The hips are often problematic. Not only do the extra calories seem to grab and land on the hips, but the hip structure seems to accentuate even the smallest nutritional flaws. While hip structure is important to lower body aesthetics, the muscles around the hips and especially the hip abductors are key to maintaining balance whether you’re jogging, playing tennis, or just taking a walk. Abduction is the action that moves your thighs and legs from the center line of the body to the side of the body. Weak or unbalanced hip abductors limit these activities and make you more prone to injury or even falls.
You might think that only the very old will fall and this will not be a problem for you. However, it is very important to maximize the strength of your hip abductors in preparation for the time when you will become more prone to falls and hip fractures. In the United States, one in three adults aged 65 and over have falls each year. A fall causes hip fractures and this debilitating condition leads to a large percentage of deaths and many serious health problems.
Several research studies have shown that regular exercise helps reduce hip fractures in women by 50 percent. Imagine what direct hip training with the right diet would do! Exercises like leg abductions are becoming essential and have a dual benefit. First, they make your hips look great by toning and shaping them. Second, they strengthen your hip abductor muscles, improve your stability and balance, and this reduces the chances of you becoming a falling stat at some point.
Hip abductor muscles
The gluteus is one of the gluteal muscles of the hip. It’s a fan-shaped muscle that sits just below the gluteus large muscle (which makes up most of the shape of the buttocks). The gluteus medius muscle is attached between the ilium bone of the hip and the back of the femur. It dissipates the femur strongly at the hip joint (moves the femur laterally, away from the midline of the body). It is also used to rotate the hip laterally towards the center of the body during abduction (through the lateral part of the thigh).
The gluteus medius muscle probably has the most important role in maintaining balance when walking or running. This is a critical muscle for the elderly, who are more prone to fall accidents. It is also important for sports that require quick posture changes without loss of balance (e.g. skiing, skating, dancing, etc.).
As the name suggests, the gluteus minimus is the smallest of the gluteal muscles and also the deepest. It adheres to the outer surface of the pelvic bone of the pelvis, deep to the gluteal muscle, and to the posterior and middle surface of the femur of the thigh. Similar to the gluteus medius muscle, it drains the thigh bone from the pelvis. Because it’s smaller than the gluteus median muscle, it’s not quite as adductive as its larger cousin.
The tensor fascia lata muscle is enclosed between two layers of the fascia lata. It adheres to the upper part of the iliotibial band of the fascia lata. The proximal (upper) attachment of the fascia lata is the anterior (front) part and the lateral parts of the hip bones. It starts distally (to the feet) along the iliotibial band. The tensor fascia lata muscle lies slightly in front of the hip joint, so it does not act as a strong abductor. Nevertheless, it is very active and contracts the gluteus medius and minimus muscles vigorously during abduction movements. In addition, the tensor fascia lata muscle pulls on the iliotibial tract and thus stabilizes the hip and upper body on the thigh. It also prevents posterior displacement of the iliotibial band when the hips are extensively extended by the gluteus maximus muscle.
The seated hip abductor machine in your gym is perfect for exercising the outside of the thigh and the abductors of the hips. You should aim for at least 15-20 repetitions for each set.
1. In the hip abduction machine, sit with your back flat against the backrest and your feet / heels on the foot bars (some units have foot bars and others have foot rests).
2. Your thighs should start close together. The thigh pad should rest on the lateral side (outside) of one of the two thighs, just above the knee. You may need to pull the position lever inward to place your legs and thighs close together before starting the exercise.
3. Grasp the side handles with both hands to stabilize your upper body.
4. Spread your legs apart by abducting your thigh at the hip joint. Make this a gentle ballistic strike rather than a quick one. Take about two full seconds to move from the position with your thighs close together to wide apart.
5. Hold the fully abducted position for two seconds.
6. Slowly control the lowering of the resistance and bring the legs back to the starting position. Take a full three seconds to do this.
7. Don’t take a break, just start the next rep and don’t rest until the set is over.
Tensing and tightening the muscles that make up the hip structures takes time and a certain amount of devotion to diet and exercise. Good looking hips are not easy to achieve, but neither are they an impossible task. While genetics dictate a large part of your shape, you can help your genetics by getting the most out of them, so don’t give up.
While your hips may not be all you want them to be today, they’ll be firmer and more shapely in just a few months. As a secondary benefit, investing time in leg abductions also protects you from falls and hip fractures and even knee injuries in later life.
Sometimes it pays to get insurance and this is one of those insurance practice that pays off later – but one that you can enjoy now by developing a great set of firm and shapely hips!
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