Wherever you turn, there's talk about the almighty core -- and for good reason. The network of muscles that surrounds your middle plays a major role in pelvic stability, balance and movement. Your front core muscles run from just under your rib cage to your hips, your obliques hug your sides and your lower-back and buttock muscles bring up the rear. While you can crunch your way to stronger abs and obliques, that's only part of your core curriculum. Neglecting the core muscles near your hips and thighs can hurt your performance and leave you vulnerable to serious injury.
Work out your core two or three times a week on alternate days, giving muscles a break on intermediate days to allow time for healing. For every exercise, perform one to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, resting briefly between sets. Expect workouts to take 20 to 40 minutes.
Warm up with 10 minutes of cardio to increase blood flow to your core and legs. Take a brisk walk, jog in place or jump rope. When you break a light sweat, perform a dynamic stretch -- such as traveling lunges or walking high-knees -- to further prepare your core and lower body for action.
Perform dynamic compound exercises that work your hip and thigh core muscles along with your quads, hamstrings, calves and abs. Pick and choose from a variety of exercises, including standard squats, wall squats with a stability ball, wall squats with adduction, single-leg squats, forward lunges and step-ups.
Get down on all fours and crank out some quadruped hip extensions. Slowly raise your right thigh behind you, keeping the foot flexed and the leg bent at 90 degrees. When the sole of the foot is parallel to the floor, hold briefly. Lower the leg and then repeat for the desired number of reps, keeping a straight spine throughout the exercise. Switch legs.
Move onto your back with your knees bent and pump out a set of glute bridges. Push your hips toward the ceiling, holding at the top of the movement for several seconds. Lower the hips to the floor and repeat for the desired number of reps. Increase the challenge with one-legged bridges; press your knees together and fully extend the non-working leg as you raise and lower your hips.
Roll onto your side and push up into a side plank, or straight-leg side bridge. Keep your feet stacked or stagger them, moving your top foot slightly in front of your body's midline and your bottom foot slightly behind. Hold briefly. Lower your hips and then repeat for the desired number of reps before switching legs. From the side-lying position, relax your head on your bottom arm. Perform side-lying hip abductors, lifting and lowering your upper leg while keeping your hips stacked. Complete one to three sets and then switch sides.
- Add dumbbells, ankle weights, resistance bands, medicine balls or stability balls for variety and added intensity.
- Watch your posture and form, using a mirror whenever possible. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your abs engaged to avoid excessive pressure on the lower back.
- Stretch the major muscles of your hips and thighs after working out to prevent soreness and preserve flexibility.
- If you've had a lower-extremity injury in the past, speak to your doctor or physical therapist about the advisability of specific exercises.
- Compound exercises can aggravate the knees and lower back. Avoid exercises that result in pain.
- Harvard Health Publications: Core Exercises: 6 Workouts to Tighten Your Abs, Strengthen your Back, and Improve Balance
- Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy: Electromyographic Analysis of Core Trunk, Hip, and Thigh Muscles During 9 Rehabilitation Exercises
- American Council on Exercise: Core Workout
- Solid to the Core: Simple Exercises to Increase Core Strength And Flexibility; Janique Farand-Taylor and Ian Finkelstein
- American Council on Exercise: Glutes to the Max
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images