age.
The Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus form what people usually refer to as the glutes or the butt. The Gluteus Maximus is the largest of the 3 and helps is the main muscle in helping us stand in the upright position and is the main hip extensor. The Gluteus Medius helps to stabilize the pelvis and works to rotate our legs inwards and outwards. The Gluteus Minimus also aids in rotation of our legs and is key in helping us stand on one foot.
Your hip flexors are a muscle group that aids in supporting the hip bones and with twisting, bending, and walking. The hip abductors help with twisting as well as moving your leg away from your body. Hamstrings are responsible for many hip and knee movements like walking, bending your knees, squatting to pick something up off the floor, or kicking yourself in the butt. Your gastrocnemius (the largest of your calf muscles) helps flex your knee and foot. The quadriceps, or quads, are actually 4 muscles that work to extend the knee and are very important in walking, squatting and going up stairs.
Getting Started: Always start with stretching. To avoid injury, you want to make sure that your muscles are warmed up and loose before we start exercising them. You can do this sitting on the floor or standing. Just make sure that you are moving slowly and not stretching too far or to the point of pain. Good stretching exercises can include toe touches, toe kicks, butterfly stretches, and toe/knee/hip circles. Always make sure that you have something nearby to grab ahold of incase you loose your balance.
- Hip Circles are a great way to work all muscles needed to rotate your hip and work on flexibility and range of motion. Make sure you have something to stabilize yourself and bring one leg off the ground a few inches and away from your body to the side keeping the rest of your body still and stable. Draw circles with your whole leg on the ground below you. Aim for about 1 minutes of circles. As you feel more comfortable, work on making your circles bigger or increasing repetitions. Repeat with the other leg.
- Step-ups can help with strengthening your core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads as well as provide some cardio if you do a decent number of repetitions. For this exercise you will need one stair step. Position your body so that one foot is on one step and the other on the floor or one step down (it should look like your about to go up the stairs sideways). Shift your weight to the foot that is on the step and bring your body to the standing position (you should be standing on one leg with the other leg dangling in the air). Then, bend your knee and bring your other foot back down to the ground. Repeat! Remember to maintain good posture and to switch to the other leg after 10+ repetitions.
- Hip Marches will help build muscle in the hips and thighs while providing a safe way to exercise if you feel off balance doing standing exercises. Sit on the edge of a chair place your feet on the floor. Slowly lift one leg a few inches off the ground and then slowly place it back down. Switch to the other leg, and repeat. Do this 10 times for each leg. If you want to up the ante, lift your leg higher or increase your repetitions or both! To add a bone strengthening element, stomp your foot back to the ground. (This is a great exercise to do during commercials while watching TV!)
- Side flutters… time to get on the floor! Lay on one side, one leg on top of the other, on a mat or the carpet. Reach your top leg up to the ceiling and then back down. Repeat and switch sides/legs (about 10 repetitions per leg)! To get more out of this, try increasing your repetitions or adding a resistance band around your thighs just above your knee. Remember to maintain control throughout the exercise. This exercise helps to stabilize the hips from the outside by strengthening the abductors.
- Bridges work your core, hamstrings, and glues and will help strengthen muscles that support good posture. While laying on the ground, roll to laying on your back and bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor about 8-12 inches from your booty and hips width apart. Keeping your shoulders on the ground, lift your pelvis up until your body, all the way from your chest to your knees, is a straight line. Gently and with control, bring your pelvis back to the floor and repeat! To make this workout more challenging, try adding a weight just over the pelvic region or try only using one leg at a time to balance and lift your pelvis into the bridge stance.
- While in this position try stomping your feet (one after the other) to get another bone strengthening exercise in!
Cool Down Stretching: Make sure that you stretch these muscles again after working out! This will help ensure that the muscles are getting good blood flow while allowing for your heart rate to get back down to normal.
Intensity: Only do as much as your body will allow at first, and gradually work your way up to more repetitions or a more challenging version of the exercise. Make sure that you are always in control of your body and maintain balance during these exercises. If you ever feel off balance, stop the exercise and move somewhere where you can hold onto a sturdy object to maintain your balance.