External rotation of the hip is when the thigh and knee rotate outward, away from the body. There are various stretches and exercises that can help strengthen these muscles and build flexibility.

The hips are the central pivot point of the entire body, supporting its weight during movement and when standing. The hips also enable people to lift their feet or reach toward the ground.

Actions that use external hip rotation include getting into a car, pitching a baseball, and all other movements that require a person to rotate the pelvis while placing most of the body’s weight on one leg.

The external rotator muscles can become weak due to injury, surgery, or prolonged periods of inactivity. Weakness in these muscles increases the risk of injury.

In this article, we describe several exercises and stretches that people can use to build strength and flexibility in the hip external rotators.

a woman doing a pigeon pose as part of her hip external rotation routine Share on Pinterest
Regular exercise can keep the hip external rotators strong and flexible.

There are 21 different muscles that cross the hip joint. Each of these muscles plays a role in the movement or stability of the hip.

Some of the most important hip muscles include:

The gluteal muscles

The gluteal muscles comprise the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae.

The gluteus maximus, which is a large muscle in the buttocks, is the most powerful external rotator muscle of the hip.

The iliopsoas muscle

Two individual muscles called the psoas major and the iliacus form the iliopsoas muscle. These muscles are separate in the abdomen, but they join together in the thigh.

The psoas major is in the lower lumbar region. It passes through the pelvis and extends to the thighbone, or femur. This muscle assists with the external rotation of the hip.

Its sister muscle is the psoas minor, although this is only present in 60–65% of people.

The lateral rotator muscles

This group includes the following muscles:

  • obturator internus and obturator externus
  • piriformis
  • quadratus femoris
  • gemellus inferior and gemellus superior

The adductor muscles

The following muscles make up the adductor group:

  • adductor brevis
  • adductor longus
  • adductor magnus
  • pectineus
  • gracilis

Keeping the hip external rotators strong and flexible can reduce the risk of injury during workouts or everyday tasks.

Research also links hip external rotator strength to better control of the lower extremities during single-leg landings.

Some exercises for hip external rotation include:

The clamshell

To perform this exercise, a person can:

  1. Lie on one side, keeping the knees together and bending them to a 45 degree angle. The hips should be in line with one another.
  2. Prop up the head with the arm closest to the floor.
  3. Place the other arm on the mat in front of the body for stability.
  4. Engage the stomach muscles and open the legs at the knees, keeping the feet together and the lower knee against the floor. Raise the top knee as high as possible without straining.
  5. Pause briefly, and then return the knee to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 10–20 times before switching to the other side.

Fire hydrants

Fire hydrants involve the following series of movements:

  1. Start on all fours, with the knees directly below the hips and the hands directly underneath the shoulders.
  2. Engage the core and keep the back straight. It should be parallel to the ground.
  3. Keeping the 90 degree angle in the left leg, raise the knee outward, away from the body. This movement should open up the left hip. Pause briefly before returning the leg to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 10–20 times before switching to the right leg.

Trunk rotation

People can follow the steps below to perform trunk rotation exercises:

  1. Lie on the back and bend both knees so that the soles of the feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Extend the arms out to the sides and press them into the floor to aid balance.
  3. Gently rotate the knees as far to the right as the body’s range of motion comfortably allows, keeping them bent.
  4. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  5. Return slowly to the starting position.
  6. Perform the same movement but take the legs over to the other side.
  7. Repeat on both sides several times.

Helpful stretches for hip external rotator flexibility include:

Seated floor stretch

To perform this stretch:

  1. Sit on the floor with a straight back. Extend the right leg out.
  2. Position the sole of the left foot on the right thigh, as close to the pelvic region as possible.
  3. Lean forward, placing the palms on the floor on either side of the right leg.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Chair stretch

People can follow the steps below to perform this stretch:

  1. Sit in a chair with the back straight and against the back of the chair.
  2. Place the right foot firmly on the floor. Rest the left ankle on the right thigh.
  3. Lean forward.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Figure 4 stretch

A figure 4 stretch requires a person to follow these steps:

  1. Lying face up, bend both legs at the knee, making sure that the feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Raise the left leg and place the left ankle across the right thigh. Let the left knee fall outward as much as possible.
  3. Place the hands around the back of the right thigh and pull it close to the upper body. Feel a stretch in the hip and buttocks.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose is a posture that people commonly incorporate into yoga practice. It involves the following movements:

  1. Starting on all fours on the floor, bring the right knee toward the right wrist. Place the right ankle in front of the left hip, with the shin as close to perpendicular to the left leg as possible.
  2. Slide the left leg back, keeping it extended, and point the toes so that the heel is pointing toward the ceiling.
  3. Breathe in, lengthen the spine, pull in the bellybutton, and come up onto the fingertips.
  4. Breathe out and lower the upper body to the floor. If possible, rest the arms and forehead on the floor.
  5. Stay in this position for five slow, deep breaths.
  6. Push through the hands and lift the hips, moving back onto all fours.
  7. Repeat on the other side.

A regular program of stretching and strengthening exercises can help people maintain flexibility and strength in the hip external rotators, which is vital for stability, movement, and injury prevention.

People should perform all of the above exercises and stretches within their body’s range of motion and stop immediately if they feel any pain.

Anyone who thinks that they may have an injury should speak to a doctor.