The Best Strengthening Exercises for the Piriformis: A Comprehensive Guide

The Best Strengthening Exercises for the Piriformis:

The piriformis muscle, located deep within the buttock region, plays a crucial role in hip and lower limb movement. This often-overlooked muscle can be responsible for significant pain and discomfort if it becomes tight or weak. It’s essential to understand how to properly strengthen the piriformis muscle to promote overall hip health and prevent common pain syndromes that plague the low back and hip.

Incorporating various targeted exercises into one’s routine can effectively improve piriformis muscle function and reduce discomfort. From basic stretches to more advanced strengthening exercises, these movements can benefit individuals of various fitness levels. Strategic physical therapies and exercise approaches can address not only the piriformis muscle but also promote overall hip health.

Key Takeaways

  • Strengthening the piriformis muscle is vital for hip health and preventing common issues in the hip and lower back.
  • A variety of targeted exercises can improve piriformis muscle function and reduce discomfort.
  • Comprehensive exercise approaches and physical therapy can enhance overall hip health and alleviate piriformis-related pain.

Understanding Piriformis Muscle

The piriformis muscle is an essential part of the hip muscles that play a vital role in stabilizing the lower back, pelvis, and hips. It attaches to the front part of the sacrum, which is the triangular bone at the base of the spine, and extends to the top of the femur. Its primary function is to assist in the external rotation of the hip joint and help support the stability of the pelvis during movement.

Glute muscle anatomy

The Piriformis muscle supports the hips during various activities such as walking, running, and jumping. It acts as an abductor when the hip is flexed and an internal rotator when it is extended. This muscle’s recruitment and activation during hip rehabilitation exercises have been studied in various researches, such as the one mentioned in this Semantic Scholar paper.

Due to its critical role in pelvic stability, having a strong and flexible piriformis muscle is essential for overall hip health. When the piriformis muscle is tight or weakened, it can cause discomfort and pain in the lower back, hips, and buttocks. In some cases, it can lead to a condition known as sciatica, where the muscle irritates the sciatic nerve, causing pain and numbness down the leg.

To keep the piriformis muscle healthy and functioning optimally, it’s essential to perform targeted exercises that focus on strengthening and stretching the muscle. These exercises may involve hip abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation movements that specifically engage the piriformis muscle and help improve its flexibility and strength. Incorporating these exercises into a regular workout routine can significantly contribute to maintaining proper pelvic and hip stability.

In conclusion, the piriformis muscle stabilizes the lower back, pelvis, and hips. Developing a strong and flexible piriformis muscle through targeted exercises can greatly enhance overall hip function and reduce the risk of injuries and discomfort in the hip area.

Importance of Strengthening the Piriformis

The piriformis muscle plays a crucial role in proper body function. It aids in hip rotation, balancing, and lower body mobility. Thus, maintaining adequate muscle strength in the piriformis is essential for an active and pain-free lifestyle. Engaging in targeted strengthening exercises can help improve piriformis muscle strength, reduce discomfort associated with piriformis syndrome, and enhance overall muscular balance.

One such benefit of strengthening the piriformis muscle is preventing and alleviating piriformis syndrome. This condition occurs when the muscle becomes tight or spasms, irritating the sciatic nerve, causing pain in the buttocks, and radiating down the leg. Although this condition is quite rare, it can be extremely painful and limiting. By incorporating strengthening exercises into a regular fitness routine, individuals can alleviate the symptoms of piriformis syndrome and improve their overall quality of life.

Piriformis syndrome may be responsible for only 0.3% to 6% of all cases of low back pain and/or sciatica.

Hicks BL, Lam JC, Varacallo M. Piriformis Syndrome. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

Moreover, strong piriformis muscles contribute to better posture and body alignment. As the piriformis muscle stabilizes the sacroiliac joint and pelvis, a strong piriformis muscle will reduce strain and stress on the lower back and hips. This balance between muscle groups is particularly important for anyone who performs repetitive or high-impact activities, as it helps to avoid overuse injuries.

The Best Strengthening Exercises for the Piriformis: A Comprehensive Guide

Additionally, improved muscle strength in the piriformis can lead to enhanced athletic performance. Since the piriformis muscle plays a vital role in hip movement, a well-conditioned piriformis can improve efficiency and power in activities like running, jumping, and changing direction.

To achieve the best results, individuals should incorporate a variety of exercises that target the piriformis muscle specifically. Some effective strengthening exercises include clamshells, seated leg raises, and glute bridges. Engaging in these exercises consistently will help strengthen the piriformis muscle and contribute to a more robust and balanced musculoskeletal system.

Key Strengthening Exercises for the Piriformis

The piriformis is a small muscle located deep in the buttocks, which plays an essential role in stabilizing the lower back, pelvis, and hip. To maintain optimal functionality, it’s crucial to include targeted exercises that will strengthen the muscle and improve your overall stability.

One essential exercise is the bridge. To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes at the top. Hold for a few seconds before lowering back down. Repeat this movement for 10-15 repetitions and at least 2-3 sets to build strength in the piriformis and the surrounding muscles, such as the glute max.

bridge exercise

Another effective exercise is the clamshell. Begin by lying on your side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, keeping your feet together. Slowly open your top knee while keeping your feet touching, as if opening a clamshell. Strengthening Exercises for Piriformis Syndrome recommends performing 10-15 repetitions with 2-3 sets on each side to help reinforce the muscle and reduce the risk of injury.

Clamshell with band

Single-leg glute bridges are excellent for targeting the piriformis and surrounding muscles. Like the bridge exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg off the ground, leaving one foot on the ground. As you lift your hips, engage your glutes and hold for a few seconds before lowering back down. To increase the difficulty of this exercise, consider adding a resistance band around your thighs or holding for a longer count.

Single leg bridge
Single leg bridge

Lastly, incorporating Hip Abduction leg raises can help strengthen the piriformis muscle and improve overall stability. This exercise is key to underlying glute weakness. To perform leg raises, lie on your side and lift your top leg upwards while maintaining a straight line from your head to your toe. Be sure to engage your core and keep your hips stacked during the movement. Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 3 sets on each side for optimal results.

side lying hip abduction

Incorporating these key strengthening exercises into your fitness routine can significantly improve the function of the piriformis muscle, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance overall movement quality.

Advanced Strengthening Exercises for the Piriformis

If you’re experiencing piriformis pain or tightness, incorporating advanced strengthening exercises into your workout routine can help alleviate discomfort and prevent future issues. While basic exercises like clamshells and bridges can be effective, adding more challenging movements can boost your routine.

One advanced exercise to try is the single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL). This exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes, and core while also working the piriformis. To perform the single-leg RDL, stand on one leg with a slight bend in the knee and hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and your core engaged. Lower the weight towards the ground while lifting your back leg behind you, then return to the standing position. Repeat for 10-12 reps on each leg.

Romanian deadlift with a dumbbell

Another effective exercise for the piriformis is the curtsy lunge. This movement targets the glutes, hips, quads, and inner thighs. To perform a curtsy lunge, start standing and cross one leg behind the other, bending both knees as if curtsying. Return to standing position and repeat on the other side. Aim for 10-12 reps on each leg.

Cursty lunge with kettle bells

Finally, lateral step-downs on a bosu ball are a great way to strengthen the hips and glutes while also challenging your balance and stability. To perform this exercise, stand on a bosu ball with one foot and slowly lower your other foot to the ground, tapping your toe before returning to the standing position. Repeat on the other side for 10-12 reps. As you progress, you can add weight or increase the height of the step to make the exercise more challenging.

Bosu Ball Step up and over

Additional Stretches for Piriformis Pain

Strengthening and stretching the piriformis muscle helps alleviate pain and discomfort and prevent future issues. Here are some effective exercises and stretches to consider incorporating into your routine.

1. Piriformis Stretch: This simple stretch targets the piriformis muscle and can be done by sitting on a chair and crossing the affected leg over the other leg, with the ankle resting on the opposite knee. Gently press down on the raised knee and hold for 30 seconds or longer. Repeat 3-4 times on each side.

Piriformis stretch in sitting

2. Long Adductor Stretch: The long adductor stretch targets the adductor muscles, which also play a role in hip stability. Sit on the floor with your legs spread apart. Lean forward, keeping your back straight, and touch your hands to the ground. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.

Seated Adductor stretch

3. Supine Piriformis Stretch: This stretch is similar to the seated piriformis stretch but is performed lying down. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your affected leg and place your ankle on the opposite knee. Gently pull your non-affected leg toward your chest, feeling the stretch in your piriformis muscle. Hold for 30 seconds or longer and perform 3-4 times on each side.

figure 4 piriformis stretch supine

Incorporating these exercises and stretches into your fitness routine will effectively target the piriformis muscle and promote overall hip stability. Consistency in practice is essential for the best results, so remember to be patient and continue working on your flexibility and strength.

The Role of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays a significant role in managing and treating piriformis-related pain. A trained physical therapist will assess the patient’s condition and design a personalized treatment plan to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and strengthen the piriformis muscle.

The treatment begins with an evaluation to identify the severity and specific factors contributing to the patient’s symptoms. This may include observation of posture, gait analysis, and muscle strength testing. Your physical therapist will then utilize evidence-based techniques to address the identified issues.

Hip Physical Therapy

One major focus of physical therapy for the piriformis muscle is targeted strengthening exercises. These exercises help improve muscle strength and flexibility, reducing the likelihood of irritation or compression of nearby nerves. Increased strength can also delay or prevent serious complications or other injuries such as FAI. Alongside these exercises, the physical therapist may incorporate manual techniques such as soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilizations, and stretching.

In addition to in-person therapy sessions, it is crucial that patients receive guidance and resources for carrying out prescribed exercises at home. Physical therapists provide patients with clear instructions and demonstrations to ensure they can perform these exercises correctly even outside the clinic.

To maximize the effectiveness of physical therapy, individuals should follow their therapist’s recommendations and maintain regular communication about their progress. Consistency and commitment to the therapy program are essential for long-lasting healing and pain relief.

Comprehensive Exercise Approach

Incorporating a comprehensive exercise approach is crucial when focusing on strengthening the piriformis muscle. This approach should include flexibility training, aerobic exercise, and hip muscle strengthening for optimal results. The following paragraphs will provide a brief overview of each aspect of this exercise routine.

Stretching exercises are essential for improving flexibility and reducing muscle tightness in the piriformis region. These exercises may include the supine piriformis stretch, seated piriformis stretch, and pigeon pose. It is crucial to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat them 2-3 times on each side. Consistent practice will result in increased flexibility and reduced muscle tension.

Flexibility training goes hand-in-hand with stretching, offering numerous benefits such as improved range of motion and reduced risk of injury. Incorporating yoga or Pilates into your exercise routine can be a productive way to improve both flexibility and core strength. These disciplines often focus on controlled breathing, balance, and focused movements to target specific muscle groups, including the piriformis.

Aerobic exercise is beneficial for promoting overall health and well-being. It can also benefit individuals looking to strengthen their piriformis muscle, as it helps with blood circulation and keeps muscles well-oxygenated. Suitable aerobic activities for this purpose include walking, swimming, biking, and running.

Lastly, hip muscle strengthening exercises are crucial in a comprehensive piriformis strengthening approach. These exercises target not only the piriformis but also the surrounding muscles, creating a balanced and stable musculature in the hip region. Some effective hip-strengthening exercises include clamshells, bridges, and side-lying leg lifts.

By incorporating stretching, flexibility training, aerobic exercise, and hip muscle strengthening exercises into a comprehensive exercise approach, it is possible to effectively target and strengthen the piriformis muscle. Maintaining consistency in each aspect of this routine will provide optimal results.

Frequently Asked Questions


Incorporating strengthening exercises for the piriformis muscle can greatly improve overall hip and lower back health. By focusing on regular and targeted workouts, individuals may experience reduced pain and increased mobility. Consistency and proper form are essential in ensuring the effectiveness of these exercises.

Some of the best exercises for the piriformis muscle include variations of clamshells, hip bridges, and seated hip external rotations. These exercises not only target the piriformis but also engage the surrounding muscles, promoting overall stability and balance in the hips and lower back area.

Gradually increasing the intensity of the workouts and incorporating resistance bands can further enhance the benefits.

If you have successfully strengthened the Piriformis muscle, let us know in the comments below, including what worked for you and how long it took to take effect.

About the Author

James C. Lee DPT, SCS, CSCS
James is a native of Limestone, TN. He attended the University of Tennessee, receiving his BS in Health and Exercise Science and completing his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Saint Augustine. James worked as a traveling physical therapist and treats various patients with a specialty in Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. James is a board-certified Sports Physical Therapist and a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and is certified in Functional Dry Needling, Running Gait Analysis, and Blood Flow Restriction Therapy. James contributes his expertise to physical therapy websites and other guest appearances.