Glorious Glutes

Sometimes we choose function over form.  For example, as a mom of four kids, I have spent most of my adulthood driving a messy minivan. Other times we opt for form over function, like when we wear uncomfortable heels for a night out.  What I love is when form and function agree, as is the case when we talk about training your glutes. Not only do well-trained glutes look good, but they are essential for our best function.  We need great glutes to prevent injury, stabilize our pelvis and spine, maximize our athletic potential, and burn calories.

If you are an avid runner or walker, you might think, “I exercise my legs plenty just with my activity.” And you also probably experience the common overuse injuries such as patellar tendonitis, IT band syndrome, or pulled hamstrings.  If you are an avid gym rat and are saying, “Well, I work my legs plenty with squats, lunges, and leg presses,” you’re setting yourself up for injury. This is because your gluteus medius, the main muscle involved in stabilizing and rotating your hips, is being sadly neglected. If we don’t include rotation or abduction exercises in our training, we are not strengthening the gluteus medius.  This neglect causes an internal rotation of the pelvis, which results in knee pain and injury. 

Complications also occur because of weakness of the gluteus maximus, the strongest and biggest muscle of the body.  This muscle is so essential in stabilizing and supporting our posture.  Weakness in the gluteus maximus often will correlate with low back pain.  Our gluteus maximus is definitely under a passive-aggressive assault in our culture of sitting!  Excessive sitting shortens the opposing muscles and lengthens the gluteus maximus, which sends to it the following message:  relaaaaax.  That translates to gluteal weakness, resulting in these common injuries:

  1. Hamstring strains: If you have weak glutes, your hamstrings can become dominant in hip extension, which can cause hamstring strains 
  2. Low back pain: Gluteus maximus activation importantly stabilizes the pelvis when you lift objects. Weak glutes are often the cause of tight back muscles or back injury. 
  3. Anterior knee pain: The excessive internal rotation of your leg, as I described above, when you have weak glutes puts excessive strain on your patella.
  4. Lower-body malalignment: The internal rotation of your leg throws off everything from hip to knee to foot and leads to injury anywhere along that chain.
  5. Gluteal weakness can also lead to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprains, chronic ankle instability, and IT band syndrome.

Let’s talk about the muscles that comprise our hind end and what they do.

The muscles of the gluteal region broadly classified into two groups:

Superficial abductors and extenders:  Muscles that abduct (take away from your body) and extend the femur (the bone of your upper leg). Superficial group muscles are gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata (affectionately known as TFL).

Deep lateral rotators:  Muscles that mostly rotate the femur laterally. Deep lateral rotators muscles include piriformis, gemellus superior, gemellus inferior, quadratus femoris and obturator internus.

Our glutes are in charge of these movements:

  1. Hip Flexion: Forward and upward movement from the femur through the hip. (Think of kicking a ball.)
    Hip Flexor Muscles-iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, pectineus.
  2. Hip Extension: Upward movement toward the rear of the body of the femur at the hip (Like kicking behind you.)
    Hip Extensor Muscles-gluteus Maximus; semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris
  3. Hip Abduction: Movement of the femur on the hip away from the body.
    Hip Abductor Muscles-gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fascia latae.
  4. Hip Internal Rotation: Rotation of the leg toward the midline of the body. 

Hip Internal Rotator Muscles-anterior fibers of gluteus medius and minimus, tensor fascia latae.

  1. Hip External Rotation: Rotation of the femur away from the midline of the body.

 Hip External Rotator Muscles-biceps femoris, gluteus maximus, helped by the obturators, gemilli and quadratus femoris.

Have I motivated you to work those glutes?  I hope so!  Now you are hopefully eager to find out more about the best exercises for your gluteal muscles.  Next week I’ll give you the information you need.  Also, my website will be up and running by then, and I plan to post a few photos or videos to demonstrate the most effective exercises.

When you get the muscles firing, you’ll find–as an esthetic side benefit–is that form happens to accompany gluteal function !

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