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If you want to move more powerfully and prevent injury, it’s time to incorporate hip extensions into your exercise routine.
So, what’s a hip extension? It’s any movement powered by your hip extensors — the muscles that lengthen the front of your hip during movements like walking, getting up from a chair, running, and jumping.
“The stronger these muscles are, the more powerful these movements can be,” says Jasmine Marcus, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist in Ithaca, NY.
Plus, having strong hip extensors ensures these muscles are able to do their job without relying on other muscles to kick in, which can ultimately help to prevent pain and injury.
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What Muscles Do Hip Extensions Target?
There are two star players involved in hip extension exercises: the gluteus maximus and the hamstring muscles, Marcus says.
The gluteus maximus is your meaty butt muscle. It’s also the biggest and strongest muscle in your body. Its main function is to extend your hip, though it also works to rotate your thighs outward.
The hamstrings, meanwhile, are comprised of three muscles in the back of each thigh. Their primary functions are to flex the knee and extend the hip, so they play a major role in locomotion and lower body power production.
Here are four of the best hip extension exercises you can do to strengthen these key muscles.
1. Quadruped Hip Extension
Also known as donkey kicks, the basic hip extension is a tried-and-true hip extension exercise that primarily targets the gluteus maximus. However, the two smaller glute muscles (the gluteus medius and minimus) and the hamstrings kick in to assist.
- Begin on all fours in tabletop position.
- Keeping your arms straight and both knees bent 90 degrees, squeeze your glutes and press your right sole toward the ceiling as you raise your right thigh up. Maintain a 90 degree bend in the knee.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, and then lower your right knee gently back down to the ground. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other.
2. Glute Bridge
As the name suggests, the glute bridge zeroes in on…the glutes. Plus, it offers a nice hip flexor stretch at the top to unlock greater mobility.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Press into the ground with your heels and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips off the floor.
- Pause at the top before lowering your hips back down to the floor with control. Repeat for reps.
- To get more glute medius activation, loop a resistance band around your legs just above the knees.
3. Walking Lunge
Like other lunge variations, the walking lunge works your quads (the muscles in the front of your thighs) and glutes. However, the forward motion of the walking lunge also targets the hamstrings and calves.
- Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length down by your sides.
- Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend both knees until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is bent 90 degrees.
- Pause briefly. Then, push through your left foot to step into your next lunge. Continue alternating legs with each step, making sure to complete an equal number of steps/reps per side.
4. Standing Hip Extension
This simple exercise will fire up the glutes and hamstrings. As a bonus, you can do the bodyweight version practically anywhere.
- Stand tall with hands on hips (or, if needed, place your hands on a counter or chair for support). To make the move harder, wrap a resistance loop around your ankles.
- Keeping both legs straight, squeeze your right glute and push your right leg back until your foot is a few inches off the floor.
- Hold briefly, then reverse the movement to return to starting position. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other.