The hips are the link between all the weight in your upper body and your legs. As an important part of your active lifestyle, your hips don’t deserve a bad rap. More than just the place treats “go straight to” when you over-indulge on cheat days, they are actually your greatest ally when it comes to building a tight and toned butt while staying injury-free.
Why? “The hips are the link between all the weight in your upper body and your legs as you train,” explains biomechanics expert Tracy Dierks, PhD, associate professor and director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Indiana University. By strengthening your hip muscles (flexors/extensors, adductors/abductors and internal/external rotators), you’re better able to control the knee when it comes to lateral (side-to-side) and transverse (rotational) movements, he explains.
The Female Factor
Paying attention to the hips is especially important for women, who are up to eight times more likely than men to suffer knee injuries during their athletic careers, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Some 10 million women see their doctors for knee pain every year, reported the University of San Francisco Medical Center. And when your knees ache, you’re unable to perform key glutes-strengthening moves, such as lunges, step-ups and squats.
Women also tend to have a wider pelvis relative to femur (thigh bone) length when compared to males, suspect researchers, potentially making them more susceptible to knee pain. Dierks adds that women who are recreational runners tend to participate in few, if any, activities that involve hip-strengthening multi-directional movements, such as basketball or stepping classes, which, unlike running, involve not only forward-and-back movements of the hip, but side-to-side and rotational movements as well.
But in a study presented at the 2011 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, Dierks and his colleagues found that hip-strengthening moves can reduce knee pain. With strong hips come strong knees, to better handle the loads of such glutes-boosting moves as pliés and even taking your pooch out for a walk.
Boost Agility, Speed
“Glutes and hip flexors are opposing muscles,” explains John Chow, PhD, director of the Motion Analysis and Human Performance Laboratory at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, Mississippi, who co-authored a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which found that hip flexor exercises can improve agility and increase running speed. He adds that stretching the hip muscles is just as important as strengthening — a tight hip muscle can cause imbalances and increase the stress on your knee and other leg joints.
o, what’s your best bet as an active gal? Pair your glutes training with moves that stretch and strengthen your hips, too. We’ve got four exercises that will get you started.
4 Best Hips Moves For Stronger Glutes
Shape up your hips with these strengthening and stretching exercises straight from Tracy Dierks, PhD, and John Chow, PhD. Add these moves to your routine and get one step closer to your dream glutes.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Place a rolled-up towel or yoga mat on the floor, and kneel with your upper body upright and your spine tall. Step your right foot forward so that your ankle is directly under the knee. Tighten your core and lean forward into the right hip (shown), making sure your back does not arch as you perform this step. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat. When finished, repeat twice on your left side.
Tip: Use a slow and controlled motion to move back and forth.
IT Band Stretch
Stand upright. Cross your right leg over your left. Slowly reach your left arm overhead to the right and push your left hip out to the side. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat twice more, then repeat the sequence on your other side.
Tip: you can also hold on to a wall for support.
Standing Hip Adductor/Abductor Extension
Attach one end of a resistance band to a fixed sturdy object and the other to the ankle furthest from the object. Move the banded foot slightly in front of the other, with your feet hip-width apart, then slowly kick the banded foot as far out to the side as you can. Return to the starting position and repeat for 15 to 20 reps on each side. For the adductor move, follow the same pattern, but with the band attached to the foot closest to the sturdy object, and with the banded foot moving forward instead of out to the side. Be sure to work both sides.
Tip: Attach your band to a weight bench.
Lie on your side; prop your head up on your elbow and stack your knees and feet. Slowly lift the top knee, but keep the bottom knee grounded – it should look like a clamshell opening. Perform 10 reps, then repeat on your other side.
Tip: you can also prop your head up on a pillow.