The hip is one of the most important joints that we need to make sure we keep mobile. A lot of us may achieve basic mobility of the hips which is moving the leg forward and back, but what about external rotation of the hip
It is important that you are able to externally rotate your hips sufficient especially if you are someone who is highly active and looking to perform at a high level. In addition, anyone who is looking to perform squats and lunges with proper form will need to make sure they possess adequate external rotation of the hips. Without adequate strength in the external rotators, the knees may buckle in during the squat resulting in poor squatting form.
Strength is just as important as flexibility in the external rotators. Without sufficient strength, you will not have stability or strength in the hips which could lead to overworking the lower back and quads. Furthermore, weak external rotators can cause knee pain and all other kinds of unwanted postural dysfunctions.
If you are looking to increase your range of hip external rotation and also the strength in your external rotators, you’re in the right place. This short post will explain what external rotation of the hip is, as well as a few stretches and exercises to improve your hip external rotation.
What is External Rotation of the Hip?
External rotation of the hip is when the top of the femur or thigh rotates towards the outside, or away from the midline of the body. As this motion is made your knees will turn outwards. To illustrate this further, if you’re sitting down on a chair with your leg bent at 90 degrees, move the inside of your foot toward the midline of your body. This is external rotation.
Do not get this confused with hip internal rotation. As you guessed, hip internal rotation is the opposite of external rotation and involves turning your thigh bone or femur away from the midline. If in a seated position, your foot will move away from the midline such as in the image below.
For the average person, they will usually lack both hip internal and external rotation, however, it is more common to lack internal rotation to a greater degree to external rotation. In any case, if you are seeking to improve both, be sure to also check out our guide on how to improve hip internal rotation.
Testing Hip External Rotation
If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that you already know that you are lacking in your ability to externally rotate your hips. However, if you want to know the extent to which you are missing external rotation there are several tests.
The first one you can do can test both internal and external rotation from the testing position. Lie down on your front and raise one foot in the air bending your knee at 90 degrees. Relax the leg and allow it to drop inwards as far as it can go making sure to keep the front of your hips grounded. The more your shin and foot can fall closer to the ground, the greater the external rotation. Ideally, a good range of external rotation is 45 degrees. If your leg is barely moving, then this is an area you will want to improve in.
If you did wish to test for internal rotation of the hip, rather than allowing your foot to drop inwards, you would drop it outwards. What you’re most likely to find is that your hip internal rotation is more limited than your external rotation.
The next test, demonstrated in the video above, can help you identify discrepancies between your hips ability to externally rotate. For example, if you do the test and it’s easier for you to push your right knee down closer to the floor, then you may want to focus more effort in improving the external rotation of your left leg more than your right side.
Hip External Rotation Stretches
In this section, I’ll cover some of the best stretches to increase your ability to externally rotate your hips.
The stretch featured above is the most popular way to increase external rotation of the hip and it involves the use of a bench, table or a stable flat surface. Some slight variations may occur in the direction you approach the surface from but they all require you to place your leg in an externally rotated position and then trying to get your knee as close as you can to the surface.
To do this stretch in order to increase mobility:
- Lay the leg you wish to stretch on top of the higher surface and then externally rotate it. Your other leg should be rooted to the floor supporting you.
- Using your hand, push your knee down as close as you can to the surface. Apply a counter force with your knee, that opposes the directional force of your hand.
- Release the tension with your knee and allow the pressure from your hand to push it down and sink deeper into the stretch.
- If required repeat on the other side.
Figure 4 Stretch
The figure 4 stretch is another great way to increase external rotation:
- Lie on the floor and pull the opposite knee towards your chest.
- Place the outside of your other foot or calf, above the raised knee.
- Using your arms grab the hamstring of the raised leg and pull it towards you. The other leg will get an external hip rotation stretch.
- To get the best stretch, push down the knee of the externally rotated leg. You should feel a deeper stretch. Alternatively, you can pull harder with your arms.
The video above shows you how to do a pigeon pose, which is a great stretch for opening up the hips. I recommend watching the video above as it shows how to get the most out of the stretch to improve external rotation. At the end of the video is also a method that shows how to modify a pigeon pose if you find it a bit too intense for you.
The 90/90 stretch is much like the other stretches already shown. The only difference is the back leg will be in internal rotation rather than laying flat.
External Rotation with Weights
The thumbnail of the video above tells the story of what to expect with this stretch. To do this stretch you will need a something heavy to weigh your knees down.
Hip External Rotation Exercise
Strengthening the external rotators of the hip requires targeting a rather complex group of muscles that consist of the quadratus femoris, piriformis, gluteus medius and maximus. There are also other less familiar muscles that make up the lateral rotator group that will need to be strengthened.
Here are a few simple hip external rotation exercises you try out.
Side Lying Hip External Rotations
Lie on one side, with your bottom leg in front of you at 90 degrees and your top leg behind you at 90 degrees. Raise your bottom foot up off the surface rotating at the knee. Slowly lower the leg and repeat.
Facedown Hip External Rotation
Lie down on your front with one leg externally rotated with your knee pointed out. Lay your head down and work to lift the angled leg up and down. Repeat to strengthen the other hip if needed.
To do this exercise, get down on your hands and knees. Begin to abduct one leg out to the side, keeping the leg bent at 90 degrees. Raise it up as high as you, then lower it down. Repeat this motion to exercise the external rotators.
Clamshells are another great way to work the external rotators. To do this exercise lie on one side with both legs stacked on top of each other and bent out in front of you. Lift the top knee up whilst keeping both knees together. As you lift the knee make sure the hip stays in position and doesn’t move. Once you hit the top, lower the leg back down. Repeat this motion.
If these ever become too easy for you, you can add bands around your thighs for added resistance.
The Goal – Overall Hip Strength, Flexibility and Mobility
Hopefully, with enough of the right exercises and stretches you can begin to develop healthy hips.
I can tell you from personal experience, that increasing hip strength, flexibility and mobility can make a vast difference to how you feel on a daily basis, especially if you are someone with dysfunctional hips such as myself. After working on both my external and internal rotation of the hips, I have less pain in my hips and stronger glutes too. My ability to move and perform squats and lunges has also gotten better.
If you are looking for better hips overall you will want to consider improving your internal rotation as well as external rotation. You can read up here on how to improve your hip internal rotation.
In addition, one of the abductors, namely the glute medius, can be a problem area in which many people lack strength in this muscle. To strengthen this muscle, see our guide on glute medius exercises.