Hip extension uses some of your biggest, strongest muscles.
This movement is involved in many daily activities, such as getting up from a chair, climbing stairs, and walking. It’s also heavily involved in many sports with explosive strength and power.
However, with more people sitting for longer periods of time and being less active, the hip extensor muscles may become weaker over time. This may have you wondering how you can keep your hip extensor muscles strong to support your daily life and activities.
This article tells you all you need to know about hip extension, why it’s important, the main muscles used, and nine exercises you can try.
Hip extension occurs when you extend or “open” your hip joint so that the angle between your pelvis and thigh increases.
It can mean either moving your leg behind you when standing, or using the hip extensor muscles to propel your body forward over your leg when your leg starts flexed in front of you.
It’s involved in many daily movements, such as walking, standing up from a chair, and climbing stairs (
- Gluteal muscles. The main muscle involved in hip extension is the gluteus maximus, which is the largest muscle in your buttocks. The gluteus medius also helps with hip extension, though to a lesser extent.
- Hamstrings. The three muscles of the hamstrings (biceps femoris long head, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus) help to support the glutes with hip extension.
- Adductor magnus (posterior head). Located on the inner part of your thighs, the posterior head of the adductor magnus also supports hip extension.
Collectively, these muscles help stabilize the pelvis and propel the body during movements, such as walking, running, jumping, and standing up.
Hip extension occurs when the angle between the hip and thigh increases. The main muscles involved in hip extension are the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and the posterior head of the adductor magnus.
Hip extension exercises are important for strengthening the muscles responsible for hip extension (i.e., the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductor magnus).
Strengthening these muscles helps ensure they’re doing their job properly and do not have to rely on surrounding muscles (e.g., lower back muscles) for help, which can lead to pain and injury (
Furthermore, the hip extensor muscles work together with the hip flexors to stabilize the pelvis (
However, when the hip extensors and abdominal muscles are weak or the hip flexors (iliacus, psoas major, and rectus femoris) are tight, the pelvis may tilt forward and down, which puts excess pressure on the lower back, and increases strain on the hamstrings. This is known as an anterior pelvic tilt (
Unfortunately, sitting for too long and being sedentary can result in tighter hip flexors and weak hip extensors (
Finally, having strong hip extensors can improve your athletic performance and give you a competitive edge, especially in sports and activities that rely on hip extension for sprinting, jumping, propelling forward, or other explosive movements (
Having strong hip extensor muscles helps to stabilize the pelvis, reduce strain on the back, and can help improve your athletic performance in sports that require a lot of power.
Here are 9 hip extension exercises that you can add to your lower body workout routine.
1. Glute bridges
Glute bridges are an excellent beginner exercise that use hip extension as the main movement.
Equipment needed: none, though you may choose to use a dumbbell or loop mini-band
- Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and arms at your side. Your feet should be hip distance apart. If you’re using a dumbbell, hold it across your hip crease. Your feet should be 12–16 inches from your butt.
- Press into your heels, brace your core, and push your pelvis upwards by squeezing your glutes. Lift high enough so that your body makes a straight line from knee to shoulder.
- Hold for 2 seconds and lower your hips back to the ground. This is one rep.
- Complete 8–12 reps of 2–3 sets.
2. Hip thrust
Hip thrusts are one of the most popular hip extension exercises. That said, it’s important to do them carefully. You may wish to use a dumbbell or try glute bridges before doing hip thrusts.
Equipment needed: bench and barbell with a barbell pad
- Start on the floor with your shoulder blades resting against a secured bench (either have it against a wall or secured to the floor).
- Sitting on the floor with your legs straight, place a barbell across the crease of your hips and place your hands around the bar. Alternatively, you can hold a dumbbell.
- Next, bend your knees and have your feet about hip-width apart.
- Once in position, drive your heels into the ground, brace your core, and push your pelvis upward by squeezing your glutes. At the top of the movement, your shins should be vertical, your torso parallel with the ground, and knees at 90 degrees. Avoid pushing with your lower back and keep your chest in the same position throughout the whole movement.
- Then, gently bring the weight back down.
- Aim for 8–12 reps of 2–3 sets.
Tip: Focus on mostly using your pelvis by engaging your glutes to drive this movement.
3. Quadruped kickbacks
This move targets the glutes and is great for beginners. It’s performed in the “quadruped” position, which means you’re on all fours.
Equipment needed: padding or yoga mat (to protect hands and knees)
- Start on all fours. Your hands should be aligned under your shoulders and your knees aligned under your hips. Engage your core and ensure your spine is in a neutral position.
- Shift your weight to your left side and lift your right leg off the ground. Push your right foot up and back, straightening the knee, as if trying to drive your heel into the wall behind you. Avoid rotating your hips or shoulders — your glutes should be doing most of the work. Take special caution not to arch your lower back. Keep your leg at hip height.
- Return your leg back to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Perform 8–12 reps of 2–3 sets on each leg.
You practice hip extension every time you walk up the stairs. Similarly, stepups focus on hip extension as you step up and onto a box or bench.
Equipment needed: secured box or bench.
- Stand 6–12 inches behind a secured box or bench. Be sure the surface will not move.
- Lift your right foot on top of the box/bench. Your hips, knees, and ankles should all be at 90-degree angles. This is the starting position.
- Next, push your foot into the box/bench and squeeze your glutes to lift your body up. Instead of putting your left foot on top of the box/bench, keep it in the air.
- Then, lower your body back down. This is one rep.
- Continue this for 15–20 reps. Then, switch feet.
5. Standing kickbacks
Standing kickbacks are easy to perform and can be great for beginners.
Equipment needed: none
- Standing 1–2 feet from a wall, counter, or box, place the palms of your hands against it.
- Lean slightly forward and lift your left foot off the ground with your knee slightly bent. Ensure your core is tight and back straight.
- Extend your leg backwards around 60–90 degrees, making sure to contract your glutes.
- Return your leg back to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Complete 8–12 reps of 2–3 sets on each leg.
Tip: For a more hamstring-focused workout, keep your legs straight.
6. Upright hip thrusts
If traditional hip thrusts aren’t your thing, or if you don’t have access to a barbell, upright hip thrusts can be a great alternative.
Equipment needed: padding or yoga mat (to protect knees), resistance band (optional)
- Kneel on the ground with your knees about hip-width apart. Your shins should be flat on the ground and your back upright.
- With your hands on your hips, push your hips back until your butt is touching your calves.
- Then, squeeze your glutes to push your hips forward and back to the starting position.
- Perform 8–12 reps of 2–3 sets.
For an added challenge, place a rubber resistance band around the upper part of your thighs and tie the band to a stable pole behind you. Then, perform the same exercise.
7. Glute bridge and hamstring curl on the stability ball
You’ll need a stability ball to try this advanced move. If you haven’t tried this move before, start by focusing on the hip extension portion. You can add the leg curl later.
Equipment needed: stability ball
- Lie on your back with your calves and feet on top of a stability ball. Your knees will be straight. Place your hands at your sides with palms facing down.
- Using your glutes and hamstrings, lift your bottom off the ground so that your body forms a straight line from your upper back to your feet. This is the starting position.
- From this hip extension position, pull the stability ball toward your butt, performing a hamstring curl.
- Slowly straighten your legs to return to a straight line. Keep your body lifted off the ground and begin another curl. Or, if you’re opting out of the leg curl, lift and lower your hips with control.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
8. Prone hip extension on the stability ball
Reminiscent of the superman exercise, this move primarily engages your hamstrings and glutes.
Equipment needed: stability ball
- Lay your lower stomach or hips on the ball. Your legs will hang off the back of the ball and your toes should gently touch the ground. Put your hands on the ground in front of the ball with your arms straight.
- Squeeze your glutes, and lift your legs off the ground until they are in line with your torso. Keep your core engaged and in contact with the ball. Avoid extending the lower back, and keep your knees straight.
- Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
- Perform 10 reps of 3 sets.
Adding hip extension exercises into your workout routine can help strengthen your hip extensor muscles.
To get the best results and reduce your risk of injury, here are some helpful tips:
- Warm up before exercising. Before starting strength training, spend 5–10 minutes warming up with light cardio (e.g., walking) and dynamic stretching.
- Focus on good form. Before increasing the weight or resistance, be sure you’re performing the exercise with good form.
- Squeeze your glutes. Contracting your glutes helps you get the most out of hip extension exercises without asking the hamstrings to do all the work.
- Maintain a neutral spine and pelvis. To put most of the attention on your glutes and other hip extensor muscles, keep your spine neutral, keep your abdominals engaged, and avoid tilting your pelvis forward or arching your lower back.
It’s also a good idea to minimize the time you sit during the day. If you work from home, try to get up every 30–60 minutes for at least 5 minutes at a time.
Finally, it’s best to incorporate 2–3 hip extension exercises into your lower body workout routine along with other movement patterns, such as hip abduction, adduction, and rotation.
For optimal results, warm up before exercising and prioritize good form.
Hip extension is part of daily movements, like standing, walking, and running. It involves three main muscles known as the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductor magnus.
Having strong hip extensor muscles can help improve your athletic performance, keep your pelvis and spine stabilized, and guide day-to-day movement. Unfortunately, prolonged sitting and a sedentary lifestyle can weaken your hip extensor muscles over time.
To keep them strong, you’ll want to incorporate hip extension exercises into your workout routine.
For best results, focus on proper form and give yourself enough time to warm up. Over time, you may notice less back and knee pain, and you’ll have your strong hip extensors to thank.