In this article, you will learn about hip strengthening exercises for the elderly. The hip joint and the pelvis and their musculature are very important for your health and ability to move on your own as you get older.
The largest muscles of the body are connected to the hip joint. The large muscles of the legs, the glutes, and the lower back musculature form the bulk of your muscle mass.
These muscles are what move us and keep us upright when we walk. It’s also this muscle mass that protects us when we fall on our behind and can actually even predict mortality risk.
The hip joint is also very problematic for many seniors as it tends to get inflamed and injured relatively easily. Even though the joint is big it many times takes most of the impact when we slip and fall.
A hip fracture can be painfully slow to heal and in the very elderly it might never fully heal. Unfortunately, hip injuries are many times the injury that takes a senior to the hospital for the last time. This is especially true if you suffer from osteoporosis.
What Exactly Are The Hips
The hip or hips in layman’s terms is usually regarded to consist of the hip joint and the whole pelvis. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint that connects the femur to our hip bone. The Pelvis consists of the hip bones on both sites that are connected by the sacrum at the back.
The pelvis also connects our spine to our lover body and is the fulcrum that moves force between our lower and upper bodies.
When you fall you can break just the wing of the hip bone (the Iliac crest) which is usually a fairly benign condition that heals on it’s own. But if you break or shatter the hip socket it can require extensive surgery and is very hard to heal.
Several important muscle groups are connected to the pelvis and the hip joint. These include:
- Abdominal muscles, including the internal and external obliques and the transversus abdominis muscle
- Lower back muscles like the multifidus and several ligaments of the lower back
- Gluteal muscles these are the largest muscles that function over the hip joint. They are the primary muscles we use during walking, running, lifting and jumping. The gluteals consist of two muscles, the gluteus maximus and the gluteus medius. They are responsible for the extension and abduction of the hip joint.
- Hip rotators these include several smaller muscles like the piriformis that are responsible for the rotation of the leg at the hip.
- Hip adductor that are responsible for bringing your legs together. These include the adductor brevis, longus and magnus
- Hamstrings the long head of the bicep femoris, the large hamsting muscle connects to the pelvis. The hamstrings contribute significantly to the hip extension, especially when the hips are fully flexed.
- Hip flexors these include the Psoas major and illiacus which are responsible for hip flexion e.g. raising your leg.
Targeting The Right Muscles With Hip Strengthening Exercises For Seniors
As you can see there are a lot of muscles that connect to the hip and the pelvis. You don’t have to remember any of them. But it’s useful to understand the basic anatomy and the functions of the joints and muscles to understand what we are trying to achieve with strengthening our muscles.
Generally speaking, weight training never targets a single muscle. It usually targets at least a muscle group that’s responsible for one movement pattern like extending the hips.
Many exercises target several muscles groups or even most of your muscles and these are generally the most useful and functional movements for staying healthy.
A good example of a movement that utilizes your whole body from fingertips to toes is the deadlift. You move the weight with your legs but hold the weight with your arms. Every single muscle in between has to be active to successfully transfer the force between your legs and arms.
It’s also very effective for building handgrip strength as I talked about in the article Handgrip Exercises For Seniors.
Best Hip Strengthening Exercises For The Elderly
Besides the multi-joint functional movements like squats and deadlifts that I have mentioned in several articles, there are few excellent movements that target especially the hips.
The muscles we will be targeting are the gluteal muscles, the adductor muscles, and the abductor muscles. The hip flexors rarely need strengthening but we will look at a simple exercise for them as well.
If any of these muscles are weak or tight it can cause a host of problems. Weak hips musculature is a common cause of lower back pain. While a back brace can help ease the pain, the only way to fix the cause is by strengthening and mobilizing the muscles.
Hamstring flexibility is very important for hip function. If your hamstrings are tight, your glutes and lower back can’t work correctly. I talked more about this in the article Hamstring Stretches For Seniors.
Your core muscles, especially the abdominals, will affect your hips as well. You can learn more about the importance of core strength in the articles Core Strength Exercises For Seniors and Sit-Ups For Seniors.
Arthritis can affect your hips which can affect your ability to do strength training. There are other options to keep your hips functioning as I talked about in the article Best Recumbent Bike For Seniors With Arthritis.
Fortunately, most people with arthritis can perform strength training and it can help with the symptoms significantly. So at least be open to it and discuss about it with your treating physician if you have arthritis.
Let’s start with an exercise that uses the whole lower body and activates the hips as well.
The leg press is an excellent lower body strength builder that you can use to complement the squat. You can use heavier weight with it safely than with the squat and it’s much easier to master.
Just remember the leg press doesn’t build balance and coordination like the squats. Bodyweight squats are something you should master and keep doing as a senior to remain mobile and strong. That’s of course if your joints allow it.
The higher resistance of the leg press is especially good for the glutes. To target the glutes and hamstrings over the quads you should place your heels a bit higher on the platform. It will still activate the whole lower body.
Bring the sled as down as you can without feeling any restriction ins your hips. You can try different leg widths and choose the which allows the highest range of motion and feels the best.
The most important part is to never let your pelvis and lower back rise from the seat. If this happens, shorten the range of motion and the weight. You can increase the range of motion gradually as you become stronger.
Donkey kicks are a great exercise for the glutes that you can do at home or at the gym. They activate both the gluteus maximus and medius. You can rotate your leg to target the gluteus medius more or keep it back to target the gluteus maximus more.
Here’s a great example of the exercise on YouTube by Tessa Van Wade (YouTube embed, content not owned or created by ElderStrength.com)
Seated Hip Adductions
This is a simple machine exercise that targets your hip adductor muscle group. You can pretty much find this at any gym. It’s hard to train the adductors effectively without this machine.
Remember to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle and keep the range of motion appropriate for your mobility. Start very light! It’s very easy to pull these muscles if they are weak and not used to this kind of work.
Here’s a great example of the exercise on YouTube by ScottHermanFitness YouTube embed, content not owned or created by ElderStrength.com):
Seated Hip Abductions
Just like a hip adductor machine, you can find this in most gyms. It looks very similar to the adductor machine but the movement direction is the opposite. It activates the abductors like the gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae, and several of the smaller hip muscles.
There is this weird misconception that only women should use these machines but they are probably more important for the older gentlemen. I talked more about this in the article Bodybuilding Workouts For Men Over 50.
Here’s a great example of the exercise by FitnessKensho (YouTube embed, content not owned or created by EldesrStrength.com):
I hope you enjoyed reading about these leg and hip strengthening exercises for the elderly. If you have any questions please leave a comment below and I promise to do my best to help you out.
Keeping your hips strong and mobile is very important for your health as you get older. Weak and stiff hips limit your mobility, balance, and endurance. In the worst-case scenario, they limit your ability to walk even short distances.
Strong muscles also mean larger muscles. The amount of muscle mass actually predicts longevity in the elderly, so you can see it’s wise to keep your hips strong and the muscle mass as high as possible.
Strengthening your hips can also help with chronic hip and lower back pain by improving circulation and muscle imbalances.
So try these tips for increasing your hip strength and muscle mass to enjoy a healthy and active life as you grow older!
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See you next time!