Why the Clamshell Exercise Is Every Trainer’s Favorite Move — and How to Do It


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If you’ve been on the hunt for an exercise that targets your glutes while simultaneously improving your hip mobility, the clamshell exercise is the golden ticket you’ve been seeking.

You’ve likely seen the clamshell exercise pop up in your Pilates class or in a strength-training session. While it seems chill — you’re lying down, after all — this unique movement is a favorite for professionals across modalities because it’s a super-effective way to improve hip strength, stability, and mobility. It’s also versatile and adaptable enough to be able to fit seamlessly into the routines of everyone from beginners to professional athletes.

Ahead, we break down the benefits of the clamshell exercise, give a step-by-step guide for doing the clamshell exercise with proper form, and offer a few variations to spice things up as you progress and gain strength and mobility.

Clamshell Exercise Benefits

The clamshell exercise offers a range of benefits, including improved hip strength, stability, and collective lower-body function. It achieves this by targeting the gluteus medius and minimus muscles, which are necessary for hip stability and abduction. According to research from the Stanford University Sports Medicine Clinic, by strengthening these muscles you can enhance the stability of your hip and reduce the risk of injury in the future.

Additionally, clamshells can aid in fixing muscle imbalances between the left and right sides of the body, which can cause injuries in the future. By targeting these muscles unilaterally, this exercise helps reduce these imbalances and creates symmetry in the body. In a 2015 report released by the Journal of Athletic Training, exercises like clamshells reduce the likelihood of injuries caused by overuse.

Lastly, one of the greatest benefits of this exercise is its accessibility and the fact people of all fitness levels can carry it out. It can be easily modified by adjusting the range of motion or adding resistance using resistance bands or weights. Its simplicity also makes it a valuable addition to rehabilitation plans for people recovering from hip or knee injuries.

How to Do the Clamshell Exercise

The clamshell looks like, and in many ways is, a simple movement. But it relies on the mind-muscle connection. You can simply open and close your knees without engaging the glutes and totally miss the powerhouse benefits of the clamshell. With that in mind, here’s how to execute the exercise correctly and safely.

  1. Come to lie on your side. Stack your hips on top of each other and bring your knees into a bent position, at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Keeping your heels connected, engage your glutes to lift your top knee, opening your legs like a clamshell. Your knee should be brought up toward the ceiling and back toward the wall behind you simultaneously. Keep your hips facing the wall in front of you.
  3. Hold the position briefly at the top, then slowly lower your knee back down, keeping your glutes engaged. If you don’t feel your glutes engage with this movement, consider warming up with one of these glute-activation exercises.
  4. Repeat. Work your way up to being able to perform 12 clamshells on each side, for three rounds total.

Clamshell Exercise Variations

Side Plank With Clamshell

Adding a bottom hip raise to the clamshell exercise — also known as a side bridge or a side plank with a clamshell — adds an extra challenge for the core and hip muscles.

  1. Set up on your side, just as you would for a traditional clamshell.
  2. Engage your obliques to lift your bottom hip off the ground. Create a straight line from your shoulders down to your knees.
  3. Lift your knee, engaging your glutes to support the movement as you did with the traditional clamshell.
  4. Hold the position briefly at the top, then slowly lower your knee back down, keeping your hip raised off the floor.
  5. Repeat. Work your way up to being able to perform 12 clamshells on each side, for three rounds total.

Standing Clamshell

To add another level of challenge, try a standing clamshell, also known as a squat walk. You can make this move even more challenging by using a hip band to add resistance, forcing your glute muscles to work even harder.

  1. Bring your feet to hip distance apart and come into a squatted position. Engage your core and your glutes to support the movement.
  2. Step your right foot farther to the right, while maintaining your squat.
  3. Hold this for a moment, then step your left foot to the right to return your feet to hip width.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Complete 12 squat walks on each side, maintaining the squat position the entire time.
  6. Continue for three rounds.

Copenhagen Plank

Copenhagen planks increase strength in the abductors (outer thigh), hip flexors, and core, and its main target is the adductor muscles, which makes it an elevated version of the clamshell. It’s a more advanced move, so start by attempting a 10-second hold. Once you’ve mastered that, add five seconds on at a time.

  1. Start lying on one side with your forearm on the ground (left forearm if you’re on your left side) and your shoulders stacked over your grounded elbow.
  2. Place your top calf on a bench and your bottom leg underneath the bench. Both legs should be straight and parallel to one another in this variation.
  3. Press into your calf that’s on the bench and lift your hips to come in line with your shoulders. As your hips lift, be sure to keep your shoulders stacked; you may tend to rotate your top shoulder in as you lift.
  4. Lift your bottom leg off the floor to bring it to meet the bench underneath. Hold this position.
  5. Continue to press into your forearm to stabilize your core as you utilize your adductor to lift your body.
  6. Slowly lower yourself back down onto the floor beneath you.

Christa Janine, a seasoned media professional based in Los Angeles, boasts a diverse educational background encompassing digital cinema, journalism, and anthropology, with a master of arts in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. Christa is a prominent figure in the health and wellness industry, recognized as a 500-hour E-RYT yoga instructor and a trusted influencer in the digital fitness space. She currently instructs for Alo Moves and PS, leveraging her platform to encourage others to lead authentic lives and actively advocating for diversity and inclusion within the yoga and fitness space, spurred by her own experiences navigating the industry’s systemic inequalities.

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