Have you ever wondered why some people can squat lower, jump higher, or simply bend more easily than you? Well, my friends, there’s a pretty good chance that’s because their hips are strong AF. And by strong, I don’t just mean muscular and toned, but rather stretched to improve flexibility and mobility. In other words: goals.
If you’d like to hop on the healthy hip train, get pumped because I chatted with a handful of the industry’s top trainers for the low-down on all the best exercises to strengthen what Y7 instructor Joanna Cohen calls "the body’s biggest joint space." To be one of those how-is-that-possible people, keep on scrolling for the moves to memorize right now.
Lateral lunge with kettlebell reach
If you’re looking to strengthen your hips, you have to work to stabilize them as well, says Alexis Dreiss, a NASM-certified personal trainer and head coach at Tone House in New York City. Her favorite way to do this is by combining lunges with kettlebell reaches. To perform this exercise, she says to step out into a right lateral lunge with a kettlebell in your left hand for balance. “Step out with your right foot, keeping your hips squared off,” Dreiss instructs. “When you land, make sure your knee is tracking over your second toe and that your sitz bones are pointing diagonally towards the ground.”
As you land, she says to reach out across your body with the kettlebell toward your right foot. “Immediately push off the right and swing the kettlebell laterally as you bring your right knee into a 90-degree balance. Then, repeat,” she advises. When doing so, she says to “be conscious of the plane you are taking your kettlebell in; if it’s too heavy, practice first with no weight until you have the form down. Secondly, remember to reach out just far enough that you can still catch your balance and push off the ground to come back up.” If you reach too far, you will find yourself off balance, which will make it difficult to return to the 90-degree hold.
Table-top hydrant lifts
Ready for a mind-boggling revelation? These movements are actually godsends for strong, healthy hips. To execute the motion, get on all fours and lift one leg at a time out to the side and up to shoulder-height. Hold for a few seconds before bringing your leg down and repeating the motion. For an advanced motion, FlyBarre instructor Brian Slaman says to “nestle a light weight behind your working leg and commit to 20 reps per side.” To avoid injury, he recommends imagining leading the movement with your knee, not your foot. “Keep your spine long and avoid crunching your waist or rocking side to side,” he explains. “Keep your abdominal wall engaged so that your lower back doesn’t get involved.”
Dynamic squat series
“Squats are a great way to improve mobility while strengthening the glutes and quads,” Pure Barre manager of training development and barre kinesiologist Rachelle Reed says. The trick is to perfect the form to enhance your hip agility. “Bring your feet slightly wider than your hips, with your toes pointing straight ahead,” Reed guides. “Reach your arms up by your ears, squat down, and, as you lift, pull the right knee towards the shoulder and reach the right arms down and right.”
Repeat this process for two sets of 15 reps, alternating your legs as you go, then follow it up with two sets of squats with both feet planted firmly on the ground. “Hold your lowest squat position and reach your arms up overhead for 15 seconds,” Reed instructs. “Engage the obliques and hip external rotators to lift the knee up towards your shoulder. Your seat will shift back slightly towards the bottom of your squat. Imagine sitting back into a chair.” If you begin to feel off balance, pay close attention to your heels and press them down into the ground while keeping your knees in line with your toes.
Side-lying leg sweep
Ah, one of my favorite megaformer Pilates moves. SLT manager of instructor operations Melody Davi says to lay on your side with your bottom arm straight and bottom knee bent to 90-degrees. On the megaformer, use three to five springs and loop your foot through the footstrap; on the floor, try using a light ankle weight. “Extend the top, working leg directly in front of your hip (your body should make the letter ‘L’)," Davi instructs. “Keep the straight working leg slightly higher than your hips and slowly sweep it back until your heel is one inch behind you.” From there, pull your leg back to start and repeat the sweeping motion for 90 seconds before finishing with a 30-second pulse. Then, switch to the other leg.
Side-lying leg abduction
Yet another classic glutes movement that also helps to open your hips. “Place a resistance band around your ankles and lay on your side, with your hips, torso, and shoulders in line,” Slaman instructs. “Slowly lengthen and lift your top leg, slightly above the level of your top hip. Hold at the top for two-to-three seconds before slowly bringing your leg back to the starting position.” Repeat this movement for a minimum of 20 reps per side. To avoid injury, Slaman says to “draw your abdominals in and away from the floor and create a slight bend in your supporting leg (the one closest to the floor) to stabilize your body.”
Extension in turnout
Embrace your inner ballerina for a hip exercise that feels oh-so-good. “Extensions help to strengthen the inner and outer thigh muscles, while also challenging you to improve your balance,” Reed explains. “Stand a couple inches in front of a barre or counter, with your back to the barre or wall. Place your hands wide and light on the barre or wall behind you. Bring your heels together and toes apart. Extend your right leg towards hip height and point your toes. Engage your lower abs to maintain a neutral spine. Lower your leg to tap the floor, then lift it back up.” Cycle through the motion for two sets of 15 reps. “After the final set, hold your leg still at your highest point for 15 seconds,” she challenges. “Try to reach one or both arms forward to challenge your balance. Switch legs and repeat.”
AKA a sumo squat, this wide stance is a staple in Pure Barre classes. “It targets the inner and outer thighs and helps to strengthen the hips, while also challenging your core and back muscles to maintain a proud chest throughout,” Reed says. To perfect the movement, walk your feet out wider than your hips, with the toes turned out slightly. “Bend your knees, sinking your seat towards knee level,” Reed instructs. “Engage your core to maintain a neutral spine and avoid an arch in your lower back. Alternate lifting your heels to come to the tippie toes, while you keep your seat low.” Again, do this for a minimum of two sets of 15 reps. Throughout the whole process, the most important thing is to make sure your knees stay stacked over your ankles, as this will prevent misalignment and potential injury.
Supine leg lifts
All hail the hip flexors. “We tend to confuse certain abdominal exercises for movements that are actually addressing our hip flexors, like supine leg lifts or lying on the back, lifting and lowering one leg or both legs at a time,” Cohen says. “While of course these movements do require and build abdominal strength, they also increase our hip flexor range and flexibility and contribute to a dual feeling of strength and openness in our bodies day to day.”
Banded lateral walks
Ready to make your hips (and booty) burn in the very best way? Place a resistance band slightly below your knees and stand with your toes facing forward, slightly wider than your hips. “Perform a traditional squat, holding at the bottom,” Slaman instructs. “Keeping constant tension on the band, take five wide steps to the side.” Once you’ve completed the set, stand to reset, and repeat to the left. “For an advanced challenge, move the band closer to your ankles,” Slaman says, noting that this will make you step further to maintain tension on the band. To prevent injury and benefit your hips, he says to keep most of your weight back toward your heels, not your toes. “Maintain a proud chest and avoid rounding your shoulders forward,” Slaman guides. “Don’t let your knees cave in due to the resistance from the band.”
Worried your hips are too tight to try these moves? Try adding some of Jessica Biel’s favorite hip openers to combat tightness to your routine. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to stretch your hip flexors afterwards!
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