Why You Need Hip Extension Exercises

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Hip extension involves some of your strongest muscles, the hip extensors. It is an important part of stabilizing your pelvis and is required for much of your daily movement. Hip extension is also a source of great power for sports and exercise.

Unfortunately, people who sit for long periods of time sitting tend to have tighter hip flexor muscles and weaker hamstrings. Learn about the muscles involved in hip extension and how Pilates exercises can be used to strengthen your hip extensors.

What Is Hip Extension?

Hip extension happens when you open your hip joint. You extend your hip anytime you increase the angle between the thigh and the front of the pelvis, which can start from any degree of flexion. In fact, you are actually in hip extension when you're standing and also when the leg travels behind you. Athletes and exercisers generate power from hip extension during activities like running, jumping, swimming, and so on.

Key Muscles

Hip extension stabilizes the pelvis and propels movement during everyday activities like walking, standing up, and climbing stairs. Here's a look at the prime movers involved in hip extension.

  • Adductor magnus: When the hip is flexed, the adductor magnus plays a crucial role in extending the hip. Its length changes based on the angle of the hip.
  • Gluteal group: The gluteus maximus is one of the strongest muscles of the body and is responsible for moving the hips and thighs. The gluteus medius also assists in hip extension.
  • Hamstrings group: The hamstrings—long head (not short head) biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus—support the glutes with hip extension, such as when standing up from a squat.

Why You Need Hip Extension Exercises

The hip flexors and extensors have to work together to maintain a neutral pelvis and allow a powerful and safe range of motion through the hip. But natural hip extension movements used in daily life aren't challenging enough to keep the glutes and hamstrings strong.

In addition, most common exercises focus on hip flexion rather than hip extension. An example would be cycling (including indoor spinning).​ Exercises that promote full hip extension work the major muscles involved in this functional movement by taking the leg behind the pelvis to increase the opening of the hip. The swimming Pilates mat exercise, for example, works both the hip and back extensors.

Pilates Hip Extension Exercises

Pilates uses an integrative approach to exercise, emphasizing full-body awareness and balanced musculature. Pilates hip extension exercises work to strengthen and stabilize the hip flexors by prioritizing good form. A common mistake during many hip extension exercises is a tendency to tilt the pelvis forward (anterior tilt), which increases the curvature in the lumbar spine and puts a lot of pressure on the back. The Pilates method helps practitioners keep their alignment in check.

Pilates exercises often employ resistance from exercise equipment, body weight, or gravity to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings while challenging the core. Try these Pilates exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your hip extensors.

  • Bicycle: Also known as "high bicycle," this intermediate-level exercise targets the legs and buttocks as well as the shoulders, arms, and core.
  • Butt-firming exercises: Exercises that strengthen the glutes include the Pilates pelvic curl, heel beats, mat swimming, quadruped leg kick back, and double leg kick.
  • Leg pull front: This full-body move strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, groins, abdominals, shoulders, and arms. It also works to stabilize the shoulders and trunk.
  • Side kick series (front and back): Pilates side kicks target the hips and thighs. They also incorporate the "powerhouse" core muscles, which include the glutes, low back, and pelvic floor.

Once you familiarize yourself with some of the basics, you can also try more advanced Pilates exercises to work on your hip extension. Some of the exercises call for both upper body flexion and hip extension, which tests your coordination and increases your sense of full-body awareness. 

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