Fitness Magazine

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your HipsQ: I have a student who is already very flexible in the hips. Can you suggest how to strengthen the hips in general?

A: There are many reasons for keeping your hip muscles strong over time. Foremost is the tendency for muscles to get smaller and weaker as we age via the process of skeletal muscle atrophy (see Age-Related Muscle Loss and Sarcopenia). Actively keeping these muscles strong through regular asana practice may slow or stall that process. Another reason to maintain or improve hip strength is that general weakness in your hip muscles will negatively influence your overall ability to remain active in everyday activities as well as more active pastimes that we want to keep doing, such as dancing, hiking, or swimming. Maintaining your ability to balance will also be impacted by how strong our hip muscles are, as well—the stronger, the better. And those who are recovering from illness that required you to be physically inactive for a while or who are healing from a broken bone in your hips or legs—especially hip fractures—will need to work to regain the strength you have lost during your convalescence. And those with soft tissue or muscular problems around the hips, such as piriformis syndrome (see Friday Q&A: Recovering From Pirifomis Syndrome ) or low back pain, may find strengthening your hips helps in recovery. And to be clear, I consider the hips to be the place where the upper leg bone meets the bones of the pelvis and all the muscles that move that joint around.

Finally, people with very flexible hips, (like the student of our reader above) who are attracted to yoga poses that require lots of flexibility and therefore tend to overdo them may find that their hips are less stable and strong than they would like them to be when they practice poses or everyday activities that require stamina, strength and stability—Warrior 3, anyone? And this imbalance of too much flexibility and not enough strength could put that person at higher risk of joint troubles down the road. Check out Nina’s post Too much yoga or just the wrong kind? for a dramatic example of this. For all these people, the following poses are good choices to strengthen the muscles around the hip joint.

I’ve divided the poses into categories for strengthening different aspects of your hips, back, side, inner, front, and those that roll the upper leg bone outwards.You might incorporate these poses into your practice by doing some every time you do a strength-focused practice. But because there are so many, you might work on front and back hip strengtheners one practice, inner and outer strengtheners the next, and outward rolling strengtheners at yet another practice.

For all the static poses listed below, I’d recommend starting with 30 second holds and advancing the time held gradually.

1. Muscles at the Back of the Hips

Hunting Dog Pose, versions 1, 2 or 4: This strengthens the muscles on the back of the buttocks and upper leg of your lifted leg. See Featured Pose: Hunting Dog Pose for instructions on how to do this pose. FYI, this pose originally got into the modern yoga classes from the world of physical therapy.

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Locust Pose: versions 1, 3, or 4: This pose strengthens the muscles on the back of the buttocks and upper leg of your lifted leg(s). See Featured Pose: Locust Pose for instructions on how to do this pose.
Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Warrior 3 Pose: This pose strengthens the muscles on the back of the buttocks and upper leg of the lifted leg. See Featured Pose: Warrior 3 Pose for instructions on how to do this pose.
Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
2. Muscles that Roll Upper Leg Bones Outward

Side-Lying Clamshells: Strengthens the muscles that roll the thighbone outwards, including the piriformis. This “pose” also comes from the world of physical therapy, but I often teach in my classes, and it targets the deep hip muscles nicely.

Start by lying on on one side with your head supported by your bottom arm or a blanket and your knees bent in toward your chest so your thighs and chest are about 90 degrees apart. Place your top hand on your upper outer top buttock as a reminder to help keep your hips from rocking forward or backwards. With the inner edges of your feet touching the whole time, inhale and lift your top knee up as high as it will go without tipping your hips back. Then exhale and release your knee back down to meet lower leg. This action is like a clamshell opening and closing. Repeat 10 times, and do up to 3 sets. Repeat on the second side.

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Tree Pose: This pose, when you focus on the lifted leg, strengthens the muscles that roll the thighbone outwards, including the piriformis. See Featured Pose: Tree Pose or instructions on how to do this pose.
3. Muscles at Sides of the Hips

Side-Lying Leg Lift Pose: This pose comes from the world of physical therapy, and although not an “official” yoga pose, I often teach in my classes, and it is great for strengthening the muscles on the outer side hip of the lifted leg.

Lie down on your side with your legs stretched out, head supported by your bottom arm or a blanket, and your top hand on the floor in front of your chest to maintain your balance. As you inhale, lift your top leg up about 1-2 feet off you bottom leg, keeping the toes pointing straight forward, and as you exhale, lower the leg down, repeating 6-10 times, and doing up to 3 sets. Do both sides.

(sorry, no photos)

Tree Pose: This pose strengthens all the muscles on the side of the hip of the standing leg. In addition, you get to also strengthen the external rotators on the lifted leg! See Featured Pose: Tree Pose or instructions on how to do this pose.

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Another great pose for strengthening the sides of the hips is Half Moon pose. However, we have not yet described this on the blog and I won’t get into today. I recommend you learn from an experienced teacher.
4. Muscles at the Inner Hips

Any symmetrical standing pose you do with a block between your thighs can help to strengthen the muscles on the inner thigh area. Here are two examples:

Mountain Pose, version 2 (with a block between the thighs):  See Featured Pose: Mountain Pose here for instructions on how to do this pose.

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Powerful Pose, version 2 (with a block between the thighs): This pose does triple duty, as it also strengthens the front hip muscles and the back hip muscles. See Featured Pose: Powerful Pose for instructions on how to do this pose.
Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
5. Fronts of the Hips

Any standing yoga poses where your front leg is bent towards 90 degrees and is held statically will help to strengthen the front hip muscles as well as the piriformis muscles described in my post Friday Q&A: Recovering from Piriformis Syndrome on the back of the hips.

Warrior 1 Pose, any version: See Featured Pose: Warrior 1 Pose for instructions on how to do this pose.

Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Warrior 2 Pose, any version except the chair version: See Featured Pose: Warrior 2 Pose for instructions on how to do this pose.
Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Extended Side Angle Pose, versions 1-3: See Featured Pose: Extended Side Angle Pose for instructions on how to do this pose.
Friday Q&A: Strengthening Your Hips
Although there are many other poses in the modern yoga practice that could fulfill the goal strengthening your hip muscles, these are an excellent way to get started. When you’re ready, be open to finding others you like as well by noting other poses from class and home practice that challenge your hip strength in any of the five areas above and incorporating them into your routines.

—Baxter

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