What it looks like is obviously important, BUT there is a lot more going on with our glutes than just aesthetics. Our glutes are some of the most under utilised and forgotten muscles in the body, and when activated and strengthen properly can do so much more for us than just looking good. The group of bottom muscles consists of the gluteus maximus, minimus and medius. All three of these muscles have different but important roles in the stability and mobility of our lower body. In fact they are responsible for helping with:
- Hip extension, abduction, external rotation and internal rotation
- Maintaining your balance as you walk or run (and maintaining a good stride length)
- Femoral, patellar and tibial alignment (think knee)
- Stabilising the lower back
- Keeping the pelvis level for walking and running
- Lifting you from a squatted position
- Climbing stairs
Often if a patient comes to us with knee pain or lower back pain then a key contributing factor to this pain is weak glutes. It may even be the case that the patient does squats and lunges and therefore thinks their glutes are strong but the truth is that these exercises (although important – don’t get us wrong!) predominantly work the gluteus maximus (the largest butt muscle). In order to really activate and strengthen your glutes, and have them working to their potential you need to strengthen all three of the butt muscles. The most under-utilised glute is the medius which is often referred to as the ‘forgotten muscle’. And – this ‘forgotten muscle’ is pretty important as it keeps the pelvis steady when you run. A weak or inactive medius can cause instability down your leg. Which in turn causes muscle imbalance and overworked leg muscles (as they try and compensate).
The result: knee pain and overly tight and sore leg muscles.
Why do we have weak glutes?
A very common question we get asked is why are my glutes so weak? One reason is ‘glute amnesia’. This is pretty much lifestyle. Even when people train and exercise hard they also often sit for the majority of the rest of the day (at work in the day, watching netflix in the evening :). The less we use our glutes the more likely they are to go to sleep. Another reason is injury. When you are injured, whether in the past or recently, it changes the mechanics and motor programming of your body. To compensate for the injury some muscle groups becoming overactive, while others become underactive. This can alter things for a long time without you even being aware of it. The third reason your glutes may be weak is biomechanics. Some people are just anatomically poorly aligned which makes it hard for their glutes to work effectively.
So what can we do to help strengthen our glutes – especially the medius?
The best way to get our glutes firing and doing their job properly is to activate and strengthen them by repetitively doing exercises that specifically target the muscle group. We have put together some simple but effective exercises that you can do at home, or at the gym. These will strengthen your glutes which in turn will keep your body working as it should. Some of the benefits of doing these exercises are:
- Decreased risk of injury and muscle imbalance
- Strong hip extension
- Hip capsule stability, and improved hip mobility
- Proper knee tracking
- Reduced back stress
- Lower susceptibility to hamstring injury
- Pain reduction (especially in the back and knee)
- Improved posture
Glute Strengthening Exercises
The below exercises should be done 2 to 3 times a week to really get your glutes working.
- Lie flat on the floor on your back with the hands by your side and your knees bent. Your feet should be placed around shoulder width.
- Pushing mainly with your heels, lift your hips off the floor while keeping your back straight.
- Hold the bridge for a few seconds.
- Slowly go back to the starting position.
- Make sure you’re not pushing from your heels – the power should only come from from your hips.
Reps: Aim for two sets of ten bridges.
Variations: You can perform this exercise with one leg off the floor. This doubles the difficulty of the exercise and makes your butt work harder! Make sure your body is in a straight line from your shoulders and all the way through your lifted leg. Reps: 2 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
- Place the band around your ankle and lie on your side on the ground (if you don’t have a band you can do it without – the band just increases the resistance). You can support your head in your hand while lying on your side and place the other hand in front of you on the ground.
- Stack your feet on top of each other and then lift your top leg straight up as high as you can.
- Do not lean forward or backward or let your hips rotate forward or backward.
- Keep your core engaged as you lift.
- Keep the foot that you lift parallel to the one on the ground.
Reps: Do 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 16 repetitions on each side.
- Lie on your side and position yourself on your bottom elbow and side of your foot.
- Don’t allow your hips to drop.
- Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your ankle and engage your core.
- Start by holding it for at least 15 secs and increase until you can hold it for one minute – or even longer!
Variations: Really make your glutes work by adding a leg lift to the above. Follow the instructions for the side plank and add the below:
- Keep your torso stable and raise your top leg (just higher than your top hip) without bending your knee.
- Keep your waist up and lifted, and don’t sink into your bottom shoulder.
- Return to starting position.
Reps: Do two of three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions on each side (if you can!).
Crab walk with squat
- Place your resistance band around your knees (or just below).
- Position your legs slightly wider than hip width apart and turn your feet outward.
- Keep your knees rotated outwards and tension on the band, lower yourself into a squat position, sticking your bottom out behind you as if you were about to sit down.
- Keep your upper body still, take a half step sideways against the resistance of the band. Make sure the other leg stays still, pushing out against the band.
- Take a half step inwards with the opposite leg, making sure that you do not step too far (the resistance band needs to stay tight).
- Repeat this sequence.
Reps: At least 8 steps each way.
Single leg dead lift
- Start from a standing position.
- Stand on one leg and lift the other leg behind you and in the air.
- Keeping your shoulders back and your back straight, hinge forward and reach your hands toward the ground.
- Make sure you keep your hips facing forward. One way to do this to to keep the foot of the lifted leg pointed towards the grounded foot.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Return back up and repeat.
Reps: Repeat 10 – 15 time each leg.
Variations: To make this harder you can hold weights or a medicine ball.
Standing hip abduction with band
- Put the resistance band around your ankles (or you can loop it around one ankle and a chair leg or something similar).
- Lift your outer leg up and straight out to side as far as possible. Pause, then return your leg to the starting position.
- Make sure you pause at the top of the repetition.
- Do not let your torso drop as you lift your leg. Stay in a comfortable standing position.
- Do not use momentum to lift or swing your leg. Make sure you control the motion throughout the movement.
Reps: Do 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 16 repetitions on each side.
There are lots of other glute strengthening exercises out there which are also good, but hopefully the ones we have given you will help to get your butt doing its job properly!