What Muscles Do Side Leg Raises Work?

The side leg raise primarily works the abductor muscle group, a group of muscles that are responsible for moving the thigh to the side of your body. These muscles are extremely important for daily activities and sports, and strengthening the abductors can make your movements more efficient. The side leg raise is also an effective exercise for toning the hip area.

Exercise Description

To perform the side leg raise, stand next to a chair or wall and grasp it for support. Transfer your weight to your right leg then lift your left leg out to the side as high as possible. Slowly return to the starting position. Complete the desired number of repetitions, then repeat the exercise with your right leg. You can also perform this exercise while lying on your side. Begin lying on your left side, with your body in a straight line from head to toe and your right hip directly above your left hip. Lift your right leg toward the ceiling and then return to the starting position. After doing your desired number of repetitions, perform the exercise with your left leg.

Gluteus Medius

The gluteus medius is a thick muscle that is largely covered by the gluteus maximus. It works to abduct and medially rotate the thigh -- turning the thigh inward so that the knee points toward your other leg -- while also steadying the pelvis. When performing the side leg raise with your right leg, the gluteus medius on the right side is actively working to abduct the thigh while the gluteus medius on the left side is stabilizing the pelvis.

Gluteus Minimus

The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the gluteal muscles and lies deep beneath the other two. This muscles aids the gluteus medius in pelvic stabilization and thigh abduction.

Tensor Fasciae Latae

The tensor fasciae latae is a muscle enclosed between layers of connective tissue. The muscle itself is rather short and originates in the hips but attaches to the knee via the long, thick iliotibial tract. This muscle helps the gluteus medius and minimus muscles in thigh abduction and medial rotation. Because it crosses the knee, it also works to steady the joint, keeping it straight during the exercise.

Exercise Tips

When you begin working on the side leg raise, either from the standing or lying position, do them without resistance. As you get stronger, you can add resistance with either a resistance band or cable machine. If using only your body weight for resistance, perform two to three sets of 20 to 30 repetitions but, if using weight, complete two to three sets of 10 to 20 repetitions. Side leg raises should be performed only every other day to allow for muscle recovery.