Importance of the Deep Rotators for Hip Stability (& The Best Exercises to Strengthen Them)

Updated: Apr 9

There are a lot of muscles that contribute to hip stability, but today we are going to focus on a group called the deep hip rotators. In total, there are 6 of them: the piriformis, gemellus inferior and superior, obturator internus and externus and quadratus femoris. If you are a dancer, then you probably already have figured out that these are your "turn out" muscles, but they are so much more than that!

Here’s what they do:

  1. Control hip internal and external rotation

  2. Create more stability in the hip joint by keeping the head of the femur centered in the socket

  3. Support the pelvic floor

  4. Help control optimal alignment in your entire leg, especially in weight bearing positions

Weakness in the deep hip rotators can lead to all sorts of compensations during movement, so it's important to spend some time learning how to activate and strengthening them. It’s even more important to learn how to engage them during functional movements like squats, deadlifts or running, to reduce your risk of injuries. Sure, you can clamshell all day long, but unless you learn how to activate these muscles during functional movements you won't get very far.


Here's a few examples of how properly activating the deep rotators can affect your leg alignment:

Deep rotators engaged vs. Deep Rotators not engaged


Deep rotators engaged vs. Deep Rotators not engaged


Deep rotators engaged vs. Deep Rotators not engaged

As you can see, when the deep rotators are engaged, the knee stays aligned with the center of the foot and the arch is maintained in the foot. When they are not active, the knee tips in and arch falls down. The first step to building more hip stability is understanding what your movement patterns should look like, then you can start building up the strength.


Here are 8 different exercises to help strengthen your deep hip rotators.


Clams

Yup, it’s still a good one, however it should only be your starting point. Use it to learn how to activate the right muscles, then move on to something more challenging. You can always go back to it when your muscle memory needs a little refresher, but it’s important to progress into more functional exercises.


Side Plank Clams

Here’s a variation of the traditional clam to make things a little more exciting. Now, you are working the supporting hip and core as well.


Standing Clams

Time to make things a little more functional. When done correctly, this exercise works the leg in the air and the supporting leg. Be sure to slightly bend the standing leg, and imagine gently pressing the knee outward by using the hip rotators.


Beast Plank Fire Hydrants

You probably have seen fire hydrants before, but let’s take it up a notch by doing the exercise while holding a beast plank. A sure fire way to get the hips AND core burning.


Weight Bearing Internal and External Rotation

For this one, use a foam roller to cue yourself into the right position. The key is, you must keep your pelvis level and then press your hip directly into the foam roller throughout the ENTIRE movement. You should immediately feel the standing hip working just by pressing your weight into the roller. If you don’t feel it, you aren’t doing it right!


Single Leg Deadlifts

Not directly a hip rotator exercise, but you sure will feel them working. Keep the knee slightly pressed outward so it is directly over the middle of your foot, which will get those muscles working. Just make sure to master hip hinging and the regular deadlift before you try this one (watch the video here).


Lunges with Trunk Rotation

This exercise is a great way to work on building stability and awareness in the rotators as you move your trunk on a fixed leg. As with the other exercises, be sure to maintain the knee positioned over the center of the foot and avoid the knee collapsing in as you rotate your trunk.


Sumo Squat/Lunge Combo

This exercise really gets the deep rotators burning. Be sure to keep the knees aligned with the center of the foot to activate the rotator muscles.

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CONTACT:
       Owner- Jenna Siracuse Loewer, DPT   
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