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Gluteal Muscles

What are the Gluteal Muscles?

The Gluteal Muscles comprise of three muscles which make up the buttocks: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and the Gluteus Minimus.

Gluteus

Tortora et al (1990)[1] describe the function of the gluteal muscles:

  • Gluteus Maximus extends and rotates the thigh laterally
  • Gluteus Medius and Minimus abduct and rotate the thigh medially

Are your Gluteal Muscles Weak or Inhibited?

An inhibited muscle means that the muscle is not firing properly (the neural signal is not reaching the muscle) and a weak muscle indicates the muscle is firing normally (not inhibited) but is lacking strength.

A way to determine if the gluteal muscles are inhibited is to perform a prone hip extension test.

To perform this test lie on a table face down and keeping the leg straight lift it up off the table. If on lifting the leg the knee significantly flexes or if a "dipping" is noted in the lumbar spine, indicating lumbar extension, the gluteal muscles are inhibited.

Hip Extension
Hip Extension Test

Liebenson (2006)[2] states that if a lack of coordination is seen when walking backwards it indicates the gluteus maximus is weak.

What causes weak or inhibited gluteal muscles?

If you spend long periods of time sitting in a chair then the front of the hips (hip flexors - psoas) become short and tight, while the back of the hips (gluteal muscles) become long and weak. Soon the body forgets how to use the gluteal muscles because it will divert the neural signal intended for them to a stronger muscle close by to do the job instead. If the neural system is now asking less powerful muscles to perform the task that requires the potential power of the gluteal muscles then this is likely to lead to injury.

What is the impact of weak or inhibited gluteal muscles?

Weak or inhibited gluteal muscles can result in overactive hamstrings and be the reason for low back pain, tight iliotibial bands (ITB syndrome) and patello-femoral pain (runner’s knee).

Without a strong gluteus medius to align the femur, knee and ankle, you are likely to over pronate your feet, which can lead to plantar fasciitis (heel pain), achilles tendinitis and shin splints.

The gluteus medius holds our pelvis upright as we stand.  When it gets weak the piriformis has to compensate and as a result the piriformis gets bigger and tighter and you may experience piriformis syndrome.

How can I get my gluteal muscles functioning correctly?

The following exercises will help develop gluteal activation and core stability.

Bridge

  • Form a bridge as in Figure 1 (start position)
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Push the hips higher and hold for 30 seconds
  • Lower the hips to the start position
  • Repeat 3 times

Bridge
Figure 1

Bridge with leg extension

  • Form a bridge as in Figure 1
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Extend the left leg as in Figure 2
  • Ensure there is no tilt in the hips
  • Hold for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the right leg
Bridge leg extended
Figure 2

Glute Kick

  • Assume the position on hands and knees as in Figure 3
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Push the left heel up approx 2 inches towards the ceiling (Figure 4)
  • Ensure no hip tilt
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Return the left leg to the start position as in Figure 3
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the right leg
Glute kick
Figure 3
Glute kick with extension
Figure 4

Leg lift

  • Stand tall and erect
  • Lift the left foot off the ground
  • Assume the position as in Figure 5
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Push the left heel up back as in Figure 6 keeping the left leg straight
  • Ensure there is no hip tilt
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Return the left leg to the start position as in Figure 5
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the right leg
Leg lift
Figure 5
leg lift with extension
Figure 6

Lunge

  • Stand tall and erect
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Lung forward with the right leg to assume the position in Figure 7
  • Check right knee is above the right ankle and the back is straight
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Push back with the right leg to bring you back to the standing position
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the left leg
lunge
Figure 7

Squat

  • Stand tall and erect
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Lower the body to assume the position in Figure 8
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Push down through the heels to bring you back to the standing position
  • Repeat 3 times
squat
Figure 8

Superman

  • Stand tall and erect
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Lower the upper body and raise the left leg to assume the position in Figure 9
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Return slowly to the standing position
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the right leg

Try to get into a position so that there is a straight line through the arms, neck, back and rear leg

superman
Figure 9

What is Piriformis Syndrome?

If you have a short tight Piriformis muscle then you may experience low back pain, pelvic pain, pain in the buttock or hip. As the piriformis gets bigger it may trap the sciatica nerve which can cause numbness and tingling going into your leg or foot; it may hurt to sit, walk or lie down.

Exercise to lengthen the Piriformis

Supine Stretch

  • Lie on your back with knees bent
  • Cross the right leg over the left leg as in Figure 10
  • Pull the left leg toward your chest 
  • The right will also move closer toward your chest, stretching the piriformis
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the other leg
Piriformis Stretch
Figure 10

What is the impact of a short/tight Psoas?

The rectus femoris acts as a hip flexor and knee extensor. The synergists are the psoas and the tensor fascia latae (TFL). Once the femur reaches about 90 degrees of hip flexion (Figure 11), the psoas takes over because the rectus femoris has shortened and is incapable of applying the necessary force to move the knee above the 90 degree of flexion (Figure 12).

Psoas Test

Stand up tall and while maintaining posture attempt to lift one knee past hip height (Figure 12). If your psoas is short/tight you may find that you experience cramp in the TFL, as your TFL attempts to carry the load, or your hips tilt back as the quadratus lumborum's attempts to carry the load.

Hip Flexor test
Figure 11
Hip Flexor test
Figure 12

Exercise to lengthen the Psoas

Psoas and Quadricep stretch

  • Kneel on the ground with the left knee well behind you
  • With the left hand grab the left leg just above the ankle
  • Engage the core and glutes
  • Assume the position in Figure 13
  • Keep your back straight and vertical
  • Keep your hips square
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
  • Before the next stretch move the left knee further back
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Repeat with the other leg
Psoas and Quadricep stretch
Figure 13

and finally

This exercise strengthens your weak hip muscles, glutes and core while challenging your hip flexors

  • Form a bridge as in Figure 1
  • Engage the core and glutes
  • Extend the left leg as in Figure 2
  • Lift your left foot off the ground and pull your left knee toward your left shoulder as in Figure 14
  • Lower left your foot to the ground and do the same with your right leg
  • Maintain the bridge position the entire time you do the exercise
  • Complete 15 lifts with each leg
Ultimate stretch
Figure 14

How Often?

Suggest the above exercises are performed 3 times a week with at least 24 hours recovery between sessions to allow the muscles to adapt


References

  1. TORTORA, G & ANAGNOSTAKOS, N. (1990) Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 6th ed. USA; Harper Collins Publishers
  2. LIEBENSON, C (2006) Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual. USA; Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • DISTEFANO, L. et al. (2009) Gluteal muscle activation during common therapeutic exercises. Journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 39 (7), p. 532-540
  • FREDERICSON, M., and WOLF, C. (2005) Iliotibial band syndrome in runners. Sports Medicine, 35 (5), p. 451-459

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2012) Gluteus Maximus [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/glutes.htm [Accessed

Related Pages

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