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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

The Gluteus Maximus: More Than Just a Vanity Muscle


woman in jeans sitting on the back of a chair
Gluteal Muscles


In today's fitness-conscious world, many individuals strive to achieve a firm and shapely backside, aiming for that perfect, round derriere. However, the desire for an aesthetically pleasing butt goes beyond mere appearance. The gluteal muscles, commonly known as the glutes, play a vital role in both physical and mental well-being.


As a physical therapist, I frequently encounter patients with impairments stemming from weak glutes. This weakness can have a cascading effect, leading to a decline in overall health and mobility. Understanding the composition of the glutes, the condition known as Dead Butt Syndrome, the importance of the glutes for posture, health, and living well, as well as effective training methods, can shed light on the significance of strong glutes in achieving optimal physical function. So join me as we delve deeper into everything glutes!


"A strong butt not only looks great but also enhances your overall performance and athleticism." - Jen Sinkler
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

COMPOSITION OF GLUTEAL MUSCLES

WHERE ARE THE GLUTEAL MUSCLES LOCATED
Gluteal Muscles

Let’s take a minute to look at the composition of the booty.


The gluteal muscles are a group of three muscles located in the buttocks area: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.

GLUTEUS MAXIMUS


The Gluteus Maximus is the largest of the three muscles and is responsible for the shape and size of the buttocks. It is a powerful muscle that helps to extend and externally rotate the hip joint, and perhaps most importantly, it plays a prominent role in maintaining the upper body in an erect posture. It is a powerful extensor but only acts when needed – like rising from sitting, straightening from a bending position, running, walking uphill, squatting and jumping.


GLUTEUS MEDIUS


The Gluteus Medius is located on the outer surface of the hip and is the primary hip abductor (assisted by the gluteus minimus and the tensor fascia lata). The Gluteus Medius also acts on the femur to stabilize the pelvis and maintain the trunk upright when standing on one leg, which is essential for walking and balance. Gluteal Medius weakness will lead to the pelvis sagging downward on the unsupported side (also known as Trendelenburg sign).


GLUTEUS MINIMUS


The Gluteus Minimus is the smallest of the three muscles and works with the Gluteus Medius to assist in hip abduction and stabilization of the pelvis and hip.


 

DEAD BUTT SYNDROME


person sitting at a computer, office worker, prolonged sitting
Posture with an anterior pelvic tilt, glute weakness

Also known as gluteal amnesia or gluteal insufficiency - occurs when the gluteal muscles become weak or inactive. This can happen when a person sits for extended periods, a sedentary lifestyle or overall under-activation of the gluteal muscles. In fact, the average adult is sedentary for 64% of the time they are awake typically due to working a desk job that requires almost no activity. The glutes can be a lazy muscle while being prone to inhibition and weakness, forgetting how to activate and fire effectively after prolonged non-use. This phenomenon is ever the more reason to spend some time training your glutes.


 

BENEFITS OF STRONG GLUTES


STRONG GLUTES FOR IMPROVED POSTURE & REDUCED PAIN

anatomical drawing of an anterior pelvic tilt
Posture with an anterior pelvic tilt, glute weakness

Prolonged sitting generally elicits an altered posture of the pelvis where it is anteriorly tilted with tightness of the hip flexors. This, combined with core weakness from the altered length-tension relationship of the gluteus maximus puts it in a mechanically disadvantaged position – leading to weakness, inhibition, altered firing mechanics and poor posture.


Strong glutes, conversely, will help correct the alignment of the pelvis, keeping it in a neutral position and correct the anteriorly tilted position. As a result, the optimized length-tension relationship of the glutes and hip flexors, the spine will be under less stress, with the result of less pain.

The glutes are powerful extensors while acting as a stabilizer for the low back via the connection of the erector spinae and the thoraco-lumbar fascia – allowing the trunk to maintain an upright position, taking the compensatory stress of the back muscles and improving back pain.


 

STRONG GLUTES FOR INJURY PREVENTION


It is clear the glutes are important for pelvic stability. The pelvis supports the trunk – which supports the arms. The pelvis also supports the legs. So, think about it – a pelvis with weak support and stability has the potential to contribute to injuries.


Weakness of the gluteus maximus has been implicated in numerous types of knee pain, ACL injuries, low back pain, hamstring sprains, femoral acetabular impingement syndrome, ankle sprains.

When a muscle is weak, the body utilizes the path of least resistance. This is called ‘synergistic dominance’. Basically, the body will use the most energy efficient motor pattern regardless of whether it uses what would be the primary muscle for this role. So, when the glutes are weak, other muscles will have to take over leading to altered movement patterns and chronic ‘biomechanical overload’ type injuries, because these muscles were not meant for the jobs in which they are asked to do. Do your body a favor, maintain glute strength to help prevent other injuries from occurring.


"Strong glutes are the foundation for a powerful and injury-resistant body." - Bret Contreras
 

STRONG GLUTES FOR IMPROVED BALANCE



The actions of the gluteus medius and minimus muscles play a crucial role in maintaining a stable pelvis during single limb movements. When you take a step while walking, running, or climbing stairs, you shift your body weight onto one leg while the other leg is lifted off the ground. During this single limb stance phase, the gluteus medius and minimus muscles work together to prevent the opposite side of the pelvis from dropping down. They contract to stabilize the pelvis and prevent it from tilting or rotating excessively. This is also known as a Trendelenburg sign.

The ability to stabilize the femur and pelvis during single limb stance becomes increasingly important as you age. Balance becomes more challenging with age due to factors such as muscle weakness, decreased coordination, and changes in sensory input. Falls are a significant concern among older adults, with the United States reporting falls as the leading cause of injury-related deaths in this age group.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 older adults experiences a fall each year.

Recent research has shed light on the importance of balance and single limb stance for overall health. A study has shown that the ability to stand on one leg for at least 10 seconds is strongly associated with a lower risk of death over the next seven years. This finding highlights the role of balance and the underlying muscle strength, including the gluteus medius and minimus, in maintaining health and well-being as we age.


"A strong and engaged posterior chain, including the glutes, is essential for maintaining balance and preventing falls as we age." - Stuart McGill
person performing a tree pose, yoga





STRONG GLUTES FOR IMPROVED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE


INCREASED SPEED

The gluteal muscles are responsible for hip extension, which is a key movement in running, jumping and other athletic movements. They can also improve the power and speed of hip extension leading to faster running speeds with better agility.


ENHANCED JUMPING ABILITY

Strong glutes help explosive movements and generating force during the hip extension phase of a jump, the result is higher vertical jumps and longer jumping distances.


INCREASED POWER

The glutes are the largest and strongest muscle group in the body and training them can improve overall power output. This can translate into better performance like football, soccer and basketball, for example, where explosive movements are essential.


"Your glutes are the engine that drives your body. Strengthen them, and you'll unlock greater power, speed, and agility." - Mike Boyle
 

TRAINING YOUR GLUTES


Stay tuned for a detailed post about best practices, current research and techniques to optimize your glute strength. Generally, it is important to correct any muscle imbalances (for instance - release tight hip flexors) to restore optimal lumbopelvic stability in combination with restoring glute strength while ensuring proper motor patterns are in place. Single leg squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, lateral step ups, lunges - for example - are excellent starting points for strengthening the glutes.


UPDATE: Check out Part 2 to this post to discover the highest rated EMG exercises (according to literature) to activate your glute muscles. These exercises range from traditional moves like squats and lunges to more unconventional exercises like hex bar deadlifts and hip thrusts are the most effective exercises to target your glute muscles.

To make things even easier, I've ranked these exercises based on their level of electromyography (EMG) activation. This measures the amount of electrical activity in the muscle during an exercise, helping you choose the moves that best suit your fitness level and goals and get the most out of your training!



I hope you have gained a deeper understanding of the composition of the glutes, recognizing conditions like Dead Butt Syndrome, and appreciating the importance of strong glutes for posture, health, and overall quality of life, we can unlock the potential of these muscles. Training methods tailored to target and strengthen the glutes effectively can enhance physical function and improve overall well-being.


By prioritizing the strength and health of our glutes, we can not only experience the confidence that comes with a well-toned derriere but also reap the numerous benefits that extend far beyond appearance. Together, let us embrace the journey to stronger glutes and a healthier, more fulfilling life.



 


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