Determining Proper Glute Muscle Function

Your glutes: everyone has heard about them, but not everyone knows how to use them. Inactivity of your glutes to lead to a plethora of issues, stemming from hip pain to even shoulder pain. That itself, is a whole series of articles. For now, we can focus on determining whether or not each of us actually activates our glute muscles properly. After figuring out if you are or are not firing your muscles properly, you can then proceed to changing routines to incorporate exercises that can either help strengthen our butt muscles, or initiate proper muscle firing patterns. For now, we will begin with the basics.

What are the glutes?

Your glutes are not just one individual muscle, instead they are three muscles that work together to help achieve a specific action. The muscles are: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Each muscle of the “gluteal group,” perform their own job to aid in movement.

The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three muscles and is also the most superficial. This means that it is the muscle closest to the surface. This muscle is the one that gives your backside some shape. The glute max is one of the biggest power producing muscles within your body, which is why it is crucial that we are activating it correctly! In terms of movement, the glute max helps our body to perform movements associated with the hip and thigh. These movements include: extension of the hip, lateral rotation of the hip, and specific areas of the glute max help to adduct the hip. The gluteus medius muscle is the next largest muscle of the group. This muscle is located on the lateral (outside) aspect of the hip. The glute max overlaps the glute med only posteriorly. The glute med helps our body to perform simple tasks such as aiding in stability for walking, running, and single leg weight bearing. As stated before, the glutes all work in conjunction with one another and the glute med assists with rotation and abduction of the hip joint.

The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three muscles in the group. The glute min lies inferiorly (underneath) the glute max and the glute med. Though it may be the smallest, it’s role in stabilization is pivotal. The glute min acts in a supporting role for the three gluteal muscles and it’s functions mimic those of the two other gluteal muscles. The glute min provides assistance with walking, running, extension, and abduction.

What can aid in proper glute function:

Strengthening your glutes day in and out is not the only key to unlocking your glute potential. In order to ensure that you can have fully functioning gluteal muscles you should be considering two things: pelvic tilt, and hip tightness. In order for our bodies to utilize our backsides, we have to make sure that our front sides are completely accessible. This means that we must have flexible hip muscles. These muscles include: tensor fascia latae, iliotibial band, hip flexors (including the psoas and supporting adductor muscles.) The reason we must be sure we have flexible hip muscles is due to the positioning of our pelvis. If our pelvis is not properly tilted, this being the “neutral” position, then we are shutting off all access to our glutes. If the hip flexors are tight and pulling your pelvis forward, we have lost all use of the glutes. This can lead to lost power and efficiency, and most importantly lead to injury and overuse. Not utilizing our glutes, puts a greater added stress to muscles that are normally used to specific movements which then have to bear a greater load of force than usual.

Common Signs of Glute Inactivity:

Over time, improper glute functioning can lead to injuries that most times are overlooked. Inactive glute functioning may not be the first villain that may jump to your head when experiencing pain, but it is always one to consider. Some common signs of inactive glutes are: knee pain, quadricep tightness/excessive fatigue, and hip flexor tightness/excessive fatigue. Gluteal function may not be the underlying cause, and you should always consult your doctor or physical therapist for these and other issues.

How to tell if your Glutes are Active:

Simply squeezing your butt may not be enough in glute activation. One of the best ways to determine if you have proper glute function is through performing glute focused exercises and understanding what you are feeling throughout. It is also important to understand the result of your exercises to determine if you have proper function.

One exercise to test is a double/single leg bridge. You can perform two sets of fifteen repetitions and analyze after how you’re feeling. If you feel that you are fatiguing during this exercise due to your hamstrings, it is time to figure out why. This exercise should be performed with a neutral pelvis and initiated through your gluteal muscles.

Another exercises to help determine glute activity would be a single leg squat. It is best to do this exercise in front of a mirror. You do not need to go fully to the floor with the squat to perform this exercise properly. As you begin the squat, pay attention to your knees. Are they remaining stable? Or are they wobbling or diving into your midline? Knee stabilization is key in glute function and improper stabilization means that your glute is not working properly to support this.

The gluteal muscles are more than just a muscle to tone. They are crucial to healthy hips and knees and can help us stay pain free! Maintaining proper glute function is crucial to a healthy and active lifestyle. The first step for many of us, is to determine whether or not we are properly utilizing our largest set of muscles. As the old saying goes, “use em’ or lose em’.”

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