Right smack in the middle of your body are your hips. As the junction between your upper and lower bodies, strong hips enable both to move smoothly and efficiently.
“Your hips create a lot of motion throughout the body, because they house a lot of its major muscle groups,” says Openfit fitness specialist Cody Braun.
Thankfully, there’s a fix: regular hip workouts comprised of moves that strengthen all of the key players that power your daily movements.
11 of the Best Hip Exercises for Strength and Shape
The following hip-strengthening exercises span the continuum of hip movement. Sprinkle them throughout your existing workouts, or follow their respective programs for total-body fitness.
1. Lateral Banded Walk
Benefits: This move pairs squats with a side-to-side walk using a resistance band to really set your quads, glutes, and abductors on fire.
- Loop a resistance band around both legs just above your knees, and stand with your feet together.
- Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
- Maintaining the squat, raise your body several inches as you step your right foot out to the right, then lower again fully.
- Again raise your body several inches as you bring your left foot together with your right and lower again fully.
- Repeat to the opposite side, and continue alternating sides for reps. Perform an equal number of reps on each side.
2. Curtsy Lunge
Benefits: This variation on the classic exercise offers the same glute-, quad-, hamstring-, and adductor-building benefits as the original, but the addition of a chopping motion means you’re also working your obliques, shoulders, and transverse abdominis.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a sandbag (or dumbbell) at your left shoulder using both hands. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your back flat and your core engaged, simultaneously step your left foot behind and outside your right leg into a curtsy lunge as you lower the sandbag across your body to the outside of your right thigh.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, and continue for reps. Complete all reps on one side before repeating on the other.
3. Side Leg Lifts with Band
- Loop a resistance band around both legs just above the knee, and lie on your left side with your legs extended and feet stacked. Prop yourself up on your left forearm, keeping your elbow directly below your shoulder, and place your right hand on the floor in front of you.
- Engaging your core, raise both legs a few inches off the floor. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your left leg hovering just above the floor, raise your top leg as high as you can, then return to the starting position, making sure to maintain tension on the band. Repeat the movement for reps.
- From the starting position, raise your right (top) leg several inches and maintain that position as you lift your left leg to meet it. Lower your left leg, and repeat the movement for reps.
- Switch sides, repeating the entire sequence. Perform equal reps on each side.
4. Forearm plank kick
Benefits: While the plank is traditionally a core exercise, the addition of a side kick turns it into a great hip-strengthening move. Your glutes and obliques will be on fire after this one.
- Assume a plank position, with your weight on your forearms, elbows stacked beneath your shoulders, and palms on the floor.
- Keeping your back flat and your hips low, swing your left leg out to the side as far as you can, keeping the rest of your body stable.
- Reverse the movement, and repeat with the right foot, alternating sides for reps.
5. Low Stance Jack
Benefits: Get your heart rate up with this dynamic exercise that works your glutes, quads, and obliques.
- Standing with your feet together, hinge forward at your waist, and bend your knees, holding your hands just in front of your chest with your elbows out to the sides.
- Stay low as you simultaneously jump your legs out to each side and reach for your left foot with your right hand. Jump your feet back together softly as you bring your hands back to your chest. -Jump your legs out to the sides again, reaching this time for your right foot with your left hand, and then return to the starting position.
- Continue alternating sides for reps, performing an equal number on each.
Make it harder: Loop a resistance band around your ankles or thighs.
6. Side Plank Hip Lift
Benefits: The side plank hip lift exercise strengthens the glutes and abductors in concert with your obliques as you lift your hips upward, while promoting hip stabilization throughout the move.
- Lie on your left side with your legs extended and feet stacked, propping yourself up onto your left forearm. Place your right hand on your right hip.
- Lift your hips as far toward the ceiling as you can, then slowly lower them without touching the floor. Keep your pelvis perpendicular to the floor throughout the movement.
- Continue for reps, then switch sides and repeat, performing equal reps on each.
7. Fire Hydrant
Benefits: Squeeze in multi-muscle benefits with the fire hydrant exercise that targets the glutes and hamstrings as well as the obliques.
- Get on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Maintaining the 90-degree bend in your left knee, raise it out to the side as high as you can while keeping your hips parallel with the floor. Your head should be neutral and your gaze fixed three to five inches on the floor in front of you throughout the move.
- Press your heel behind you until your leg is fully extended.
- Bring your knee back toward your elbow, squeezing your obliques at the top of the movement.
- Continue for reps, and repeat with your right knee. Perform equal reps on both sides.
8. Glute Bridge March
Benefits: Nail your glute max, core, hamstrings, and hip flexors with this marching variation of the banded glute bridge.
- Loop a resistance band around both legs, above the knee. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping your left foot on the floor, engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you simultaneously lift your hips toward the ceiling and pull your right knee toward your chest.
- Slowly lower your hips, tapping your right foot and butt on the floor, and repeat.
- Continue for reps, then switch legs and repeat the sequence. Perform equal reps per side.
9. Side Plank Leg Raise
Benefits: Lifting and lowering your leg to the side will zero in on the glute medius. You’ll also recruit your core and glute max muscles to maintain balance.
- Assume a side plank position on your left side, with your feet stacked, your left forearm and both hands on the floor in front of you, and your body straight from head to heels.
- Lift your right leg as high as you can, then slowly lower it and tap your toes on the floor behind you. Repeat the movement, tapping the floor in front of you.
- Continue alternating for reps, then switch sides and repeat. Perform equal reps on both sides.
Make it easier: Keep your hips on the floor throughout the move.
10. Step-up Side Hold
Benefits: The lateral step-up targets your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, while the hold forces your core and stabilizer muscles (chiefly, the glutes) to work overtime.
- Stand holding a dumbbell or weighted plate at chest level with both hands, and place your right foot on a bench or box beside you so that your hip, knee, and ankle are all bent 90 degrees.
- Keeping your chest up and shoulders back, push your body up with your right leg until it’s straight, and tap your left foot on the bench. Slowly lower your left foot to the floor and repeat for 10 reps.
- Step up onto the bench, lower into a shallow squat on your right leg, and float your left leg out in front of you. Hold for 10 seconds before lowering your left foot to the floor.
- Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Make it easier: Perform the movement without additional weight.
11. Heel Curve
Benefits: This seated move targets your glutei medii and abductors, while keeping your core engaged as you maintain balance.
- Sit with both feet flat on the floor, and loop a resistance band around each, holding the handles at your chest. Keeping your core engaged, lean back slightly, creating a C curve in the spine.
- Lift your feet to approximately chest height and separate them as wide as you can before tapping your heels on the floor. Again, lift your feet and bring them together, tapping the floor with your heels once more.
- Continue the sequence for reps, maintaining tension on the band throughout the movement.
Make it easier: Reduce your range of motion, or lift and separate one foot at a time.
Anatomy of the Hips
While they’re actually joints, we’re using “hips” here as a catch-all for the various muscles that surround and support your pelvis.
The muscles of your butt help straighten your hip joints when you stand up, and work in concert with the abductors (muscles that draw limbs away from the body’s midline) on the outside of your hips to lift your legs out to the sides.
In fact, your glutes — namely the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius — are responsible for powering much of your lower body’s movement. They also tend to become severely inactive as the result of modern, sedentary lifestyles.
You’ll find your adductor muscles along your inner thighs. They work to bring your legs together.
These muscles extend from your spine to your thighs, and activate when you bring your knees toward your chest. They’re also passively engaged anytime you’re in a seated position (i.e. most of the time for the majority of us), so they may pay the stiffest price for everyday inactivity.
The hamstrings bend your knees and, together with your glutes, help straighten your hips. This muscle group extends along the backs of your thighs, attaching at your knees and hips.
Together, all of these muscles represent the transfer point for many major movement patterns. “When you’re stepping or running, the movements are transferred from the legs to the upper body through the hips and the core,” Braun says. “So it’s important that the hips are strong and mobile.”
Why Strong Hips Are Important
Now, when we talk about strengthening the hips, we’re usually referring to the glute max and medius muscles, says Braun. “Those are two of the more underworked, underappreciated muscles,” he explains.
When your glutes are weak, the rest of your body suffers. This is because your body will alter its biomechanics to complete a movement without using the glutes as primary movers. For example, if your glutes can’t extend your hips sufficiently, your lower back will pick up the slack, leading to tightness and even pain.
And don’t think you’re safe from hip-related pain or injuries if you play sports. “A lot of times, even then, the hips have been so turned off that they’re not firing properly,” says Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S. “They’re ultimately what often cause injury in sports.”
Your best bet for avoiding hip pain and related injury is to perform hip exercises that emphasize the glutes and encourage hip abduction, Davis says.
How to structure your hip workouts
This will depend largely on your goal. If you’re looking to build strength, stick with heavy sets of 1-5 reps. Looking to add mass to your butt and thighs? Six to 12 reps with a moderate weight or intensity will be your sweet spot. And for muscular endurance, shoot for 15 or more reps with a light weight.
That said, some hip exercises will require you to perform higher repetitions in order to feel the muscle working, especially if you don’t have a resistance band handy (think: clamshells or lying hip raises).
As for frequency, Braun recommends working your hips two to three times per week on non-consecutive days, allowing 48 to 72 hours for your muscles to recover before hitting them again. You can aid in that recovery by practicing some hip-opening yoga poses on your days off.
What if You Just Want to Get Rid of Fat on Your Hips?
Now, maybe your goal isn’t muscular strength, size, or endurance. Many people just want to trim excess fat from their hips. If this is you, know this: there’s no such thing as spot fat reduction. In other words, you can’t target a certain area for fat loss.
“Your body likes to lose fat from different places, and everybody is different,” Braun says. Depending on your sex and your genetics, you may find it easy to slim some areas, while others stubbornly hang on to the extra fluff.
While you can’t choose where the weight comes off, you can eventually slim your hips so long as you stay consistent in your training. Cardiovascular exercise can help you lose some fat, but strength training serves a twofold purpose, burning fat while developing muscle for all-over tightening. “The more you build a muscle, the more [that part of the body] is going to firm up,” Braun says.
Your best bet for losing weight anywhere — whether in your hips, abdomen, or back — of course, is to keep your nutrition in check. Instead of trying to dramatically alter your intake, Braun recommends focusing on one or two habits that you can change right away. For example, instead of grabbing a sugar-rich energy bar or drink on your way out the door in the morning, blend up a protein-packed smoothie.
Whatever your approach, a coordinated plan that combines training and proper nutrition is the most effective way to achieve results.