Build A Better Body Part 1: Hips - Laying the Foundation

Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus MediusPart of our Build A Better Body series.

There are two muscle located in the back of our hips that are the key building blocks of strength for our trunk to propel us forward and upward, and also to keep us upright as we balance on each leg in walking and running. They are gluteus maximus, aka the Powerhouse Muscle, and gluteus medius, aka the Stabilizing Muscle, respectively. While I am guessing most of us are familiar with the locale of glut max, as we are thankful for the generous padding on our backside during long bike rides; glut med, on the other hand, is a little harder to find. Check out the figure provided to help you determine the location of your glut med. If you would like to find this muscle yourself, first locate the top of your femur bone, which is a bony prominence at your outer hip where the side seam and front pocket seam of your jeans tend to meet. Then simply trace your fingers two inches behind this bone, move up two inches, and you will find glut med.

As you can tell from the pictures provided with this article, glut max is far bigger than glut med. Size does not dictate importance however, as both of these muscles are critical to normal functional of both your trunk and lower extremities! Without your glut max, you will not be able to get out of a chair, or climb a flight of stairs. Without your glut med, you will have difficulty remaining upright when putting on a pair of pants in standing, you would waddle when running, and you would walk with a large lateral lurch and probably have a history of frequent falls.

Recent research has indicated that the gluteus maximus is an important part of a group of trunk stabilizing muscles that help reduce the risk of re-injury in patients who have low back pain and functional spine instability, as well as athletes who have a hamstring strain or tear. In fact, on-going research is investigating the role of hamstring and gluteus maximus imbalance and whether this may contribute to the very first hamstring injury in athletes who compete in sports where hamstring injuries are common.

The gluteus minimus muscle has been quite the rock star of the sports medicine research world as of late. You cannot attend a conference without hearing this little hip muscle mentioned in seminars on injury topics ranging from the shoulder, foot, ankle, low back, hip, and knee and for diagnoses such as ACL tears, plantar fasciitis, piriformis syndrome, snapping hip syndrome, IT band tendonitis, hip adductor strains, knee chondromalacia, functional ankle instability, functional spine instability, and more. If there is a “secret ingredient” cure-all in the home exercise program in the physical therapy world, an isolated, targeted exercise that can first of all, get this muscle active in an isolated fashion, and then strengthen this muscle, would most certainly be it!


Glut Max Strengthening in Prone

Glut Max Strengthening in Prone

1. Using the floor, table, or firm bed, lay on your stomach, with a pillow under your stomach.

2. Squeeze your gluts together as hard as you can.

3. Keeping your knee straight, lift one leg up off the table, only high enough for your thigh to be off the surface.  DO NOT lift so high that you extend through your spine.  Slowly and smoothly lower your leg back to the start position.

4. Maintain the glut squeeze as you repeat step 3 with the opposite leg.

5. Re-squeeze the gluts again, and repeat steps 3-4; do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, daily, or 3-4x/wk.


Gluteus Medius Strengthening in Sidelying

Gluteus Medius Strengthening in Sidelying

Start Position:
Lay on your side, with your hips and knees bent to about 90 degrees, and your feet directly on top of each other.  Roll your hips as far forward as possible.

Keeping your feet together, tip your top knee up toward the ceiling without rotating your hip back.  You will not be lifting your knee more than 6 inches.  Slowly and smoothly lower your raised leg back down to rest on the bottom leg.

You may want to keep your hand on your hip (as shown) to help you feel your gluteus medius muscle tighten under your fingers, and to assist you in keeping your hips from rotating backward.

Basic: perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, daily or 3-4x/wk

Advanced:  hold the top leg for 3-5 seconds during each rep, then slowly lower.


Click here for more advanced hip exercises.


Read the Entire Build A Better Body Series

Part I Hips: Laying the Foundation
Part II: Myth Busting Abs
Part III: Stabilizing the Scapula: The Secret to Strong Shoulders
Part IV: Strengthening Stabilizing the Neck
Part V: The Big Picture
Part VI: Have a Ball
Part VII: Advanced Exercise Ball Routine

You can now Build A Better Body at MotionWorks by joining one of our Build A Better Body fitness classes!