How to Do Reverse Clamshell Exercise: Workout Benefits & Instructions

If you’re looking for more exercises to strengthen your hips, an often-overlooked option is the reverse clamshell exercise. It works a different part of your hip muscles than the traditional version and has many benefits. 

Reverse Clamshell Exercise social

Benefits of the Reverse Clamshell Exercise

The reverse clamshell exercise is a variation of the clamshell, which helps with hip stability. Though similar, it offers advantages that make it worth adding to your routine of other individual exercises, including:

  • Stronger hip joints, with a focus on internal hip rotation
  • Stronger glutes (with particular improvement in medius muscle function and activation)
  • Pelvic muscle stabilization
  • Increase muscle definition in the thighs and butt

This translates to a reduced risk of injury and reduced lower back pain.

It also helps to protect against ankle and knee pain and injuries. If your knees aren’t moving, how can that be the case?

When your gluteus medius is weaker than it should be, your knee is more likely to move inward as you move from side to side, creating a condition known as “knee valgus.” When this happens, your anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, may tear.

Weak hip muscles are associated with lower limb injuries, according to a 2012 review in Gait and Posture.

What Muscles Does the Reverse Clamshell Target?

The reverse clamshell exercise targets:

  • Inner thighs (hip abduction)
  • Glutes, specifically the gluteus medius, a deep muscle within the gluteal muscles
  • Pelvic muscles

Clamshell Exercise Vs. Reverse Clamshell Exercise

Below is an image of a regular clamshell exercise.

Clam Shell

Different Benefits

Though they both have the same starting position, the two moves offer different benefits for your body. While the clamshell is a great strengthening exercise, it focuses on your gluteus minimus and gluteus Maximus. In physical therapy, you may need to do both exercises to help your hip flexors.

Different Muscle Groups

The reverse clamshell doesn’t work the gluteus maximus or the external rotator of the hip. It works the inner rotators, which are important for stabilization and balance. You’ll feel it more in your outer thighs.

How to Perform the Reverse Clamshell Exercise

Reverse Clam Shell
  1. Lie on your exercise mat on your side with your legs stacked on top one another, and your knees bent at a 45-degree angle, as you would with a regular clamshell exercise.
  2. Keep your feet together. Rotate your top foot outward and up toward the sky. Take one second to go up and three seconds to come down, keeping your movements slow and controlled.
  3. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps before you switch sides.

Form Tips

Keep the upper body straight and your abdominal muscles engaged as you do this exercise. Exhale as you engage the inner thighs, and exhale as you relax your muscles.

Avoid rolling forward because your top leg being a bit more forward than your lower leg makes it easier to lift your foot. You won’t get as much of a workout for your glutes when this happens.

How to Make it Easier

To make this exercise easier, opt for the Singe Leg Windshield wiper stretch as a beginner exercise until you get strong enough to start with the reverse clamshell.

  1. Lie flat on your back, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Move your feet apart, so they’re a bit wider than hip-width apart.
  3. While keeping the left knee still, allow the right leg to fall toward the left leg. This will rotate your hip inward, allowing you to feel a stretch on the outside of your buttocks and hip. 
  4. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds before returning to the starting position. 
  5. Do 10 to 15 reps before repeating with the opposite side and allowing the left leg to fall. Keep your core muscles engaged throughout the entire exercise for even more benefit.

How You Can Challenge Yourself

To add a bit of a challenge to this exercise, add a resistance band around your feet (or shoes.)

Stretch and Exercise Your Hips Regularly to Prevent Injury

Ultimately, both the clamshell and the reverse clamshell are excellent hip-strengthening exercises to add to your workout routine. If you have weak hip muscles, these are the ultimate exercise to help you get them stronger. 

If you’ve recently suffered from a hip injury, your physical therapist may recommend a series of hip exercises to help build more stability. If your balance is an issue, you can use chair exercises or desk exercises to build more strength, too.

Photo of author

Dr. Kristina DeMatas

Dr. DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. She is a licensed, practicing Physician at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Read bio.


Mayo Clinic Logo
Acsm Logo Horizontal Grey
British journal of sports medicine
Amssm Logo Grey
Sporty Doctor 2021 Logo Grey

2800 N 6th St, Unit 1 PMB 905 Saint Augustine, FL 32084

(904) 290-1785