Most exercisers program their training around the major muscle groups (quads, glutes, back, chest, etc). While they do contribute the most to strength, muscle gains, and performance, they aren’t the only muscles in need of attention. The abductor muscles, for example, may get indirect stimulation from squats and lunges, but these exercises can’t do what band hip abductions can do, for instance.
Your hip abductor muscles in the butt and thighs, especially glute medius, and tensor Fascia latae (TFL), are important for swinging the leg laterally, lower body joint and muscle stability, performing functional movements, and preventing daily injuries from everyday activities.
But how often do we perform lateral isolation movements? For many, never.
All you need is a resistance band and a stable base to anchor it to, or you can opt for one of the variations using just a band and your legs. This article features the abductors’ anatomy, how-to, benefits, variations, and FAQs, and more.
Muscles Worked During Band Hip Abductions
Located on the outer hips, your abductors are important muscles for maintaining strength and stability in the lower body. There are two significant abductor muscles that take control of this movement pattern.
Gluteal muscles – medius, and minimus
You can think of your gluteal butt muscles as three siblings, from youngest to oldest. The gluteus minimus is the youngest (smallest), medius middle child, and maximus (oldest and biggest). Medius covers minimus, and is found deep to the maximus.
The two younger siblings, medius and minumus are given the chore of abducting or moving the leg outward away from the midline of the body. Therefore, band hip abductions rely heavily on these two muscles.
Tensor fascia latae
While it sounds like someone’s favorite Starbucks beverage, tensor fascia latae is a muscle that rides the outer thigh from the iliac crest, down and through the iliotibial (IT) band, before crossing the knee and inserting into the tibia. Together with the glute medius and minumus, TFL abducts, and internally rotates the hip. It also has an anatomical association with glute maximus, where it helps the former in hip abduction.
TFL other functions include hip flexion, although a weaker flexor than iliopsoas, knee flexion past 30 degrees, and, hip and knee stabilization, and tibial lateral rotation.
How To Do Band Hip Abductions
One of the biggest benefits of band hip abductions is that they’re relatively simply, and non intimidating. Anyone, including beginner exercises can do them.
- Attach one end of the band/s to an object at lower shin height just above the ankle.
- Stand sideways to the base and hold onto it if you need the stability. Then wrap the other end of the band around the ankle furthest away from the base, not the foot closest to the anchor point.
- Take a few steps away from the base to stretch the band and create tension.
- With your feet closer together, move the banded leg out and away from your body laterally while keeping your knee fully extended.
- Pull your leg back in and repeat the exercise until you’ve completed the set. Then turn your body to face the opposite direction, attach the band to the other ankle, and repeat the movement. Make sure to alternate legs for each side to train your abductors equally.
Check out the short video tutorial below to see an example of band hip abductions.
- Make sure there’s always a little tension (stretch) in the bands, even in the starting position. This will help keep your abductors active.
- The band should not be rolling up and down your ankles or the base.
- If you only have a loop band, you can wrap it around both ankles, and then work one leg at a time, while the other legs acts as the base.
- Target Muscle Group: Gluteus medius
- Type: Strength, function
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Resistance band
- Difficulty: Beginner
Benefits of Band Hip Abductions
Band hip abductions offer some nice benefits and only require a small commitment of your time. But they’re absolutely worth it if you take them seriously like the other important movements.
Remain a functional, performing beast
Strengthening and maintenance are two essential components of performance, and longevity. Band hip abductions are good for both when it comes to your hip abductors. They’re especially useful for preventing long term negative effects of “coma glutes”, or when the butt muscles shut off due to long inactivity and modern day tech heavy lifestyles.
Band hip abductions are an easy, low stress/physically taxing activity that anyone can pick up.
Change your plane
Some people only ever do a select few exercises, that happen to occur in the same plane, like squats, lunges, and leg extensions. But we can move sideways, and diagonal too in multiple planes, and it’s good to use these built in capabilities. Not just for performance reasons, but to help maintain healthy and mobile joints, that protect us from injuries.
Popular rehab exercise
Band hip abductions are great for assisting the rehabilitation of the outer hip muscles, or correcting structural issues like knee valgus, or knock knee syndrome, which is when the knees appear to collapse in toward each other (hence the reference to the knees knocking together), can be the result of weak hips. Using band hip abductions as part of a rehabbing program can help to create big improvements.
One study from 2018 found a connection between knee valgus and weak hips. Therefore, performing hip abduction exercises should improve the condition (1).
There’s also patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), which as the name implies affects the patella or kneecap. Commonly caused by strenuous, repetitive activity, or misalignment of the kneecap due to various reasons, PFPS can be helped through a rehabbing program that includes hip abduction specific exercises.
The entry to do band hip abductions is minimal. Anyone can get up and do them because, well, there’s not much to it. You do, however, need decent hip mobility, and flexibility but at a basic functional human level. Not to mention, there are several variations.
Common Mistakes When Performing Band Hip Abductions
While it’s hard to mess up this movement, try not to do these things, and you’ll get the most out of this exercise.
Doing them too fast
We could see why someone would attach an ankle band and start pumping out reps like a cardio workout. But most people never really train these undervalued muscles with focused isolation movements. In the little time we train the abductors, it’s better to go slow, and feel the muscles working equally on each side. You can also more easily identify a weaker side, whereas using momentum can hide structural flaws.
Using too much resistance
Ego training or not understanding your capabilities is a common theme for many exercisers. And bands are no exception. If you cannot move your legs far enough away from your body, you’re not training the abductors to their full potential.
Variations and Alternatives of Band Hip Abductions
Band abductions is one way to do it. But there are advantages and disadvantages, These variations too have theirs. Check out the best alternative hip abductor exercises for you to try out.
Lying band hip abductions
Whether you perform them while lying on your side (clamshells) or back, you can accomplish something similar. But, you’ll need a loop band that you can wrap around both legs. Then, you’ll pull your legs apart, activating those hip abductor muscles.
- Sit on the floor and wrap a loop band around your knees or ankles, then lie on your side, with both legs extended, and feet together.
- Now lift the top leg up high, then slowly drop it back down, keeping a small amount of tension or stretch in the bands. Then repeat as many times as needed.
Seated band hip abductions
If you feel more in control doing band hip abductions seated, then its another great option. Just wrap the loop band around your knees while seated on a chair or bench, and do the same technique as explained for the lying variations.
Pro tip: Some people may feel it better if they wrap the band just below the knees. Feel free to experiment a little!
Monster/lateral bands walks
If monsters have taught us anything, it’s a better way to walk to build our glute medius and lateral thigh muscles… Monster walks are a booty band exercise that isometrically, and isotonically work the abductors by walking in a wide, quarter squat stance, maintaining tension in the bands.
- Wrap a band around both legs on the lower thigh just above the knees and keep your legs far enough apart to create tension in the band.
- Descend into a quarter squat and bend slightly forward at the waist. Note: The quarter squat stance will fire up your gluteus medius and tensor fasciae latae.
- Tense your abs and take large normal forward making sure to maintain tension in the band/s.
- Now take small steps backward maintaining the same technique.
Cable hip abductions
For home, bands are king. In the gym, cables are arguably better and it’s obvious why. You have control over the weight, the resistance is consistent (not varying the resistance based on how much the band is stretched), and the pulley won’t slide up and down. Additionally, most gyms have ankle strap attachments, so they’re also convenient.
1. Slide the cable pulley all the way down to the last notch on the cable railing. Then connect an ankle attachment, and secure it around the ankle furthest away from the cable machine.
2. While standing sideways and just off center to the cable machine, hold onto it with one arm for balance, then take a step away until the cable is tight.
3. Lift the strapped leg away from the opposite leg like you’re doing a side kick.
4. Under control, reverse the movement to bring your leg back to the starting position.
- Go light, and focus on performing a full lateral swing outward.
- Aim for 10-15 reps per leg/set.
Machine hip abductions
Probably the most common variation, machine abductions are going to be preferred by most gym goers because they’re convenient, you can choose your weight, and both legs can work at the same time. Nowadays there are several variations, from the conventional seated machine abductor to standing versions.
Pro tip: Sit straight up with your back fully against the machine pad to target more of the abductors, or scoot your butt to the edge of the seat, lean forward and grab onto the machine to hit more of the overall glutes, as demonstrated in the video example below.
Check out our frequently asked questions section for some band hip abduction training tips.
How many sets and reps of band hip abductions should I do?
At a minimum, we recommend 2 sets x 12-15 reps performed slow, and controlled.
How often should I do band hip abductions?
Like any muscles, you’ll get the most benefit from training it a few times per week. Depending on your level of experience, and goals, two to three times per week should be adequate.
Can I load band hip abductions heavy?
You can certainly challenge yourself with this movement. After all, that’s the whole point of resistance training. However, band abductions should not be a max loaded movement.
It’s better to focus on performing each rep slow and under control, with a full range of movement. Plus, most people aren’t strong enough in this position.
Why are bands an effective tool for working the hip abductors?
Bands are easy to access, and offer an effective way to train the abductors while standing. Because bands stretch, the pressure is lighter at the beginning of each rep, which may be a good way for exercisers and rehab patients to ease into the movement.
A car isn’t just an engine, there are several components that keep it running, just like your body. While squats will give you big quads, you’d have neither without strong, stable, and healthy joints. Your hip abductors are those smaller components that’ll keep you training, performing, and living free of pain and injury.
If you haven’t already, get yourself a band, or try one of the equipment free abductor variations. You may not see immediate, visible benefits, but what goes on in the background is just as important.