How to Do Side-Lying Hip Abductions: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Hip abduction is a simple movement that can strengthen the buttocks and outer thighs. Side-lying hip abductions can be performed in a variety of ways, with or without equipment. So, they are an easy exercise to incorporate into a lower-body strength routine.

Also Known As: Side-lying leg lift, side-lying leg raise

Targets: Glutes and thighs

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat (optional)

Level: Beginner

How to Do a Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You can perform side-lying hip abductions with or without an exercise mat. If you don't have a mat, it may feel more comfortable to use a padded surface, such as a carpeted area or even a towel that is laid out flat.

Lie down on your side with legs extended and hips stacked one on top of the other. Bend your bottom elbow and place your lower arm underneath your head, allowing the full weight of your head to rest on your forearm so it’s in line with your vertebrae. 

Keep your feet in a neutral position, perpendicular to your legs. The top arm rests on the outside of the thigh that is extended upright. This is your starting position.

  1. Raising your upper leg to just above your hip joint, exhaling as you go. Once you feel your hips and back start to tense, stop and hold the position for one to two seconds.
  2. Slowly lower your leg to its starting position on an inhale. Keep the upper leg straight and stacked directly above the lower leg. 
  3. Flip over to your opposite side and repeat the process with your other leg (after completing the desired number of reps on the first side). 

Hip abductions can be done nearly anywhere. Because you don’t need bulky equipment, they’re easy to incorporate into your at-home workout or even to do while traveling

Benefits of the Side-Lying Hip Abduction

The side-lying hip abduction is one of the best exercises for working the gluteus medius. It also activates the gluteus medius and tensor fasciae latae (outer thigh). These muscles raise the leg laterally away from the body and turn the leg outward.

Hip abductor strength contributes to better stability while standing, especially when standing on one leg. Studies have also found that engaging in hip abductor exercises for just three weeks helped reduce knee pain in runners.

Often a forgotten set of muscles, the hip abductors are instrumental in common daily movements. This includes being able to get out of bed, step into a car, or slide out of a restaurant booth.

Plus, when these muscles aren’t used for a long period of time, they can become weak. This forces the body to recruit other muscles to perform an activity. Over time, these muscle imbalances can cause pain and lead to improper posture.  

Abductor weakness is common in people with low levels of activity and often results in poor posture control.

Other Variations of the Side-Lying Hip Abduction

If the basic side-lying hip abduction is too challenging or too easy for you, try one of these modifications.

Smaller Range of Motion

Beginners can start with a smaller range of motion to decrease difficulty. Get into the starting position and, instead of raising the leg to just above the hip joint, only lift it a few inches. As you build strength, you can increase the height of the lift.

If this move proves too difficult, you can also work to increase overall glute and hip strength with glute activation exercises

Weighted Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Once you've mastered the side-lying hip abduction, you may want to challenge yourself by adding resistance bands or ankle weights to increase difficulty. Start with lighter resistance or weights and increase as you get stronger.

Standing Hip Abduction

Hip abductions can also be performed while standing, which works the muscles in a different way. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and back straight. Keeping your leg straight, raise it out to the side as far as you comfortably can. Pause briefly, then return the leg to the floor.

When performing standing hip abductions, hold the back of a chair or even a wall for greater stability.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes to keep the exercise safe and effective.

Raising Leg Too High

If you raise your leg higher than just above the hip, the glutes and tensor fasciae latae (outer thigh) are no longer isolated and other muscles are engaged instead. Raise the leg until you feel tension in the hip—no further.

Going Too Fast

Due to the simplicity of this exercise, it can be tempting to complete it rapidly. Doing so, however, reduces the effectiveness of the movement and can cause poor form. Intentional movement builds better muscle endurance and prevents injury.

Leaning Forward or Backward

Side-lying exercises are challenging because they require constant focus on alignment. But maintaining your alignment ensures that you isolate the right muscles. In this exercise, focus on stacking your hips; avoid leaning forward or back. 

Straining the Neck

As you perform the hip abduction exercise, concentrate on keeping your spine neutral. Raising your head puts unnecessary (and painful) strain on your neck. 

Safety and Precautions

If you have back or hip injuries, talk to your doctor before performing this exercise. Side-lying hip abductions are safe during pregnancy, with medical clearance, and may help relieve pregnancy-related hip pain. 

To prevent injury, keep a neutral spine, stack your hips, and only perform the movement to the point of tension. If you experience pain beyond a slight pinching in the hip, stop the exercise and consult your doctor. 

Perform side-lying hip abductions on one side of the body for one set of 10 raises before switching to the other side. Continue alternating legs until you've completed three sets of 10 raises on each leg.

Try It Out

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

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McBeth J, Earl-Boehm J, Cobb S, Huddleston W. Hip muscle activity during 3 side-lying hip-strengthening exercises in distance runners. J Athl Train. 2012;47(1):15-23. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.1.15

  2. Lee S, Souza R, Powers C. The influence of hip abductor muscle performance on dynamic postural stability in females with patellofemoral pain. Gait Post. 2012;36(3):425-29. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.03.024

  3. Ferber R, Kendal K, Farr L. Changes in knee biomechanics after a hip-abductor strengthening protocol for runners with patellofemoral pain syndrome. J Athl Train. 2011;46(2):142-9. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-46.2.142

  4. Alsufiany M, Lohman E, Daher N, Gang G, Shallan A, Jaber H. Non-specific chronic low back pain and physical activity: a comparison of postural control and hip muscle isometric strength. Med (Baltimore). 2020;99(5):e18544. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000018544

  5. Exercise during pregnancy: give it your all or avoid it?. International Sports Sciences Association.

By Chelsea Evers, NASM-CPT
Chelsea is a NASM-certified personal trainer and journalist living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about corrective exercise and finding avenues that make exercise an enjoyable part of daily life.