The Gluteal muscles are hugely important for movement. You have probably heard the term 'weak Glutes', or 'inactive Glutes' banded around. But which Glutes? What are Glutes and what do they do?
The Gluteal muscles are made up of three large muscles on each side of your pelvis. The Gluteus Maximus, the Gluteal Medius and the Gluteal Minimus. Lets look at each one in turn.
The Gluteus Maximus is the power house of the Glutes. These are your buttocks. The Glute Max main function is to extend the hip. That is to move your thigh backwards. Movements that warrant this are running and squatting/lifting. During walking it is mainly your hamstrings that extend your hip.
The Gluteus Medius is situated at the top of your femur on the side of your pelvis. It externally rotates the femur (rotates your foot and leg out) and abducts your hip. Abduct means to move away from the midline of the body, in this case it lifts the leg out to the side.
The Gluteus Minimus is situated behind the Gluteus Medius and aids in abduction and internal rotation of the femur, (rotating your foot and leg inwards).
What does this do in real terms.
Stand on one leg. Is your pelvis remaining level?* If so that is because your Glute Medius and Minimus are contracting to hold you stable. If they weren't doing this then your pelvis would drop to one side and your foot would hit the ground. Not something you want when you are running or walking.
*This is actually called the Trendelenburg Test and is used by therapists to look for Glute weakness.
When you run your Glute Maximus and Hamstrings are working hard to slow your leg as it swings forwards, as well as pulling it back. It is also used when you squat or stand, which is why you will see weightlifters with strong Glutes.
Sounds good, so why do I need to strengthen them?
Strong Glutes will help you perform better. They will also make you move better. The reason we need to strengthen them is they don't get worked enough in everyday life unless you have a very active job.
The main culprit for weak Glutes is modern living and the problem of spending too many hours sitting. (Prolonged) sitting will one, lengthen the Glutes leading to a weaker muscle and two, they will do zero work, leading to atrophy. As well as this sitting will also tighten your Hip Flexors (Muscles that flex your hips) and put your pelvis out of position. (Called lower cross syndrome) This will lengthen your Glutes even more and lead to bad posture and performance. Once this happens other muscles will take the slack and lead to injury and pain.
Ok cool, what do I do.
The following is TWO exercises that you can do before a gym session or a run/cycle to activate and 'turn on' your Glutes. You will need a resistance band.
Perform 3 times.
10 x Glute bridges, weight in heels, squeeze into your glutes (Glute Max)
10 x banded latteral leg raises each leg. Raise and hold for 2s. (Glute Medius and Minimus)
After this think weight training to strengthen your Glutes. Aim to do this twice a week.
Try 3 sets of 6-8 reps at a weight you feel you could lift for 10 reps.**
Squats, any variation.
**When starting weight training I would STRONGLY recommend getting some expert advice, and ALWAYS be conservative with your weights, I'd rather be 10% stronger and fit than 20% stronger and injured.
Good luck with your training,