There is endless debate over how to most effectively strengthen our hip muscles to prevent injury.

Research through the years has shown an inherent link between these muscle groups in a lower limb injury:

Hip external rotators: Piriformis, Superior and Inferior Gemellus, Obturator Externus and Internus and the Quadratus Femoris

Hip abductors: Gluteus Minimus, Gluteus Medius, Upper (superior) fibres of the Gluteus Maximus and the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)  

The focus muscles of this article are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and the TFL which all work synergistically to move and stablise the hip.

A common exercise you see people performing is a ‘lateral side-step’ or ‘crab walk’ with an elastic band around the lower limbs for resistance to address hip weakness.

Are we doing this exercise effectively?

A recent review on this topic has been undertaken and we want to pass this golden knowledge onto you.

The study investigated muscle activity of gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and TFL muscles using surface electromyography (EMG) while participants crab walked with a resistance band around 3 different locations:

  1. The knees
  2. The ankles
  3. The feet


This table summarises the  study findings – with the “%” representing the increase in muscle (EMG) activity.

*Please note these percentages are averages using 11 males and 11 females

Stance Leg Moving leg
Muscle Knees to Ankles Ankles to Feet Knees to Ankles Ankles to Feet
Gluteus Maximus 47.1% 21.5% 49.9% 63.7%
Gluteus Medius 43.4% 18.7% 51.9% 36.8%

98% increase when the band was moved from knees > ankles

NO difference in activity when the band was moved from ankles > feet

* Please note that there is still a 98% difference between the knees and feet!


As you can see from above, there are staggering differences in muscle activity in both legs when simply moving the band from knees > ankles > feet!


From the results, the study proposed:

“When the band was moved from the ankles to the feet, the band pulled the feet inwards toward each other, creating an internal-rotation torque. This was countered by the gluteal muscles

This means that when the band was around the feet, this elicited more activity in the gluteal muscles without increasing TFL activity compared to when the band was around the ankles. Therefore, the gluteal muscles are worked the hardest when the band is around our feet!

Safety Precaution

As we take the band below the knee we cross the knee joint, similarly when we have the band around our feet we cross the ankle joint. Taking the band lower does increase muscle activation, but can also compromise the stability of these joints as we cross them.

Please be cautious if you have any previous or existing knee / ankle conditions before taking the band below the knees!

The take home message is:

This particular exercise is a great inclusion to a well-rounded strengthening program and placing the band around the ankles and feet does provide greater gluteal muscle activation compared to around the knees.


  • Physio Network: February 2019 – Issue #15