The Fitness Zone

Hips Don’t Lie: Understand This Vital Joint and Take Your Training to the Next Level

Apr 24, 2023 | by Kate Kraschnefski

Hip mobility is essential for overall fitness and functional movement. The hips are a ball and socket joint, which means they have a wide range of motion and are home to many of the body’s largest and most powerful muscles. These muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, play a critical role in movements such as squatting, lunging, jumping, walking and running (2).

Unfortunately, our modern sedentary lifestyle can lead to tight hip flexors, weak glutes, and other imbalances that restrict hip mobility and cause discomfort, pain, and even injury. As a result, fitness professionals should emphasize hip training, including mobility, in both their own workouts and client programming.  

This article will be an illuminating exploration of all things hip-related, specifically designed to improve the knowledge and skills of fitness professionals. We’ll look at hip anatomy before diving into exercise recommendations, giving you valuable insights that will improve your ability to guide and train your clients. Prepare to unleash the true potential of your clients’ hips and transform their fitness journeys!

Muscles of the Hip

There are many muscles that attach to the hip joint, some of which are more significant than others. These muscles can be broadly categorized into two groups based on their location and function: the hip flexors and the hip extensors.

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that originate from the lumbar spine and the pelvis and attach to the anterior side of the femur bone in the thigh. These muscles are responsible for flexing the hip joint, which means they bring the thigh bone towards the torso. The major hip flexors include:

  1. Iliopsoas: This muscle is composed of two parts, the iliacus and the psoas major. It originates from the lumbar spine and the iliac fossa of the pelvis, and inserts onto the lesser trochanter of the femur. The iliopsoas is one of the strongest hip flexors and is used in many activities such as running, jumping, and climbing.
  1. Rectus femoris: This muscle is one of the quadriceps muscles and is located on the front of the thigh. It originates from the ilium of the hip bone and the acetabulum of the pelvis and inserts onto the patella and tibial tuberosity via the patellar tendon. In addition to extending the knee joint, it also flexes the hip joint.
  1. Sartorius: This muscle is the longest muscle in the body and runs obliquely across the front of the thigh. It originates from the anterior superior iliac spine of the hip bone and inserts onto the medial surface of the tibia bone below the knee joint. The sartorius muscle flexes the hip joint and also helps with abduction and lateral rotation of the thigh.
  1. Tensor fasciae latae: This muscle is located on the lateral side of the thigh and originates from the iliac crest of the hip bone. It inserts onto the iliotibial band, which runs down the outside of the thigh to the tibia bone. The tensor fasciae latae flexes the hip joint and also helps to stabilize the knee joint during walking and running.

On the other hand, the hip extensors are a group of muscles that originate from the pelvis and attach to the posterior side of the femur. These muscles are responsible for extending the hip joint, which means they bring the thigh bone away from the torso. The major hip extensors include:

  1. Gluteus Maximus: This is the largest muscle in the buttocks and the primary hip extensor. It originates at the back of the pelvis and sacrum and inserts into the iliotibial band (ITB) and the top of the femur. It plays a crucial role in activities such as standing up from a seated position, climbing stairs, and running.
  1. Biceps Femoris: This muscle is located at the back of the thigh and has two heads: a long head and a short head. Both heads attach to the ischial tuberosity, a bony prominence at the base of the pelvis, and the long head also attaches to the top of the fibula bone in the lower leg. The biceps femoris helps to extend the hip and also plays a role in knee flexion.
  1. Semitendinosus: Another muscle located at the back of the thigh, the semitendinosus is one of the three muscles that make up the hamstring group. It attaches to the ischial tuberosity and inserts into the upper part of the tibia bone in the lower leg. In addition to extending the hip, it also flexes the knee.
  1. Semimembranosus: The third hamstring muscle, the semimembranosus also attaches to the ischial tuberosity and inserts into the back of the tibia bone. It works to extend the hip and flex the knee, as well as to rotate the knee inward.
  1. Adductor Magnus: This muscle is located on the inside of the thigh and has two parts: a adductor portion and a hamstring portion. The adductor portion originates at the pubic bone and inserts into the femur, while the hamstring portion attaches to the ischial tuberosity. The adductor magnus helps to extend the hip, as well as adduct and rotate the thigh.
  1. Gluteus Medius: This muscle is located on the side of the hip and originates at the ilium, or hip bone. It inserts into the greater trochanter of the femur. The gluteus medius plays a role in hip abduction and also helps to stabilize the pelvis during movement.

These are just a few of the primary hip extensor muscles, but there are many others that contribute to the movement and stability of the hip joint.

The Importance of Hip Strengthening

As fitness professionals, it’s important for us to understand the importance of strengthening the hip muscles. The hips play a critical role in our movement patterns and overall physical health, and a lack of strength in this area can lead to a variety of issues.

One of the main benefits of hip strengthening is injury prevention. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint that can move in multiple directions. This means that it’s essential to have adequate strength and stability in the muscles that support this joint. Weak hip muscles can lead to compensations in other areas of the body, which can result in injuries such as lower back pain, knee pain, and even ankle or foot injuries. Strong hips can help to improve overall biomechanics and movement patterns, reducing the risk of injury.

Another benefit of hip strengthening is improved athletic performance. The hip muscles are some of the largest and most powerful muscles in the body, and they play a crucial role in movements such as jumping, sprinting, and changing direction quickly. By improving the strength and power of the hip muscles, athletes can see improvements in their performance in a variety of sports and activities.

For the every day client, who may not have a focus on athletic performance, strengthening the hips can also improve posture and overall quality of life. Many of us spend the majority of our days sitting, which can lead to tightness and weakness in the hip flexors and glute muscles. This can result in poor posture and discomfort as we go about our daily lives. By dedicating time to strengthening these muscles, we can improve our posture and reduce the risk of pain and discomfort.

There are many exercises for strengthening the hip muscles, but the following four are typical ones that are frequently used in hip-focused training programs:

  1. Squats: Squats are a type of compound exercise that primarily work the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, but they also significantly work the hip flexors and extensors. With variations like front squats, back squats, and goblet squats, you can focus on different parts of your lower body. Squats can be done with bodyweight, a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
  1. Deadlifts: Another compound exercise that engages numerous muscle groups, including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core, is the deadlift. This exercise is a great way to develop the strength and power of the hip extensors because they are crucial in extending the hips to lift the weight off the ground. Similar to squats, deadlifts can be performed using a variety of tools and grips.
  1. Lunges: Unlike squats and deadlifts, lunges are a unilateral exercise that can help with balance and coordination while also providing a different kind of hip-muscle challenge. They can be carried out in different planes (forward, backward, or lateral) and with various forms of resistance (dumbbells, barbells, or one’s own body weight). Lunges primarily work the glutes, quads, and hip flexors, but they also, to a lesser extent, work the hamstrings and calves.
  1. Hip thrusts: This exercise concentrates on the glutes and hip extensors more specifically. They involve putting the upper back on a bench, keeping the feet firmly on the floor, and crossing a barbell or other weight across the hips. During the exercise, the hips are extended upward, the glutes are contracted at the peak of the motion, and then the hips are lowered again. Hip thrusts can be a very efficient way to increase gluteal strength and muscle, as well as hip mobility and stability.
The Importance of Hip Mobility

Increased athletic performance, better functional ability for daily activities like bending, lifting, and carrying, and improved posture are just a few advantages of increasing hip mobility.

Regular, consistent hip mobility training is necessary to reap these advantages. This can involve stretching, foam rolling, and mobility drills, among other exercises.

When it comes to stretching, there are various techniques that can be used to improve hip mobility. Here are some of the most effective hip stretches for fitness professionals to incorporate into their own training and the programming of their clients:

  1. Lying Hip Rotations: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Move through the hip by moving the knee towards the midline of the body and pressing it away as well. Hold for a few seconds at the end of the movement. This stretch targets the piriformis, a small muscle located deep in the glutes that can contribute to hip tightness and discomfort.
  1. Hip Flexor Stretch: Kneel down on one knee and bring the other foot forward, with the knee at a 90-degree angle. Gently push the hip forward and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. This stretch targets the hip flexors, which can become tight from prolonged sitting or a lack of hip extension in exercise movements.
  1. Butterfly: Sit up with your feet together, and gently move the knees down toward the ground. Use your hand to press into the ground. To intensify the stretch, move your groin closer to your heels. Hold for 30 seconds. This stretch targets the adductors, the muscles located on the inside of the thigh.
  1. Frog Hip Stretch: Start on hands and knees, bringing your knees as far apart as is comfortable. Rock back and forth in that position. Keep the balls of your feet on the ground, with your toes pointed outward. If it feels available, sit back and relax into the stretch. Start for ten seconds and build duration over time. This stretch targets the hip abductors, the muscles located on the outside of the hip.
  1. Pigeon Pose: Start on your hands and knees, bring one knee forward and place it on the ground, with the ankle under the opposite hip. Lower the hips down and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. This stretch targets the hip rotators, a group of muscles responsible for external rotation of the hip.

These stretches can help increase hip mobility and lower the risk of pain or injury when incorporated into a regular mobility routine. However, it is essential to approach stretching with caution and mindfulness. Overstretching or forcing the body into positions that are outside of its normal range of motion can result in injury or aggravate already existing conditions. When working with clients, make sure you do a thorough movement screen and postural analysis and always progress gradually. (1)

In addition to stretching, foam rolling can also be an effective way to improve hip mobility. 

Fitness enthusiasts frequently use foam rolling, a well-liked self-myofascial release (SMR) technique, to increase flexibility, lessen soreness in their muscles, and speed up recovery. Foam rolling is a technique for releasing trigger points, or knots or adhesions in the muscles, by applying pressure to specific body parts with a foam roller. This aids in boosting blood flow to the area in need and fostering healing.

Foam rolling has become increasingly popular over the past decade, and for good reason. It’s a cost-effective and convenient way to improve muscle health and performance. Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive and can be found at most fitness stores, online and are set up in most gyms.

Foam rolling has many benefits for people who train regularly especially for those who train with high volume and intensity. One of the main benefits of foam rolling is improved flexibility. Foam rolling can help to increase the range of motion in your joints, which is important for preventing injury and improving athletic performance. By breaking up adhesions and releasing tight muscles, foam rolling can help to increase your flexibility and mobility, making it easier to perform exercises with proper form.

Foam rolling can hasten recovery time after a workout and lessen muscle soreness. Our muscles experience micro-tears during exercise, which can lead to soreness and inflammation. Foam rolling can speed up the healing process and lessen soreness by lowering inflammation and improving blood flow to the muscles. This facilitates recovery, enabling us or our clients to train more frequently and advance more quickly.

Another benefit of foam rolling is improved circulation. When you use a foam roller, you are applying pressure to the muscles, which can help to improve blood flow to the targeted area. This increased blood flow can help to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which is important for muscle growth and repair.

Foam rolling can also be used as a form of self-massage, helping to relax the muscles and release tension. This can be especially beneficial for those who experience a lot of stress or tension in their muscles, such as people who sit for long periods of time or those who have a physically demanding job.

If you or your client are new to foam rolling, it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of foam rolling sessions over time. You should start by using a softer foam roller and focus on the larger muscle groups, such as quads, hamstrings, glutes and back. All of these will positively influence hip mobility.  As you or your client become more comfortable with foam rolling, you can progress to using a firmer foam roller and targeting smaller, more specific areas of the body.

Foam rolling can be done before or after a workout, or even on rest days. It’s important to listen to your body and client feedback and not overdo it, as foam rolling can be intense and may cause discomfort if you apply too much pressure. A good goal is to foam roll for 10-15 minutes per session, focusing on each muscle group for 1-2 minutes at a time.  You can teach your client to do this prior to sessions starting off.

The Hips Don’t Lie

By supporting, education and guiding our clients with protocols that include hip strengthening and mobility exercises, you are putting them in a great position to perform better in their training, as well as enjoy the many other benefits of having healthy hips.  


  1. Konrad, A., Močnik, R., Titze, S., Nakamura, M., & Tilp, M. (2021). The Influence of Stretching the Hip Flexor Muscles on Performance Parameters. A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 1936.
  2. Reiman, M. P., & Matheson, J. W. (2013). Restricted hip mobility: clinical suggestions for self-mobilization and muscle re-education. International journal of sports physical therapy, 8(5), 729–740.
Kate Kraschnefski

Kate Kraschnefski

Kate began her fitness journey in 2004. After graduating at the Australian Institute of Fitness, she immediately secured a role as Gym Manager on a luxury cruise liner sailing the Mediterranean and the Caribbean for eight months. This was an incredible opportunity for Kate to hone her fitness skills, and on her return, she secured the role of PT Manager at Fernwood Brisbane City. In addition to a busy PT schedule, during this time Kate also taught yoga, pilates, freestyle aerobics and group cycling. Keen to develop her business skills, Kate then went on to work as a Sales and Marketing Manager for Creative Fitness Marketing for almost three years. After that stint she started her own personal training business and soon became a Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness. Kate is grateful to have had such a varied and exciting career in fitness, and loves managing the passionate team that helps our graduates begin their own amazing journey! She is passionate about Russian Kettlebell Training and represented Australia in Girevoy Sport at the World Championships in Dublin in 2015.

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Disclaimer: Where Certificate III in Fitness, Cert III/Cert 3, or Fitness Coach is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Fitness, Cert IV/Cert 4, or Personal Trainer is mentioned, it refers to SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Program™ is mentioned, it refers to Fitness Essentials and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Plus+ Program™ is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Massage or Cert IV/Cert 4 is mentioned, it refers to HLT42021 Certificate IV in Massage Therapy. Where Diploma of Remedial Massage is mentioned, it refers to HLT52021 Diploma of Remedial Massage.