If you’re a runner, hip extensions are one of the best exercises to increase your power and prevent knee pain and injury. They’re not just helpful for athletes, though.
The stronger your hip extensors, the better you’ll be able to move. Hip extension exercises can increase and maintain mobility as you age, alleviate existing knee or hip pain, and prevent future joint injuries.
Before you add hip extension exercises into your fitness routine, let’s take a look at exactly what these exercises are designed to do (and how to do them correctly).
With the right technique, working your hip extensors can have significant benefits for your overall health.
What Are Hip Extensions?
A hip extension is an exercise that opens up the muscles along the front of your hip. You can also think of it as driving your hips forward. This both stretches and strengthens the muscles connecting your core to your legs.
To feel these muscles in action, stand up straight then push your pelvis forward. You’ll feel the muscles of your rear thigh tightening while the tendons and muscles down your front stretch.
The same thing can be accomplished by pulling your leg back, which similarly lengthens the muscles down the front of your hips.
Any time you’re standing, you’re using some degree of hip extension. Exercises that target these muscles open up your hips further than you do during normal day to day activities to improve their strength and flexibility. The further your leg goes back, the greater the extension.
When you’re sitting, this is an example of the opposite movement: hip flexion. Sitting often for long periods causes your hip flexor muscles to tighten and your hamstrings to weaken. As wellness coach Marguerite Ogle points out, this is
This makes exercise that targets your hamstrings and glute muscles especially important for those who live mostly sedentary lifestyles.
Benefits of Hip Extensions
- Athletic conditioning. The hamstrings and gluteus maximus are crucial for running and swimming, which demand rapid movement of the quads, flexors, and extensors. Improving your hip extension increases flexibility and fluidity of movement, and can give athletes of all sports a performance boost.
- Reduced chance of injury. Many recreational runners don’t use enough hip extension. This either leads to them shifting their mass forward or arching their back too much. As physical therapist Andrew Walker points out, “These are not optimal patterns of motion and do not lead to the gluteus maximus providing force. Instead, they lead to other structures trying to stabilize and produce force, which increases their risk of injury.” (1) Strengthening your hip extensors reduces the weight load on your joints and spine, as well as preventing strains of the hamstrings, quads, or calf muscles.
- Better balance and posture. Your hips provide most of your stability when you’re standing upright. They’re also the muscles you use when you stand up from a chair, walk up stairs, or do any number of day to day activities. The stronger these muscles are, the better you’ll be able to maintain your balance and correct posture when you’re walking, running, or standing.
What Muscles Are Involved in Hip Extensions?
- Semimembranosus. This long muscle runs down the middle of the back of your thigh and is crucial to the movement of your knee and hip joints.
- Semitendinosus. Located next to the semimembranosus, this muscle is primarily responsible for internal rotation of the leg, along with providing extra stability when you’re standing upright.
- Biceps femoris. The biceps femoris connects the hip to the fibula, and is the main muscle used in external leg rotation.
- Gluteus Maximums. The largest and heaviest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus is also the outer-most of the three glute muscles, running along the outside of each hip.
The semimebranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris together are known as the hamstring muscles and run down the upper leg from the hip to the knee. The gluteus maximus connects only at the hip and is the more prominent hip extensor muscle.
While all four of these hip extensor muscles are necessary for hip extension, the powerful gluteus maximus does most of the heavy lifting.
It’s the main muscle you’ll be working when you do hip extension exercise, which is one reason they’re great hip muscle exercises for toning and shaping your rear.
How to Do a Proper Hip Extension
Just like any exercise, there’s a right and a wrong way to do exercises for hip extension. If you’re using the wrong technique, you won’t get the full benefits of the exercise, and could even cause the kinds of injuries you’re trying to avoid.
The goal of hip extension exercise is to increase the range of motion of the hip extensors. These muscles aren’t just impacted by sitting too long, though that’s one of the main causes of weak hip extensors in today’s population.
Even those who hit the gym all the time can suffer from weakened hamstrings and glute muscles, which are neglected (or even shortened further) by common exercises like squats and cycling.
The main thing to focus on when doing hip extensions is that you’re actually stretching and working the correct muscles. As fitness expert Thomas DeLauer (4) explains:
This is why it’s crucial to maintain the correct posture during this exercise. If your back is arched or your weight is shifted too far forward, you’ll end up working out the wrong muscle groups, and your hip extensors will be as weak as they were before.
With that in mind, here are some basic tips for performing hip extension exercises:
- Always warm up first. A quick walk or light jog will get your blood flowing and prepare your hamstrings and glutes for more intense exercise. This is the best way to limit your chance of a pull or strain.
- Keep your back straight. When you arch your back, you shift which muscles are doing most of the work. One way to keep your back straight for standing hip extensions is to look down, so your neck is forced to be aligned with your spine.
- Don’t lock your knees. Locking your knees transfers all the weight of the exercise from the muscles to the joints, and is one of the main causes of work-out related knee injuries. (3)
- Keep your movements smooth. There are two reasons you want to avoid jerking and twisting motions when you’re exercising. First, they can lead to strains and other muscle injuries. They also decrease the effectiveness of your workout. You’ll get more out of the exercises if you move smoothly and slowly.
Now that we’ve reviewed the safety basics, let’s go through some of the best hip extension exercises step by step.
Using a Hip Extension Machine
The main hip extensions machine you’ll see in use in gyms is a tall piece of equipment with a handlebar at the top and a leg pad on the side.
These machines are for standing hip extension exercise. The user puts their leg against the pad, pushing it back and forth to work the glutes and hamstrings.
These standing hip extension machines also give you the option of doing weighted hip extensions for a more intense workout.
You can also do hip extensions on a cable cross machine. To do cable hip extensions, follow these steps:
- Set your desired weight, then stand by the left side of the cable cross machine.
- Adjust the pulley down to its lowest position.
- Secure the ankle strap attachment around your left leg then stand facing the machine with your weight balanced on the other foot.
- Extend your leg behind you. Keep your upper body upright as you do this. Engaging your core can help keep your back and leg straight without locking your joints.
- Return your leg slowly to the starting position to complete the exercise.
- For a beginner, 3 sets of 8-10 reps per set is a good starting place.
- Switch legs and repeat steps 1-6 for the other side.
How Do You Do Hip Extensions Without a Machine?
Those who work out at home don’t need to fret. There are plenty of great hip extension exercises you can do without any gym equipment that will work your hip extensors. Let’s look at some of the best for your glutes and hamstrings.
Hip Extension Exercises Using a Stability Ball
A lot of people use stability balls as substitute chairs or exercise aids. If you have one of these handy, there are a couple of ways they can be useful in working on your hip extension.
Prone hip extensions
- Lay face-down on the stability ball with your palms flat on the ground. You should have your hips on the ball and your legs hanging off the back.
- Engage your core, then use your glutes to pull your legs upward as high as you can.
- Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position.
- Repeat steps 1-3 for additional reps.
Hip extension leg curl
- Lay on your back with your calves braced against the top of a stability ball and your arms flat on the ground at your sides.
- Press your body up off the ground using your hamstrings and lower back. Your goal is to have your body forming a straight line from your upper back all the way to your feet.
- Holding this position, use your feet to pull the stability ball towards you.
- Lower your body slowly back to the ground.
- Push the ball back to the starting position, then repeat steps 2-4 for additional reps.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 reps each.
Hip Extension Exercises for Glutes
We talked about the importance of the glute muscles as extensors of hip.
As the largest muscle in that group, the gluteus maximus is the main area responsible for the appearance of your rear end—maybe not as important as strength and injury prevention, but a nice benefit nonetheless.
Those looking to specifically target the glute muscles with a hip extension exercise should consider the exercises below.
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet shoulder-width apart, flat on the floor. Keep your palms flat on the floor at your sides.
- Push up through your heels and use your glutes and lower back to raise your body off the ground, until it’s forming a straight line from your knees down to your chest.
- Hold this position for 1-3 seconds, engaging your glutes the entire time.
- Lower yourself slowly back to the ground.
- Repeat for 3 sets of 10-15 reps each.
Quad hip extensions
- Brace your knees and palms flat against the ground with your hands under your shoulders and your knees about hip-width apart.
- Engage your core, then extend one leg back and raise it as high as you can off the ground. Make sure your hips stay parallel to the ground as you do this.
- Lower your leg back to starting.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other leg to complete a rep.
- Repeat steps 2-5 for 3 sets of 10 reps each.
Hip Extension Exercises with Weights
You can add weights to most of the extension exercises described above to increase the challenge. Ankle weights are especially helpful for increasing the resistance with exercises like the prone hip extension or the donkey kick.
For bodybuilders and weight lifters who want to add more hip extension work to their routine, Romanian deadlifts can be a great way to work both the glutes and hamstrings:
- Stand up holding the barbell. Keep your feet about hip-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Your hands should be facing your body, about shoulder-width apart.
- Stick out your chest and pull your shoulder’s back.
- Push your hips back and lean forward, allowing the bar to slide down your upper thighs.
- Keeping your shoulders back and chest out, lower the bar as far as you can.
- Straighten back out to your starting position to complete the rep.
- Start with around 4-5 reps per set. You can increase this to as many as 12 reps per set as you gain strength.
What’s the Bottom Line?
You don’t need any special equipment to exercise your hip extensor muscles. It doesn’t need to take up much of your work-out time, either.
Many of these exercises are so quick and simple you can even do them in the commercial breaks while you’re watching TV. We hope this article has inspired you to add a hip extension routine to your life!