How to Do a Gate Opener

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Standing Gate Openers

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Standing gate opener, opening and closing the gate, gate swings

Targets: Adductors, abductors, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, psoas, and abdominal muscles.

Equipment Needed: None, just your body

Level: Intermediate

The gate opener is an intermediate level bodyweight exercise that targets the muscles in your lower body, pelvis, and core region. It’s an excellent exercise for improving mobility and range of motion in your hips. When done correctly, it also allows you to work on balance and overall stability. 

The gate opener is a great move to add to your exercise line-up, especially if you want to target the psoas muscles which span from the back of your body to the front. The psoas muscles are located in your lower back region and extend through the pelvis to the femur. They are one of the primary muscle groups involved in stabilizing your back. Activating this deep muscle allows you to execute the beginning steps of the gate opener exercise by flexing the hip joint and lifting the upper leg towards your body. 

You can add the gate opener to any dynamic warm-up routine or perform it individually. It’s an effective way to open up your hips and warm-up your groin muscles for physical activities that involve running, jumping, or cycling. 

Benefits

The gate opener is a lower body exercise that targets the muscles in your adductors and abductors (inner and outer thighs), gluteus medius and maximus, psoas, quadriceps, and abdominal muscles. 

Because it requires you to stand on one foot while lifting and opening the opposite leg, the gate opener has the potential to enhance your balance and overall stability. Performing this exercise regularly may also improve the mobility and range of motion in your hips. 

If you spend a significant amount of time sitting during the day, performing the gate opener allows you to wake-up your hips, and more specifically, activate the psoas muscles. This is especially important if you deal with any back pain or feel tightness in your lower back and hip region after sitting for an extended period of time. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and toes pointed forward. For tight hips, it’s ok to have the toes turned slightly outwards. The stance and distance should resemble the starting position for the squat exercise. 
  2. Leave your arms by the sides of your body. 
  3. Stand tall, engage your core, and pull your shoulder blades down and back. 
  4. Transfer your body weight to your right side and lift your left leg up to mid-torso. Move this leg in and across the center of your body (your left knee should cross over the right leg).
  5. Abduct (move out) to the right, opening your hip as far as possible. Make sure to keep your core tight, hips pointing forward, and body still while closing the gate.
  6. Return the left leg to the starting position and repeat on the right side. 
  7. Do 10 gate openers on each side. 

Common Mistakes

Turning Your Body

It’s not uncommon to turn your body when lifting and opening your leg. For this move to be effective, you need to keep your body pointed forward while you lift and open one leg. To help with this, remember always to keep the hip of the standing foot pointed forward. You can also choose a spot in front of you to focus on. Keep your eyes locked on this spot while lifting and opening the leg. 

Opening and Closing Too Fast

The gate opener is not a speed exercise. Going through the movement slowly allows you to maintain proper form and balance and get the maximum benefits the exercise has to offer. 

Bending at the Waist

Weak or tight muscles in the pelvis and lower back region can lead to excessive bending at the waist when doing the gate opener. Standing tall with your back flat and core engaged will help keep you upright and avoid bending at the waist. If you have tight psoas muscles or limited mobility in your hips, perform the gate opener in front of a mirror to ensure that your posture is correct. 

Not Keeping Your Core Muscles Engaged

Any time you are upright and moving, you’re engaging the muscles in your core. The power, stability, and support generated from these muscles will help you move quicker and protect your lower back from injury. 

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

If you’re not ready to balance on one leg while performing this exercise, you can place your hand on the wall, or another stable object such as a chair. This will help support your body weight while opening and closing the gate. As you progress, move further away from the wall until you are balancing on your own. 

Up for a Challenge?

In general, there is no need to make the gate opener more difficult. Since it is an exercise for warming-up your lower body, the focus should be on balance, stability, mobility, range of motion, and strength. If you want to increase the intensity, consider adding repetitions to the exercise. 

Safety and Precautions

The gate opener is generally a safe exercise for most fitness levels. That said, if you struggle with balance, and more specifically, balancing on one foot, then you should have a trainer or physical therapist guide you through the movement until you feel comfortable performing it on your own. Remember, if you need help balancing on one foot, you can always use the wall or another sturdy item for support. Additionally, if you have issues with your hips or knees, make sure to pay attention and address any discomfort or limited range of motion when performing the gate opener. If you feel any pain while raising your leg to open to the side, stop the exercise. 

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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