As physios we often tell our clients that they need to strengthen their gluteal muscles or ‘glutes’. But why do we say this? What is it about glutes strength, or more importantly, glutes function that is so important?
Before we get to that stage lets identify the gluteal muscles. What are they?
There are three muscles which have a gluteus prefix; they are the maximus, medius, and minimus, or glute max, glute med, and glute min.
Glute max is the one that we tend to know the best. It’s the one located in the rear. The one we sit on. This is the one we work when doing squats. Glute med and min aren’t so well known. They are located on the outside of the hip. Lets look at what each of these muscles is designed to do.
Glute max is the big muscle that sits at the back of the hip. Its primary role is to extend the hip joint, which allows us to walk, run, or stand from sitting. It also provides a bit of padding when sitting down. Lesser know is the role that it plays in the stability of the pelvis. When we stand the glute max positions the pelvis on the hip and maintains the erect posture. When functioning correctly the pelvis sits in a position that optimises the function of the Sacro-Iliac joint (SIJ), which is important for single leg weight bearing stability.
Glute Med is a lateral stabiliser of the hip. It helps keep the pelvis level in the transverse plane to allow for an efficient swing phase of the non weight bearing leg. Good hip control also keeps the vertebral column aligned over the pelvis and limits lateral flexion and rotation maintaining less stress for the ligaments and discs. A strong glute medius muscle also protects somewhat against bursitis of the hip.
Glute Min is like a little brother to the medius muscle but is located slightly anterior to the medius. It aids in support of weight bearing gait and from its position works more in hip flexion, early in the weight bearing cycle. There is also some evidence to suggest that it works like a rotator cuff for the hip, controlling the head of the humerus in the acetabulum cup.
The most important role of the glutes is ambulation and strength aids in good functional performance of many of our daily tasks as well as aiding in prevention of injury to the hip joint, lumbar spine and pelvis.