How to Do Donkey Kicks: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do a donkey kick exercise to help with hip pain and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: May 24, 2023
Table of Contents

Ever get achy hips when you’re sitting in front of your computer for hours? Have hip pain after going for a long run? Hip pain can be due to a lot of different factors. Strengthening the muscles in and around your hips can be an effective strategy to reduce and manage hip pain. Enter donkey kick exercises. 

Donkey kicks target the glutes (buttocks) and the hamstrings (muscles in the back of your thighs). You can do them anywhere without any special equipment. You can incorporate them into a variety of workouts, such as lower-body training, glute-focused routines, full-body workouts, or even as a simple ‘movement snack’ during your day. Plus, you can easily modify donkey kicks based on your fitness level and goals.

Here, we’ll discuss the benefits of incorporating donkey kicks into your exercise routine, as well as how to do donkey kicks and modify them to meet your needs.

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What Are Donkey Kicks?

Donkey kicks (sometimes called donkey rear leg raises) involve kneeling on all fours with your back straight and parallel to the ground, then lifting your leg and pushing your foot directly up toward the ceiling. This motion engages and strengthens several different muscle groups that help with hip pain. 

What Muscles Do Donkey Kicks Work? 

Donkey kicks primarily target the glutes, but they are very useful for strengthening several areas of the lower body, including:  

  • Gluteus maximus: This is the largest glute muscle. It’s responsible for hip extension (when you extend or “open” your hip joint so that the angle between your pelvis and thigh increases). Strong glutes can help reduce hip pain by providing better support and stability to the hip joint.

  • Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus: These smaller glute muscles are located on the sides of the hip. They help with hip abduction (moving the leg away from the midline of the body) as well as pelvic stability.

  • Hamstrings: These muscles sit at the back of the thigh and help with activities like walking, running, climbing stairs, sitting down, standing up, and bending over. 

  • Lower back: The lower back muscles help stabilize your spine during donkey kicks, preventing excessive arching or rounding of your lower back. This helps you maintain an upright posture in everyday life, as well as help with things like bending over to tie your shoes, getting in and out of a car, or reaching for items on a high shelf. 

  • Core muscles: Although not the primary focus, the core muscles, including the transverse abdominis and obliques, are engaged to stabilize the body and maintain proper form when you do donkey kicks. Strengthening these muscles helps you stay balanced when you reach for items or even shift your weight from one foot to another. 

By targeting these muscles, donkey kicks can help strengthen and tone the glutes, improve hip stability, and contribute to overall lower body strength.

Donkey Kicks: Benefits

Donkey kicks primarily help with glute activation and strength. They’re also very useful for improving hip stability, which helps reduce the risk of hip injuries and enhance overall movement efficiency. Since they engage several different muscle groups at the same time, donkey kicks contribute to overall lower body development, helping to prevent muscle imbalances and reducing the risk of injury. This also makes activities like getting up and down from a chair and walking easier. 

Donkey kicks also require concentration and focus on the targeted muscles. Performing this exercise can help develop a better mind-body connection, enhancing your overall body awareness and control.   

Donkey Kicks: 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.

Donkey Kicks

Donkey Kicks

Donkey Kicks

Donkey Kicks

To do donkey kicks: 

  • Start on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. (It may be more comfortable to do this on a yoga mat or another soft surface.)

  • Keeping your knee bent, extend one leg back and toward the ceiling. The bottom of your shoe or foot should be “looking” at the ceiling. 

  • Hold this position for a few seconds, focusing on squeezing your butt (glute) muscles as you do so. You may also feel your core and hip muscles working. 

  • Return to your starting position. 

  • Complete a few repetitions, and repeat with your other leg.  

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify your donkey kicks to meet your needs. 

Donkey Kicks Modifications

Donkey Kicks Modifications

Donkey Kicks Modifications

Donkey Kicks Modifications

To make donkey kicks easier:  

  • Place a cushion under your knees if you are having knee pain or discomfort from kneeling. 

  • Reduce your range of motion by limiting how far back you move your leg toward the ceiling. 

To make donkey kicks harder: 

  • Increase your range of motion by increasing how far back you move your leg toward the ceiling. 

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

  • Add ankle weights to your lower legs to make lifting your legs more challenging. 

You can apply one of the above modifications to make the stretch easier or harder, or multiple modifications at once. 

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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  1. Hamstrings. (n.d.). Physiopedia.

  2. Gluteal Muscles. (n.d.). Physiopedia.

  3. Chamberlain, R. (2021). Hip Pain in Adults: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis. American Family Physician, 103(2), 81-89.