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Clamshell Exercise: Do It Like the Pros!

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Clamshell Exercise: Do It Like the Pros!

The rather unusually named clamshell exercise is one of the fitness world's quirkier exercises (both in name and look!). Despite its strange title and appearance, the clamshell is also one of the fitness world's best glute-targeting exercises, because it hits parts of your hips, thighs, and glutes that you'd never otherwise workout.

Clamshell exercises are so-called because of their resemblance to the opening and closing of a clamshell (we'll let you decide if that's accurate though), but get past the clammy outlook, and you have an effective exercise that can be performed with no gym equipment, or with just a resistance band.

It's perfect for anyone looking to define their glutes, improve the health of their hips, or work on their general fitness for sports or everyday life. In this article, we take a look at how to properly perform the clamshell, and hopefully, we'll inspire you to add this unique exercise to your workout routine!

What is the clamshell exercise?

The clamshell exercise is a glute-focused exercise that takes you onto the floor, on your side, with your top leg opening and closing (like a clamshell). It's really that simple, but it's incredibly effective, especially if it's used as a leg exercise with bands for added resistance.

The exercise isn't particularly well-known outside of fitness or physiotherapy circuits, but it's an exercise that's incredibly understated.

The simple movements open up and target a huge range of muscles, including glutes, hips, back, and legs. It's popularly recommended as part of knee or hip rehabilitation programs, while it can also help you to avoid these sorts of injuries in the first place.

No equipment is needed, and you can perform the exercise as a stand-alone, or as part of a wider routine including more exercises with bandsor without bands.

What muscles do clamshells target?

The reason why clamshells are so effective is that they target a fantastic range of muscles, including many muscles that are often neglected by more popular and better-known exercises.

The major muscles and areas targeted by the exercise include the following:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus minimus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Hips
  • Thighs
  • Pelvis

You might be asking why the clamshell is so effective though, after all, many more exercises also focus on the glutes and hips. The difference is that the clamshell exercise is very effective at activating the Gluteus minimus and Gluteus medius, two smaller glute muscles that are often not targeted during glute workouts.

Your Gluteus minimus and Gluteus medius are located on the side of your hips. In fact, they work as hip abductors to help you to open up your hips, which you need to be able to do to rotate, to run, to walk, or to throw a ball (and much more!). They are just as important as the powerful Gluteus Maximus, but it's the big Gluteus Maximus that often takes the fame because this is the muscle people see (it's your behind!).

Because of this focus on the hips and the pelvis, and because it's an easy yet effective exercise, the clamshell is very often used by physiotherapists in post-surgery rehabilitation, or recommended by physios to anyone looking to avoid injuries.

The benefits of clamshell exercises

With all these useful muscles being activated and worked out during the clamshell exercise, you might be wondering how that relates to your everyday life or your fitness for sports or athletics.

The benefits of a regular clamshell workout are rather numerous, so let's go through them now:

  • Avoid hip injuries.
  • Strengthen hips for walking and running.
  • Stabilize hips, to avoid other leg or foot injuries while running.
  • Improve posture.
  • Improve mobility, improve agility.
  • Strengthen and define your glutes (i.e. work on the shape of your behind!).
  • Create a balance between important hip and leg muscles to avoid injuries.
  • Rehabilitate and strengthen hips, knees, and legs after surgery or injury.
  • Burn fat.
  • Tone muscles.
  • Strengthen muscles for future weight training.
  • Practice the exercise anywhere.
  • Easily add different levels of tension with resistance band use.
  • Look like a clam while you train!

How to do clamshell exercises

So let's get into the details, how do you do a clamshell exercise properly? Clamshell exercises can be performed on their own as stand-alone exercises, or they can be incorporated into an existing workout routine. They are particularly effective when used with other glute targeting exercises if this is a particular area of your body and fitness that you are looking to work on.

Clamshells are best performed in reps of 10-15, with sets of at least three minimum for each session. Try to focus on the movements when you first start practicing the exercise.

Once you have the technique mastered, you can speed up the movements themselves, increase the number of repetitions you perform, or add resistance bands to increase the difficulty of this exercise. An exercise mat will make the clamshell exercise much more comfortable too!

Here's how to do a clamshell exercise:

  1. Lie down on your exercise mat, or on the floor.
  2. Position yourself on one side of your body with your arm stretched out to support your head.
  3. Bend your knees, so they rest at a 45-degree angle and keep your legs on top of one another.
  4. Use your arms for stabilization, and pull your core muscles inwards.
  5. Keep your feet held together and keep your hips, pelvis, and upper body stationary.
  6. At the same time, rotate your upper knee, so it moves away from your bottom knee.
  7. Once your knee has rotated as far up as it can, rotate it back down again.
  8. Keep your lower leg firmly held to the ground while you 'open the clam' and then 'close the clam'.
  9. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
  10. Switch sides and repeat the exercise on your alternate side.

How do you make banded clams?

Once you have improved your strength and fitness, you can increase the difficulty of the movements by adding resistance and turning the exercises into band leg exercises.

Resistance bands will allow you to add more difficult levels of tension increasingly, as they are available in different strengths, offering increasingly higher resistance.

To perform a branded clam, you use the same movements outlined above, but place a resistance band around your thighs to make the movements more difficult.

Here's how to do a banded clamshell exercise:

  1. Lie down on your exercise mat, or on the floor.
  2. Position yourself on one side of your body with your arm stretched out to support your head.
  3. Bend your knees, so they rest at a 45-degree angle and keep your legs on top of one another.
  4. Loop a resistance band around your thighs, just above the knees.
  5. Use your arms for stabilization, and pull your core muscles inwards.
  6. Keep your feet held together and keep your hips, pelvis, and upper body stationary.
  7. At the same time, rotate your upper knee, so it moves away from your bottom knee.
  8. Once your knee has rotated as far up as it can, rotate it back down again.
  9. Keep your lower leg firmly held to the ground while you 'open the clam' and then 'close the clam'.
  10. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
  11. Switch sides and repeat the exercise on your alternate side.

What is a reverse clamshell exercise?

An alternative variation of the standard exercise is the reverse clamshell. The exercise is similar to the exercises outlined above, the difference being that instead of rotating your knee, you rotate your feet.

  1. Adopt the same position as you would for a normal clamshell, on your side.
  2. Hold your legs at a 45-degree angle and keep your knees firmly held together.
  3. Rotate your top foot away from your body to raise your lower leg upwards.
  4. Lower your leg, repeat the movement, then switch sides.

Final words on clamshell exercises!

Clamshell exercises are a surprisingly effective exercise that can target a fantastic range of muscles in your lower body. Work your glutes, thighs, hips, back, and legs, while improving your fitness and mobility to help you avoid injury or recover from existing ones.

You might look like a clam while you're working out, but you certainly won't feel like one if you start to include this excellent exercise in your regular workout sessions!

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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