What are the Gluteal Muscles?
The Gluteal Muscles comprise three muscles which make up the buttocks: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and the Gluteus Minimus.
Tortora et al. (1990) describe the function of the gluteal muscles:
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.
Liebenson (2006) 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 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 patellofemoral pain (runner's knee).
Without a strong gluteus medius to align the femur, knee and ankle, you are likely to overpronate 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.
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 sciatic 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
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 degrees of flexion (Figure 12).
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 cramping 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.
Exercise to lengthen the Psoas
This exercise strengthens your weak hip muscles, glutes and core while challenging your hip flexors
Suggest the above exercises are performed 3 times a week with at least 24 hours of recovery between sessions to allow the muscles to adapt
Research by Distefano et al. (2009) found that: "The best exercise for the gluteus medius was the side-lying hip abduction, while the single-limb squat and single-limb deadlift exercises led to the greatest activation of the gluteus maximus."
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