Hip Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

The hip joint is the main source of strength and stability for the legs, and it helps support movement of the body and maintain standing balance. When the hip muscles become weak due to injury, inactivity, or aging, the hip joint, as well as the surrounding joints of the knee, sacrum, and lumbar spine, can become easily injured, causing pain, weakness, and decreased mobility.

Senior woman stretching

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Benefits of Hip Strengthening Exercises

The hip is a multidirectional joint that moves in three different planes, allowing the leg to move forward and backward, out to the side and across the body, and rotate internally and externally. The hip also provides stability to help the body maintain balance while standing and walking, and is controlled by the powerful, force-generating muscles of the legs including the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors.

Weak hip muscles can make it difficult for you to perform everyday activities like standing, walking, going up and down stairs, and squatting or bending. It is important for seniors to strengthen their hips to support the hip joints in order to reduce the risk of falling, decrease pain and stiffness associated with arthritis and other joint conditions, and maintain adequate strength and mobility to perform everyday tasks without limitations.

How to Exercise Safely

Strengthening exercises for the hips can be performed safely and easily at home. If standing is difficult for you or if you have poor balance, it is best to start with exercises performed while seated and lying down to improve your glute strength before moving on to standing activities.

Make sure to perform standing exercises next to something stable, like railing, a table, or a chair, for support so that you do not lose your balance.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing significant hip pain, stiffness, or inflammation, you should see your doctor to address your symptoms, determine a possible diagnosis, and refer you to physical therapy if necessary.

Seated Marching

This exercise helps strengthen the hip flexor muscles that are responsible for lifting the leg up, which is especially important for advancing the legs while walking and going up stairs. Weakness in the hip flexors can cause difficulty with walking by shortening the length of your steps, which slows down your walking speed. Increased difficulty lifting the legs while walking also decreases your foot clearance, increasing the risk of foot drag, which can lead to trips and falls.

To perform this exercise:

  • Sit in a sturdy chair with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Lift one leg up, bringing your knee closer to your chest
  • Hold for one second, then lower it
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Alternate between both legs, performing 10 repetitions on each side
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions for each leg

Bridges

This exercise helps strengthen the glute muscles, which are powerful, force-generating muscles that extend the hip. Adequate hip extension strength is needed for the leg to push off the ground to move forward when walking, stepping up when climbing stairs, and standing up from a seated position. The glutes also provide strength and stability for the legs to help with balance.

To perform this exercise:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat
  • Squeeze your glute muscles to lift your hips up. Keep your back flat and do not arch your back
  • Hold for three seconds at the top, then lower your hips back down
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions

Clamshells

This exercise helps strengthen the glute muscles, specifically the gluteus medius muscles on the sides of the hips that help provide support and stability for the pelvis and improve standing balance.

To perform this exercise:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat with a resistance band placed around your thighs above your knees
  • Keep your feet flat, push your knees out to the side against the band
  • Hold for three seconds, then bring your knees back together
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions

Modification: Increased Difficulty

If you want to take this exercise up a notch, follow these steps:

  • Lie on your side with your knees bent and knees and ankles stacked with a resistance band placed around your thighs above your knees
  • Keep your ankles together and lift your knee up toward the ceiling. Do not allow your body or hips to roll backward
  • Hold for three seconds, then bring your knees back together
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions, then switch sides
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions on each side

Standing Hip Extension 

This exercise helps strengthen your glute muscles.

To perform this exercise:

  • Stand in front of a wall, table, counter, or chair to have support to hold on to
  • Keeping your leg straight, kick one leg back directly behind you. Do not bend your knee or let your back arch
  • Hold for one second, then return to the starting position
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Alternate between both legs, performing 10 repetitions on each side
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions for each leg

Standing Hip Abduction

This exercise helps strengthen the gluteus medius muscles on the sides of the hips.

To perform this exercise:

  • Stand in front of a wall, table, counter, or chair to have support to hold on to
  • Keeping your leg straight, kick one leg out to the side. Keep your body upright without leaning toward either side
  • Hold for one second, then return to the starting position
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Alternate between both legs, performing 10 repetitions on each side
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions for each leg

Sit to Stand

This exercise helps strengthen the glute muscles.

To perform this exercise:

  • Sit in a chair with a firm surface (using a soft chair or couch will make it harder to stand up)
  • Lean your body forward so that your nose is in line with your toes
  • Use your legs to push yourself up from the chair. Try not to use your hands to help you push up from the chair surface
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top to fully extend your hips once standing upright
  • Hold for one second, then push you hips back and slowly lower yourself back onto the chair without plopping down
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions

Modification: Increased Difficulty

To add a little bit more challenge to this exercise, try to:

  • Stand in front of a chair
  • Push you hips back to slowly lower yourself down toward the chair. Make sure to lean backwards and do not let your knees travel over your toes
  • Without sitting down all the way, lightly tap the chair with your buttocks, then return to standing
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions
  • Rest, then repeat for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions

A Word From Verywell 

Hip strengthening is important for maintaining an active lifestyle well into retirement. Keeping your hips strong with exercises will allow you to perform everyday activities like standing, walking, going up and down stairs, and squatting or bending with ease, decrease pain and stiffness, and reduce the risk of falling. If you are struggling to do these exercises or are not seeing any benefit, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to physical therapy.

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