Hip Abduction and Lateral Shifting

The vast majority of movements happen going forward.  We reach, walk, look, and move toward what’s in front of us.  Then we sit by pushing our butt backward.  This front-to-back plane of motion (or stillness) is where we reside.  Our favoritism to move in one direction leads us to overlook the others.  Sideways mobility and control gets neglected and lost, because it’s easier to turn and pivot and keep moving straight ahead.

Lateral motion is necessary for avoiding, defending, and allowing yourself to stay squared to a moving target.  Though it is likely most used when getting in and out of a car ( how frustrating this becomes should anything lower body get injured!), our ability to move to the side dictates how well we can get under or climb things.  The capacity to hold a wide, shifting lunge gets the floor washed twice as fast.  It gives movement a literal new dimension.

Practicing oblique movements helps joints gain multi-planar function.  Hip abduction, or lifting the outer portion of the leg and foot towards the ceiling, evaluates the lateral mobility and stability of the hip.  The standing hip must resist motion and the raised hip must create motion.  In a lateral shift, both feet stay on the ground and the hips move to the side.  It is a closed-chain version of abduction.  (I am waiting for the study that links foot distance in the lateral lunge and foot height in abduction.)

Though the sequencing is a bit different between the two, the end result has some remarkable parallels.  Regardless of whether the hips move or the feet move, the end result is an extended leg away from the body.  Standing up from a lateral lunge (and freezing the position of the widened leg) leaves you in a single leg stance of hip abduction:

Having two feet planted on the floor grants you assistive stability.  A wider base simply asks the hips to float between them.  They follow the force generated through the feet.  Knee flexion or extension determines the placement of the load.  Straight knees stress the connective tissues of the outer hip.  Shifting into a bent knee will either load the quads or the glutes.  If the lower leg and knee shifts forward the quad takes over.  If the hips are pushed back and the lower leg stays vertical, the glutes do the work.


Minimize reliance on the quads (and an already tight anterior hip) by loading the glutes when lateral shifting.  


A wall assist could be used for those who struggle with displacing tension out of the thigh.  Use the arms to press the hips back as you transfer your weight to one side.  Self-adjust the hands for support as you learn to lift the long leg:


As you practice and get proficient, you can challenge your ability keep lateral load while manipulating the position of the hovering leg:

Should the tension escape the glute and gather in the quad (as it most certainly did on the forward tap), notice how quickly it can return to the original place of intent.  Retesting after a period of manipulation can give you information on what you have gained, learned, or lost during experimentation.

Abduction is a skill of coordination more than mobility.  Lifting the leg requires stability within the torso to complete the movement.  Everything between the lats and derriere need to synchronize an effort to hoist one leg up without anything else moving.  Sequencing is brain training.  It sets out to re-order automated events that have been built on an inefficient pathway.

The following uses the environment to check and scaffold the progression of demands :

  1. Stabilize opposite side (note the distance from the rack)
  2. Use solid, steady surface to create tension in the lats and core of the leg lifted side
  3. Use less steady surface to see if you can repeat the same ROM
  4. Use a band to engage the lats and obliques downward and encourage upward abduction from the hip


When I look at this I imagine a towel.  First I bunch up the left side to free up the right.  Then I tighten the top to help bring up the bottom.  Added stability in one place bring increased mobility in another.


Stepping over an object laterally combines lateral shifting with abduction.  Actions can be performed with both flexed and extended knees and over a wide variety of targets.  Step overs also check for eccentric control of adduction or lateral landing.  Hip flexion and extension can also be easily added into the mix.


Variability has multiple uses.  By putting yourself in as many situations as possible, you can become aware of specific areas weaknesses.  Figuring out how to solve problems is half the fun.  Finding them is the other.


Some examples of novel tests and training:

Wall jumps and landings

In hindsight, this playful, parkour-like movement succeeds in laterally loading while holding a position of abduction.


Hinged lateral shifts into single leg abducted stands:

A straight-legged version that really taxed my right hamstring.

Lateral hip shift from henpecker:

The toe point and toe pull mediate the found hamstring strain.


Without the complexity of abduction, focus can linger on the more stable lateral shift.  Investigating new and different means to move laterally leads to a fuller functioning hip.  A better prepared hip is more readied for exposure to abduction, which is really a modified single leg stand.  The farther the leg is raised from the midline, the more the core must coordinate to react to the adjusting load.

Training is so much more satisfying once it also becomes a brain game.  Give yourself the chance, and you may find that the puzzles are your favorite part of the work.



  • Abduction is often found lacking because lateral movement is an uncommon practice
  • Deficits in lateral shifting suggest similar deficits in abduction
  • Abduction is a progression from lateral shifting
  • Abduction is a skill of coordination
  • Stepping over objects combines lateral shifting and abduction
  • Novel tasks help you hunt out weaknesses
  • The environment can be used to both regress and progress movement
  • Dynamic actions test functional stability
  • Sequencing is a breakdown of motor patterning.


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