Fight the effects of sitting down all day in less than 10 minutes with this three-move hip-strengthening routine

Prevent hip pain and stiffness by building joint strength with this short routine

Physiotherapist Helen O'Leary performing a donkey kick
(Image credit: Complete Pilates / Helen O'Leary)

As I write this, I'm sitting at the desk in my home office. I'm willing to bet you're seated while reading it too; on the bus, at work or settling down on the couch. 

The modern world involves a lot of sitting down, but our bodies aren't built to stay still for long periods. Being at your desk all day can actually cause the muscles in your hips to weaken, leading the joint to become stiff and leaving you at a higher risk of injury. 

That's why it's important to balance time spent on your backside with some movement, like this three-move hip-strengthening routine from physiotherapist and Complete Pilates clinical director Helen O'Leary.

"Symptoms [of weak hips] can include pain in and around the hip, difficulty extending your leg behind you and feeling generally stiff and sore in your hips at rest," she tells me. 

"Keeping the mobility in your hips will help you with your balance and your function as you age, reducing your likelihood of falls."

How to do Helen O'Leary's three-move hip-strengthening routine

  • Wide side-to side: 3x4-6 repetitions on each side
  • Donkey kick: 3x10-15 on each side
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlift: 3x10-12 on each side

1. Wide side-to-side

Sets: 3 Reps: 4-6 on each side

  • Lie on your back with your arms out to the side, and your knees raised so you can place your feet flat on the ground. Let both knees tip over to one side. 
  • Exhale and bring your knees back to the starting position, then let them tip over to the other side of your body.  
  • Repeat this four to six times on either side.

Expert insight: 

This exercise is designed to increase your hip mobility, but O'Leary says you will also enjoy a bonus back stretch when doing it. She also has a couple of other top tips for getting more out of the movement. 

"You can do this move with your feet flat on the floor, or placed on the edge of the sofa if you want to work a bigger range of movement," O'Leary says.

"When you tip your knees over to one side, reach the top knee down towards the floor and imagine you are stretching it over the big toe on the opposite side. This will open your hip up more in the front."

2. Donkey kick

Set: 3 Reps: 10-15 on each side 

  • Start on all fours. Pull your right heel up towards your backside. 
  • Next, push your heel towards the sky as far as you can while maintaining a flat back. Pause for a second at the top, then return to the starting position and repeat.

Expert insight:

"The hip is a ball and socket joint, so it loves any type of rotation," O'Leary says. 

"Donkey kicks are brilliant for adding strength and balance elements into this rotational movement. It's a great exercise for general posture and upper body strength too, as well as mobility and strength in your hip."

If you're going to do this move, it's important to make sure you've got the technique right. 

"Pause at the top, when your foot is at its highest point, and make sure you're not arching your back." O'Leary says. "This is a good time to use a mirror to check that you're not doing this."

3. Single-leg Romanian deadlift

Sets: 3 Reps: 10-12 on each side 

  • Stand on one leg with a slight bend in your knee. 
  • Slowly start to hinge at the hip joint and reach your hand down towards your planted foot. As you do this, allow your raised leg to lift behind you for balance. Pause for a split-second at the bottom of the repetition, then return to the starting position and repeat.

Expert insight:

"A single-leg deadlift will challenge your balance and strength around your entire hip," O'Leary tells me.

"You can easily make it more challenging by holding a dumbbell too, which gives you the added benefit of having something to progress [as you grow stronger, you can use a heavier dumbbell to continue building strength in your hip and the other active muscles]."

O'Leary's top tips for hip exercises

The video demonstrations above are a really helpful way to learn the correct technique for each of these three exercises. But a few extra tips and tricks never hurt, right?

"Take your time with all the exercises. You want to feel that the movement is coming from your hips," O'Leary advises. 

"If you are worried about balance, hold on to something [like a chair or wall]. As you build your confidence with the moves, slowly reduce the amount you are relying on the chair or wall to support you."

O'Leary also has some direction on when, and how often, you should use this three exercises to boost your hip strength and health.

"Try to do them little and often," she says. "You can build them into the warm up at the gym, or before you go for a walk. Otherwise, try them at the start of your day to get your hips moving before you go into your normal daily routine."

Equipment needed

You don't need any equipment to do any of these exercises, however there are a couple of optional items that can improve your experience.

Firstly, you may want a dumbbell or two to use during the single-leg deadlifts, once you grow more comfortable and confident with the exercise. If you don't own any weights, take a look at our roundup of the best adjustable dumbbells for some inspiration.

The other item you might want to is a yoga mat, which will make the lying exercises feel much more comfortable.  

"The great thing about the standing exercises is that you don’t need a mat," says O'Leary. 

"For lying down exercises, I love using the Core Fitness Pilates mat. This is really soft and very comfortable to lie on."

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.