I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and New Year! Today I wanted to talk briefly about one of my favorite exercises I have started use a lot: the dynamic side plank clamshell. This is a combination of a few exercises, aimed to recruit certain hip muscles to a very high degree (research here and here).  Here is a video of this exercise, followed by some explanation and steps for using it.

The smaller muscles of the hip, as well as the different glute muscles, are very commonly overlooked in gymnastics strength programs. Many gyms are great about regularly training active flexibility drills for skills, or training the larger muscles of the legs during strength programs. When it comes to the glutes, hip rotators, and hamstrings, and “non-gymnastics” core things usually fall off a bit.

In the broader sense, direct hip training through exercises like weighted hip lifts or kettlebell swings are already not getting enough attention. This is unfortunate, as direct hip extension training is crucial for power development, hip health, and lower back injury prevention in gymnastics.

I find on a weekly basis that these muscle groups (deep hip rotators, glute max, glute medius, and glute minimus) are weak relative to the other larger muscles of a gymnast. As a result, we see large overextended lower backs, limited hip power, and shaping issues. Both these smaller muscles and the muscles of scapula and rotator cuff need regular attention in a demanding manner, to elicit hypertrophy that can be used during gymnastics skills.

Even more, what is most commonly overlooked is that hip muscles and glutes work in three planes of motion. They work to open the hips into extension, but are also incredibly important in single leg control, forceful lifting of the hip to the side/back, and hip rotation as seen in many gymnastics skills. This is particularly why I love this drill. It gets all three aspects of glute function (hip extension, resisting lateral bending on the down leg, and top leg hip external rotation) in one motion and is paired with core strengthening.

Tips for Using This Exercise

  • Have the gymnast start in a bent knee side plank, with the hips slightly piked and knees bent about 90 degrees

  • Make sure the body is parallel to the ground, and the hips are square

  • Instruct the gymnast to first lift their bottom hip off the ground and then extend their hips flat by engaging their glutes. After this when they have attained a straight body line, they will lift the top knee while keeping the ankles together

  • After holding the top position for a few seconds, they will slowly lower their top knee down, pike their hips, and lower their body to the ground to start over

  • This exercise can be very easily regressed by removing the band, or progressed by increasing the band resistance, extending the knees slightly, or adding tempo / pause holds.

I’ve been trying to add a few sets of these as rest stations between larger upper body muscle groups twice per week. 2-3 sets of 10 seem to do the trick. Hope this helps!

Dave Tilley DPT, SCS, CSCS

CEO/Founder of SHIFT Movement Science and Gymnastics Education