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How to Do a Clamshell Exercise: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do a clamshell exercise to help with lower body strength and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: Jul 24, 2023
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Have you ever seen a clam’s shell open and close? While clams aren’t relevant to strength and pain management, the clamshell exercise is. The clamshell exercise mimics the opening and closing movement of a clamshell, and in the process, strengthens and mobilizes important muscles in your lower body. It’s an easy way to build strength in several muscles, which can, in turn, prevent pain and help you function in day-to-day activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and running

Below, learn more about how the clamshell exercise can benefit you, how to do it at home, and how to modify the exercise to meet your needs.  

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is the Clamshell?

A clamshell is a strengthening exercise that activates your hip, leg, and butt muscles, which can increase mobility. It’s often used in physical therapy to reduce lower back pain and sciatica symptoms, but the clamshell can also build strength so you can function optimally in your daily activities and exercise with less pain. 

What Muscles Does the Clamshell Work?

The clamshell exercise primarily works your glutes, or your butt muscles, along with your legs, hips, and core. It’s also a good move for stabilizing your pelvic muscles. As you strengthen and stabilize these areas, you may notice your back pain decrease, and that it’s easier to do things like walk, climb stairs, and get in and out of a car. 

Clamshell Benefits

By increasing strength and mobility, the clamshell can benefit your body and your daily activities in many ways, such as: 

  • Reducing low back tension 

  • Making it easier to walk and exercise

  • Balancing your leg and hip muscles, which can prevent injuries

  • Preventing foot, ankle, and knee pain in runners

Clamshell: Exercises and Modifications

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Clamshell

Clamshell

Clamshell

Clamshell

To do a clamshell exercise:

  • Lie on your side, using a pillow for head support. 

  • Stack your hips and knees on top of each other while bending your knees toward your chest. 

  • Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee toward the ceiling as high as you feel comfortable without rotating your low back. 

  • Hold this position. 

  • Relax your top knee back to the starting position. 

Your progress is unique to you, which is why you may need to modify the exercise to meet your needs. 

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Clamshell Modifications

Clamshell Modifications

Clamshell Modifications

Clamshell Modifications

To make the clamshell easier: 

  • Limit how far you lift your top knee toward the ceiling. 

To make the clamshell harder:

  • Place a looped band around your knees to increase resistance.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Jeong, S.-G., Cynn, H.-S., Lee, J.-H., Choi, S., & Kim, D. (2019). Effect of Modified Clamshell Exercise on Gluteus Medius, Quadratus Lumborum and Anterior Hip Flexor in Participants with Gluteus Medius Weakness. Journal of the Korean Society of Physical Medicine, 14(2), 9–19. doi:10.13066/kspm.2019.14.2.9

  2. McBeth, J. M., Earl-Boehm, J. E., Cobb, S. C., & Huddleston, W. E. (2012). Hip Muscle Activity During 3 Side-Lying Hip-Strengthening Exercises in Distance Runners. Journal of Athletic Training, 47(1), 15–23. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.1.15

  3. Sidorkewicz, N., Cambridge, E. D. J., & McGill, S. M. (2014). Examining the effects of altering hip orientation on gluteus medius and tensor fascae latae interplay during common non-weight-bearing hip rehabilitation exercises. Clinical Biomechanics, 29(9), 971–976. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2014.09.002

  4. Willcox, E. L., & Burden, A. M. (2013). The Influence of Varying Hip Angle and Pelvis Position on Muscle Recruitment Patterns of the Hip Abductor Muscles During the Clam Exercise. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 43(5), 325–331. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4004