Ladies, our hips are problematic. Because we can give birth, our pelvis is wider set than the pelvis of a man. A teacher once told me to think of it as the difference between the space between two of your fingers (men) and the space between your thumb and index finger (women). This means our legs, which have to keep us upright and move us around in the world underneath this wider gap, are set more at an angle than men’s, which puts more pressure on the hip joint (the femoral neck specifically).
Here’s my crude stick figure drawing to illustrate the difference between the sexes.
Now most of the stuff we do with our legs in day-to-day life occurs in the sagittal plane: meaning the movements occur to the front or to the back, like when you walk, or run. [NOTE: The sagittal plane is called the sagittal plane because of Sagitarius -- the way he holds his bow and arrow out in front and shoots to the front, drawing his elbow to the back. Front and back.]
Since we know bone responds to the demands that muscle places on it, and if our bones are “accustomed” to us moving front and back, then we need to move in a different “plane.” This is why dancing is so good for bones – -because it (actually, the muscles when you’re moving) places unexpected stresses on them.
But if you’re not big on dancing, there are other things you can do. Like Abduction and Adduction. Abduction means you move a limb out to the side away from your body (think “absent” and it helps). Adduction means you move a limb towards your body from the side (think “addition.”)
When you do leg abduction, you are strengthening the muscles that surround and protect your hip joint. Those muscles are: gluteus medius and minimus, the piriformis (in the buttocks), the ilipsoas (in the groin), the tensor fasciae latae (upper lateral thigh), and the sartorius (runs from outside of lateral thigh into the medial side just below the kneecap).
They have those adduction/abduction machines at the gym. But if you’re a stubby little sprout like me, the gadgets you’re supposed to put your legs in don’t land in the right place. You have to skootch forward in the chair, and then if you sit back, your back ends up being arched and when you move the weights, chances are you’re going to injure your back.
So I use either an exercise band or a Pilates ring instead. I take the exercise band and tie it around my ankles. Then, keeping my knees slightly flexed and my toes pointing in towards each other, I take a step to the right side, then resisting the pull of the band, slowly bring my left foot to rest beside my right foot. I make my way across the room doing this, then I switch and come back the opposite direction.
You can also just do this standing still, lifting and lower the leg to one side like in the picture below.
EXCEPT — her toes are pointing out/her leg is turned out. Do not follow her example. Lead with the heel, not the toes. Why? If your leg is turned outwards, then your quadriceps (large muscle group located on the front of your thigh) are doing all the work and you won’t be hitting the muscles you’re trying to hit at all.
If you have bad knees, you might want to tie the band around your thighs just above the kneecaps to keep from straining the knee. The higher the band is on your leg, the less resistance you’ll be getting, however.
If balance is an issue, you could lay on the floor on one side with the band or Pilates ring around your ankles (or thighs for those with bad knees) and lift one leg towards the ceiling (keeping toes pointing in), and then lower it. You could also use ankle weights for this one instead of a band. Imagine he has a band tied around his ankles. And notice — his toes are turned in. Very good! [I don't know why I can't find any pictures of this exercise on the web...]
To work the inside of the thighs, stay on the floor on one side, and place the Pilates ring between your ankles and try to squeeze your legs together. Not easy to do. Keep your abdominal muscles firm, your spine long. You can move the ring up between your knees if you feel strain in your lower back doing this move.