As everyone knows, exercise is vital to a person’s good health. In order to keep our muscles strong and functioning properly, we must exercise frequently and keep ourselves physically active.
With that said, many people often forget muscles that should be exercised. We usually only think about the popular muscles and exercises, such as ones that help develop our legs, arms, or abdominal muscles. One area of the body that seems to be rather mysterious when it comes to exercise discussion, however, is the butt. Everybody knows what the gluteus maximus is – essentially, the main muscle of the butt, but what about the other gluteus muscles?
The gluteus medius, one of the other two gluteus muscles, is one muscle that often gets undeservedly ignored. When this muscle is ignored in exercise, the pelvis is no longer fully stabilized while walking or running. A weak gluteus maximus muscle can lead to many serious injuries. By strengthening these muscles, you could avoid these issues completely.
I myself have noticed that I have particularly weak glute medius muscles, so this post covers my findings on the best way to strengthen them. Keep reading if you’d like to find out more about some of the best gluteus medius exercises to try.
What are the Gluteus Medius Muscles?
As the name suggests, the gluteus medius muscle is located in the middle of the other two gluteus muscles: the gluteus maximus and the gluteus minimus.
The muscle is broad at its top and narrows as it reaches its lower points. Positionally, the gluteus maximus muscle overlaps the gluteus medius in the back.
The gluteus medius muscles are one of the three gluteus muscles of the butt. The muscles’ purpose is to help move the leg away from the body and to rotate the hip from the middle.
A strong and fully functioning gluteus medius muscle will allow the hips and butt to stay level when one leg is raised while the other stays planted on the ground. When the muscle is weak, the pelvis may drop on one side when a leg is raised; this is due to the pelvis not having enough lower support, which is where the gluteus medius muscle comes in.
What are the Symptoms of a Weak Gluteus Medius Muscles?
As mentioned earlier, weak gluteus medius muscles can result in many issues and injuries. Most of these issues involve severe pain in various parts of the body affected by the hips. Although weak gluteus medius muscles can cause severe back pain and other back issues, the primary symptoms can normally be found lower in the kinetic chain of the body, namely in the knees.
One symptom in particular that you may recognise is an issue called valgus knees, otherwise known as knock-knees. The valgus knee is a condition where your knees seem to buckle in on each other. This condition can be seen most when an affected person moves into a squat or similar position. Weak gluteus medius muscles may contribute to this condition by causing inward rotation at the other end of the femur when the thigh is being improperly rotated, which would then cause the knees to point in toward each other.
This condition could cause further problems in the feet and ankles, depending on severity. It could also cause other problems in the body such as meniscus, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), or posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injuries, especially when involved in sports such as soccer, volleyball, or basketball.
With that said, although valgus knees are a common symptom, there could also be several other issues caused by weak gluteus medius muscles. The body often attempts to compensate when certain muscles are not functioning properly. In the case of a weak gluteus medius, the lower back muscles will usually work harder to make up for the issue. When this happens, trigger points are developed due to the lower back muscles being overworked; this could cause severe lower back pain as a result (see section on how to release the glute medius to remedy this).
Various leg muscles may also be affected and overworked due to weak gluteus medius muscles. This could occur due to a compensation after the knees are weakened. When the leg is forced to rotate inward when the gluteus medius muscles are not doing their jobs, the strain put on the foot and shin could even cause shin splints.
Checking the Strength of Your Gluteus Medius Muscles
There are several methods you can use to test the strength and functionality of your gluteus medius muscles. You could start by testing the range of rotation you experience when lifting your legs and hips to the side. If you find that there are limitations, one potential cause could be that your gluteus muscles need to be strengthened.
The most popular method for checking the strength of your gluteus medius muscles is to raise one leg and see whether or not your hips stay level. If one side of your pelvis drops when you raise the one leg, it is likely that you need to work on strengthening your gluteus medius muscles.
It is incredibly easy to check the strength of your gluteus medius muscles, and the tests can be done in a matter of seconds while standing in front of a mirror. Although you should always speak to a doctor about your symptoms, you could still easily do these tests on your own, as well. If you do find that your gluteus medius muscles are weak, you should perform some of our suggested exercises to work on strengthening them.
The Best Exercises for Strengthening Weak Glute Medius
As discussed before, the glute medius is a muscle that often gets ignored during our workouts. Most of the time when we think about working our glutes, we stick to squats and deadlifts and we only focus on these types of exercises. The problem with squats is that it utilises both legs and your hips are in a stable position. If this is the case then the glute medius muscles don’t need to fire because the hips are already level.
If you want to work out the glute medius muscles, you have to work on them with intention.
So what are the best glute medius exercises?
- Single leg exercises such as single leg squats and lunges work because they force you to use the muscles to stabilise your pelvis when you are trying to balance on one leg. As mentioned above, when both legs are planted on the floor, the glute medius muscles do not need to work. The important thing to remember is that these exercises will only work with good form. Do not allow your hip to drop.
- Hip abduction exercises such as lateral band walks and the classic side lying leg raises made famous by countless aerobic videos from the 90’s work well. These exercises look like a walk in the park, but I can tell you from experience, that if you have weak glute medius muscles, these can burn like crazy even after only a few reps. I’ve found a great time to do these types of exercises is when you watch TV. If the hip abduction exercises start to get easy you can add resistance bands into the mix to create more resistance. These work well with ‘clam shell’ and leg lifts exercises.
The Best Workout Videos for The Glute Medius
In this section I am going to include some of the best glute medius workouts and exercises I have found. Be sure to watch each video and find the one that works best for you.
This video includes:
- Side planks with leg lifts
- 2 Clam variations one against the wall and one with the hips raised.
- Wall press leg lifts
- High step ups on a chair
- Pistol variations
- Reverse lunges
Single Leg Lifts
This video shows how to do a lying leg lift.
Lie on your side with the bottom leg bent slightly in front of you. In this position raise the top leg up and down keeping the hip stable. Try not to let the hip lift up. At the same time do not drop the top leg to the floor, the range between raising your leg and lowering it is very small. Repeat this until the top leg fatigues, then switch over to work the other leg.
The clamshell exercise is very similar to the single leg lift except both legs are bent in front of you.
With your hips stacked, both knees and feet together. Raise the top leg away from the bottom by pulling the top knee away from the bottom one. Don’t let the hip tilt up but make sure to always keep it pointed forward.
When the top leg fatigues, turn over and repeat so the bottom leg is now at the top.
Lateral Band Walks
To do this glute medius exercise you will need a band of some kind.
Place the band around both legs, bend slightly at the knees and begin to walk sideways, abducting the outer leg with the other leg following. Experiment wearing the band at different heights around your legs to experience different resistances.
Fire hydrants are a great way to activate the glute medius.
In table top position, keep your back flat and abduct your leg out to the side maintaining the bend in your knee. Doing this motion you should get some glute medius activation. Make sure the knee stays at a 90 degree angle. If you bring the knee toward the shoulder and then do this exercise you will be working the TFL, which is what we don’t want!
As you guessed it, you will need a wall with enough space to lean against it.
Stand by the side of the wall with one knee raised at 90 degrees and then push against the wall. As you get stronger you’ll be able to pull your knee up higher.
Single Leg Squats
This is an advanced move compared to the other exercises in that it must be done with proper form to ensure it works the glute medius.
With one leg forward, put your weight onto that foot and lower yourself. Make sure the knee, ankle and hip are in line from the front. Do not let the knee cave in as this will mean the glute medius isn’t firing.
To do this exercise you will need a low platform such as a stair or stepping stool.
With one leg (the glute you want to work) stand on the platform and allow the other leg to hang off the ledge to the side. Raise and lower the hanging leg by tilting your pelvis up and down.
Glute Medius Exercises with Bands
This is very similar to some of the other exercises but with bands for added resistance.
Included are side lying raises with bands and also side lunges.
How to Stretch and Release the Glute Medius
If you are someone who is experiencing lower back pain releasing the glute medius by doing myofascial release can help alleviate symptoms. Watch the video below on how to do this.
Once you’ve released the glute medius, you will next want to learn how to stretch them. The video below contains two stretches for you to try.
Work to Develop Strong Gluteus Medius Muscles
In the end, the gluteus medius muscles are often some of the most forgotten muscles in the body. Even when people do focus on exercising and strengthening the muscles in their butt, they often do not consider targeting specific muscles. People usually could only recognise the gluteus maximus as a muscle of the butt, only recognising the gluteus medius or minimus by their prefixes.
It is absolutely essential that you pay attention to every muscle in your body. After all, each muscle does have a purpose. When you ignore certain muscles, their decreased functionality and weakness could affect other muscles. Those muscles could experience severe injuries, even if you do pay attention to them during exercise.
The gluteus medius, in particular, could result in several different types of injuries if ignored during exercise. Weak gluteus medius muscles could result in valgus knees, lower back pain, knee pain, trigger points, and even, possibly, shin splints. Often, people are likely experiencing these symptoms without ever knowing that their weak gluteus medius muscles are what caused them.
Luckily, there are several different exercises and stretches you can perform to strengthen and stretch the gluteus medius muscles. By paying special attention to these muscles during exercise, you could potentially eliminate your risk of experiencing these severe symptoms. Various exercises that utilize hip rotation and leg raising would be good choices to perform with these muscles in mind.
Now that you have learned about the gluteus medius muscles and the importance of exercising and strengthening them, you can further your health and prevent yourself from experiencing plenty of severe symptoms in your knees and back. In the end, you’ll have a stronger butt and fully functioning hips that can better support you while you walk, jog, or run.