Hip abduction is the movement of the leg away from the midline of the body. We use this action every day when we step to the side, get out of bed, and get out of the car.
The hip abductors are important and often forgotten muscles that contribute to our ability to stand, walk, and rotate our legs with ease.
Not only can hip abduction exercises help you get a tight and toned backside, they can also help to prevent and treat pain in the hips and knees. Hip abduction exercises can benefit men and women of all ages, especially athletes.
Anatomy of hip abduction
The hip abductor muscles include the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae (TFL).
They not only move the leg away from the body, they also help rotate the leg at the hip joint. The hip abductors are necessary for staying stable when walking or standing on one leg. Weakness in these muscles can cause pain and interfere with proper movement.
Benefits of hip abduction exercises
Reduce knee valgus
Knee valgus refers to when the knees cave inward, giving a “knock-kneed” appearance. This is most commonly seen in young women and older adults or in those with muscle imbalances or improper form during exercise.
Research has shown that knee valgus is associated with lack of hip strength and that hip abduction exercises can improve the condition.
Better muscle activation and performance
The hip abductors are closely related to the core muscles and are crucial for balance and athletic activity. Due to extended time spent sitting during the day, many people develop weak gluteus muscles.
Being inactive for a long time can lead to the body essentially “turning off” these muscles, making them harder to use during exercise. This can make your body resort to using other muscles not meant for those tasks.
Using the wrong muscles can lead to pain, poor performance, and difficulty with certain movements. Techniques to help increase activation of the gluteus medius during squats, such as using a resistance band around the knees, can increase overall performance.
Weakness in the hip abductors, particularly the gluteus medius, may lead to overuse injuries, patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. PFPS can cause pain behind the kneecap when you sit for long periods or when going down stairs.
Studies have found that people with PFPS are more likely to have hip weakness than those who don’t suffer from knee pain. This supports the idea that hip abductor strength is important when it comes to knee health and stability.
In addition to exercises that strengthen the quadriceps, hip abductors, and hip rotators, treatment for PFPS typically includes anti-inflammatory drugs, rest, and stretching of the muscles surrounding the hip and knee.
Effectiveness of hip abduction exercises
It’s not clear whether hip abduction weakness is a cause or a result of knee problems. Findings about the relationship between hip abduction and knee issues are mixed. In general, though, strengthening these muscles delivers benefits.
A 2008 study showed positive results with a six-week exercise program that included strengthening the hip abductors. Physical function was significantly related to hip abductor strength at two, four, and six weeks.
A 2011 study looked at the effectiveness of a hip abductor strengthening program among 25 participants, 15 of whom had PFPS. They found that after three weeks, participants with PFPS saw an increase in strength and a decrease in pain.
Hip abduction exercises can offer many benefits. Often used in both the therapy settings and among bodybuilders and weightlifters, these exercises help strengthen important muscles needed for stabilization and injury prevention.
Exercises you can do to improve hip abductor strength include lying side leg lifts, clamshells, and banded side steps or squats.