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, PT, DPT, CSCS, 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.
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. Option to loop a band around your thighs, as show in the video above.
- 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. Jump squat
Cultivate explosive strength in your hip extensors with this plyometric staple.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, holding a dumbbell or sandbag (optional) with both hands in front of your chest.
- Keeping your back flat and chest up, bend your knees, and push your hips back until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Explode upward, jumping as high as you can.
- Land softly, immediately dropping back down into a squat to begin your next rep.
4. 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.
5. 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, hands on your hips, with your heels together and your toes turned out slightly.
- Move your right foot back, lightly touching the floor behind you with your big toe and letting your heel drop slightly inward. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your torso tall, lift your right leg behind you as high as you can, squeezing your right glute.
- Return to the starting position, gently tapping the toes of your right foot to the floor, and repeat.
- Do equal reps on both sides.
This classic weightlifting move targets the posterior chain, or the muscles between your heels and your neck.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs, with your palms facing you.
- Keeping your back flat, shoulders back, and core engaged, push your hips back and hinge forward, lowering the dumbbells to mid-shin height. The weights should remain within an inch or two of your legs throughout the movement.
- Reverse the move to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes and thrusting your hips forward as you rise up.
- Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
This loaded (optional) version of the movement replicates the bridge exercise at a different orientation to the ground, further emphasizing the glutes.
- From a kneeling position, with your butt resting on your heels and the tops of your feet on the floor, hold a heavy dumbbell at your chest with both hands.
- Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged, squeeze your glutes as you push your hips forward to full extension, shifting your weight onto your knees.
- Pushing your hips back, slowly lower your body back down onto your heels, and repeat for reps.
8. Fold over
- With your feet hip-width apart, stand a few feet from a barre, chair, or sturdy counter. Your knees should be slightly bent.
- Keeping your back flat and core engaged, hinge forward at your hips and grab hold of the barre or rest your forearms on it.
- Keeping a slight bend in your left leg, lift your right leg behind you until you feel your glutes contract, keeping both hip bones pointed toward the ground.
- Maintaining the contraction, pulse your right leg upward several times.
- Lower your right leg and repeat on your opposite side, performing equal reps on each.
9. Single-leg hinge with loop
- Loop a resistance band around your left foot, and grip it with your right hand as you rise up to stand, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Keeping your back flat, your core engaged, and your left knee slightly bent, raise your right leg off the floor and hinge forward at your hips until your torso is as close to parallel with the floor as possible.
- Return to a single-leg standing position and repeat the move, completing all reps on your left leg before switching sides.