When you think about the largest muscle in your body, you probably think about the gluteus maximus aka your butt. But what about the other muscles in your glutes like the gluteus medius?
The glutes medius plays a major role in hip abduction or movement of the leg away from your body’s midline. It also keeps your hips level when you’re standing on one leg trying to balance yourself.
Without the gluteus medius, your pelvis would sag and your hip would drop on the non-supported side.
Your glute muscles
Your body is made up of three glute muscles:
- Gluteus maximus
- Gluteus medius
- Gluteus minimus
The gluteus maximus is the largest glute muscle and in the body. It makes up the majority of your butt and does the most work. The glute max helps to keep your torso upright and stabilized, and helps with hip extension and hip abduction as well as transverse abduction and external rotation of the leg.
The gluteus medius muscle is smaller and helps with stabilization of the body. It’s the muscle you probably feel when you move your leg out to the side of your body (abduction), such as during a lateral lunge or side lying leg lift.
The gluteus minimus is the smallest, yet very important fan-shaped muscle that is deeper in the muscle group. It works with the gluteus medius for abduction movements and helps to support the pelvis when you walk.
Where is the gluteus medius?
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Your glutes are powerful muscles.
The gluteus medius is sandwiched between your gluteus maximus and minimus. It stretches from the upper pelvis to the top of your femur bone.
The muscle primarily abducts the hip and stabilizes your lumbar-pelvic hip complex.
What is the function of the gluteus medius?
Hip abduction – bringing the leg out to the side.
Hip external rotation – rotating the hip out to the side.
Hip internal rotation – rotating the hip inward (with flexion).
Gluteus medius exercises
Basic resistance exercise for the gluteus medius can be initiated in non-weight bearing positions.
- Begin by lying on one side with the hips flexed to approximately 45 degrees.
- The knees are flexed and the feet kept together.
- Start the exercise by rotating the top hip to bring the knees apart.
- Hold this position for 2 seconds and then return to the start position slowly.
- Be sure to remain completely on the side with one hip stacked on top of the other.
Tip: Be sure to keep your core pulled in as you engage your glutes to lift your knee, and don’t let your body roll backward as you try to lift your knee.
Single-leg squat or pistol squat
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Lift your right leg forward and hold it out straight and slightly in front of your torso.
- Extend your arms straight in front of you for balance.
- Perform a squat by bending at your left knee while keeping your torso upright.
- Lower down until you touch the box.
- Squeeze your glutes as you push into the left foot to stand back up.
Tip: Hold the handles of a TRX suspension system to help you with your balance.
Lateral step up
- Stand with your left leg on a step or bench.
- Lower your right foot so that your right hip drops and pushes out to the side.
- Drive up by pushing through your left hip until your right foot is above the step.
- With a band around your ankles, stand with legs hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees a little and step one foot to the side.
- Follow with the other foot so your legs are again hip-width apart.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your weight on your right leg, extend your left foot behind and around your right leg in a diagonal motion until you end in a lunge.
- Once you’ve reached 90 degrees in both legs, press through your right heel to bring yourself back to starting position.
Tip: Concentrate on feeling the work in your right glute (and not your quadriceps) with this move. Give your glute a little squeeze at the bottom and all the way back to the top.
Weighted glute bridges or hip thrusts
- Begin by lying flat on your back with your shoulders on a bench with a neutral spine position.
- Pull your feet in towards your glutes so your knees bend and place a barbell across your hips with a barbell pad or a dumbbell.
- Use both hands to secure the weight.
- Press into the heels of both feet and lift your hips off the ground.
- Once you’ve pressed your hips up as far as you can by squeezing your glutes, release that squeeze and slowly bring your body back down to the starting position.
- Lay on your back with your palms face-down by your sides.
- Extend one leg, squeeze your glutes and push into your other leg.
- While keeping your upper back in contact with the floor, lift your hips until your extended leg forms a straight line with your back.
- Lower back to the starting position and repeat.
Single leg deadlifts
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
- With a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, slowly tilt forward at the hips raising one leg behind you.
- Keep your core tight as you extend your leg forming a straight line from your head through your extended leg.
- Slowly return leg back to starting position.
Note: You can do this without any weights. Holding weights in my hands helps counterbalance standing on one leg.
Side plank hip abductions
- Lay on your side with your elbow on the ground and only your bottom leg on the ground.
- Lift your body up into a side plank by coming up on your elbow and the side of your foot.
- Raise your top leg as far as you can and come down slowly.
- Be sure to maintain a straight torso.
Benefits of strengthening the glutes
Improving your muscle strength has so many benefits from your appearance to how your body moves.
Eliminate lower back pain
Glute exercises help you build strength in your buttocks and hips to support the lower back and alleviate back pain.
Your glutes belong to a category of muscles known as stabilizers. They work in conjunction with other muscles in your posterior chain to help strengthen your back and prevent slouching.
Reduce risk of injury
Your posterior chain includes your glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. No matter your fitness level, having a strong posterior chain is vital for preventing injury and providing foundational strength for a wide range of exercises.
What causes weak glutes?
The gluteus medius muscle can weaken and cause many hip dysfunctions and injuries.
So, what causes weak glutes?
Due to our heavily sedentary lifestyles, many of us suffer from under-active or weak glutes. We sit more and spend less time moving around. As a result, we aren’t properly using our glute muscles.
If your exercise routine lacks frontal plane exercises (side to side), this can contribute to that weakness.
Symptoms of weak or inactive glutes can also include tight hip flexors, knee pain, low back pain and weak ankles and feet.
Make sure you add stretches aimed directly toward this muscle. Stretching out the gluteus medius can help loosen tight hips, which will help with a better range of motion and can reduce chronic back pain.
The majority of people have very underdeveloped glutes and hamstrings. Most people sit too much and don’t train the muscles of the posterior chain.
Meanwhile, people train their anterior (front), medial and posterior (rear) deltoids but they don’t follow the same approach for the glutes.
The goal when incorporating these exercises is to contract the side glutes with every rep.
If you feel a pump in the gluteus maximus, you should lower the weights and increase the time under tension for a pump in your glutes.