gluteus medius exercises

The Top 10 Exercises To Strengthen Your Gluteus Medius

February 10, 2021 1 Comment

Having a big strong booty is on everyone’s to-do list.  Having strong glutes is going to increase virtually every aspect of your performance, enhance your looks, and help you maintain a healthy body. And while most people automatically think of the gluteus maximus when discussing the glutes, we want to look at exercises for its little brother, the gluteus medius muscle, as this other gluteal muscle definitely deserves special recognition during workouts.

This article will go over:

  • Gluteus medius anatomy
  • Gluteus medius function
  • Behavior that could be weakening your gluteus medius muscle
  • Benefits of strengthening the gluteus medius muscle
  • Specific gluteus medius exercises
  • And some tips and tricks.

The gluteus medius muscle is the primary gluteal muscle responsible for hip abduction and maintaining hip stability.  Weak gluteus medius muscles results in the inability perform to your full potential, injuries in lower legs, and even back pain! In this article, we have 10 of the absolute best gluteus medius strengthening exercises so that these problems will never be an issue for you. Our list contains both bodyweight exercises and free weight exercises so that you can train your gluteus medius at home or the gym.  Each movement has detailed information on why we choose it as a best exercise along with easy-to-follow instructions on how to perform them.  This is the only article you will ever need on the gluteus medius muscles as it also goes over anatomy, function, and the benefits that you will receive from specifically training them.   

Without further ado, let’s begin….

best gluteus medius exercises

Understanding The Anatomy Of The Gluteus Medius

To build the biggest and most powerful glutes you can, you need to train it the way it is designed to move. There’s no better way to do this than to look at all the muscles which compose the glutes separately. 

The glutes are actually composed of 3 different muscles.

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus

We are going to examine the middle glute; the gluteus medius.

The gluteus medius is a large, thick, radiating muscle located on the outside of the buttocks’ upper side. When viewed from the side, it resembles the shape of a fan.  

The upper portion is wide and originates on the ilium, the largest part of the hip bone. The muscle then moves down the hip and can be divided into 3 different portions:

  • The posterior portion (the side towards the back) has fibers that are directed forwards and downwards
  • The middle portion has fibers that are directed downwards only
  • The anterior portion (the side towards the front) has fibers that are directed backwards and downwards

The muscle continues to travel down and narrows until all of the fibers ultimately converge into its tendon, which is then inserted into the greater trochanter of the femur (the big knob on the end of the thigh bone). 

Two-thirds of the gluteus medius is entirely covered by the gluteus maximus. The only superficial part of the muscle is the anterosuperior (forward-upper) portion.

*Fun Fact: When gluteal intramuscular injections are given, they are injected into the uncovered portion of the gluteus medius.

Due to its location, the gluteus medius is primarily responsible for controlling hip movement and providing stability. 

gluteus medius function

The Function Of The Gluteus Medius

The most efficient way to train the gluteus medius is to use exercises that closely resemble its function. By understanding the roles it plays biomechanically, you will be better equipped to choose movements that target the gluteus medius.

  1. The gluteus medius is the prime mover of hip abduction, which is its main function. Hip abduction occurs when you move the leg away from the body laterally. (Moving it forward would be hip flexion). This is done by both the posterior and anterior portions of the gluteus medius.
  2. The gluteus medius plays an essential role in maintaining level hips while walking or running. If it wasn’t for the gluteus medius, your hips would sag every time you lifted a leg of the floor. This ability to maintain level hips is known as “frontal plane control”. It enables us to perform the vast majority of movements. This is one of the reasons why single-leg exercises have been found to be effective exercises for the gluteus medius as they require increased control of the hips
  3. Assists in the flexion (anterior portion) and extension (posterior portion) of the hip. This occurs when the thighs are raised up or the torso is bent down. Hip flexion is the closing of the hip joint while hip extension is the opening of the hip joint.
  4. Assists in internal (anterior portion) and external rotation (posterior portion) of the hip. Internal rotation the legs are turned inwards, and external rotation occurs when your hips are rotated outwards.
  5. Assist in horizontal plane abduction of the hips.
gluteus medius workout

Behavior That Can Weaken The Gluteus Medius:

Before we talk about how to strengthen the gluteus medius, let’s first discuss some very common behaviors you may be doing that could actually be weakening the muscles. These behaviors have all been found to be contributing factors to the weakening of the gluteus medius and causing issues with hip control and stability. They are easy to fix so don’t worry if you are guilty of any of them. 

Some of the links below will lead you to scientific studies.

Standing With Weight Shifted

This is the most common error and one that I’m sure everyone has been guilty of to some degree. When we stand with the pelvis swayed to one side, we are forcing excessive abduction of the hip. Maintaining this position for an extended period of time can eventually lengthen the gluteus medius muscle, which may result in decreased hip stability, which can cause lower back pain or contribute to the Trendelenburg gait.

Be sure to maintain proper posture when you are standing so that this doesn’t become an issue.

Sleeping On Side With No Pillow

Sleeping behavior is highly personal, and many people just prefer one position over others. Those who sleep on their side with no pillow can result in weak gluteus medius muscles. When you lay on your side with no support between your legs, your top leg must cross over your bottom leg to rest on the bed. This requires the abduction of your hip. Being that you may be in this position for a lengthy period of time, excessive stress is placed on the gluteus medius by requiring it to maintain a stretched position for a very long time. Again, this will weaken the muscles and can result in the same condition of hip instability.

The easy fix is to use a pillow in between your legs. This will allow the top leg to rest supported with no abduction.

Sitting With Legs Crossed For Extended Periods Of Time

Sitting with your legs crossed has the same effect as sleeping on your side as you are forcing the top leg into extended periods of abduction. As above, this can lengthen the gluteus medius muscle and weaken the hips.

The best option is to use a different method to sit, preferably with legs closed and ankles crossed. If you must sit with your legs crossed, be mindful of switching the top leg often. 

workouts for gluteus medius

Why It’s Important To Strengthen Your Gluteus Medius

Having strong gluteus mediums muscles is vital to help maintain support and stability of the hip, improve athletic performance, and mitigate the risk of stress injuries to the lower limbs. 

Controls Frontal Plane Motion

Control of frontal plane motion refers to the body’s ability to maintain even hips through a range of movements. This is easily demonstrated when walking. As you take one foot off the ground, our hips should sag towards the unsupported side. Except it doesn’t. Your hips (should) stay even with the ground. This is having control of frontal plane motion and the gluteus medius is the muscle primarily responsible for it.

Improve Performance

Being unable to produce a stable and robust plant with only one foot on the ground will dramatically affect your athletic performance. Athletes will have trouble with accelerating, change of direction, deceleration, and agility. This is because these movements require the body to push off of one leg. If this leg sags or leans, the body will not generate the same levels of force required to perform these actions efficiently.

Prevention of Trendelenburg Gait And Reduction Of Injury

It is common for physiotherapists to prescribe gluteus medium exercise for knee pain due to the pivotal role it plays.  When walking or running, weak gluteus medius muscles will cause the body to lean consistently to the unsupported side. This inability to main control of the frontal plane during motion is known as a Trendelenburg gait and has been identified to be a major contributor to many injuries of the lower extremities:

Illio-tibial band (ITB) syndrome- Common in long-distance runners, ITC syndrome can be caused when weakness of the gluteus medius decreases control of thigh abduction and external rotation. This places increased tension on the ITB, which results in inflammation and pain. 

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) - Caused by overuse and improper tracking of the patella. The lack of hip control from weak gluteus medium causes greater femoral adduction and internal rotation, which results in valgus of the knee (caving inward). 

Related: Patellofemoral pain syndrome treatment guide

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other knee injuries- The excessive knee valgus that can occur with weak gluteus medius muscles also increases the chances of ACL injuries and other various knee injuries. This primarily occurs when the leg experiences a sudden force, such as landing after a jump. 

Ankle injuries- The inability to control the hips’ placement greatly increases the risk of ankle injuries. This can be mitigated by strengthening the gluteus medius.

The Top 10 Exercises To Train Your Gluteus Medius

Now that we have a thorough understanding of how the gluteus medius functions and its role in biomechanics, we can now go through our top exercises list to train it.

1. Banded Knee Barbell Hip Thrust

gluteus medius exercises to increase size

The barbell hip thrust is the best exercise to increase the gluteal muscles’ strength and size as a whole. It is a hip extension movement that is primarily done by the gluteus maximus. However, the gluteus medium still gets significant activation, with studies showing an average activity of  47-60% MVIC depending on variation.

Good To Know: MVIC stands for “Maximum Voluntary Isometric Contraction. This is a quantitive measurement of the amount a muscle is contracting relative to it’s maximal ability. An MVIC reading is obtained by the use of electromyography (EMG). It a useful way of measuring the effectiveness that an exercise has on the intended muscle*

By adding a fabric resistance band around the knees, we can further increase the activation of the gluteus medius by forcing them to perform hip horizontal abduction to keep the legs out. Further, it is a movement that we can use significantly higher loads with; something we will discuss at the end.

This exercise looks very similar to combining a barbell hip thrust with a clamshell exercise, a great stand-alone exercise to train the gluteus medius, which is why it’s #5 on this list.

How To Perform Banded Knee Barbell Hip Thrust

  1. Place a bench on the ground. Make sure it’s padded!
  2. Sit with your back against the pad and your knees bent
  3. Place band around your knees and spread your legs
  4. Place a loaded barbell in the crease of your hips
  5. Drive your feet into the ground and thrust your hips up until full extension
  6. Focus on driving your knees out

2. Side Plank With Abduction

gluteus medius strengthening exercises

The side plank with abduction is the best bodyweight exercise to target the gluteus medius.  It is incredibly easy exercise to perform as it requires no equipment and can easily be added to a home workout. In fact, this simple exercise has been shown to produce higher muscle activity than any other exercise.

Side plank with abduction can produce from 89-103% MVIC, dependent on whether the dominant leg is on top or bottom. Either way, that is higher than any other exercise.

How To Perform Side Plank With Abduction

  1. Lay on your side with your elbow on the ground and only your bottom leg on the ground
  2. Lift your body up into a side plank by coming up on your elbow and the side of your foot
  3. Raise your top leg as far as you can and come down slowly.
  4. Be sure to maintain a straight torso. Do not let your hips sag!

3. Side-Lying Abduction

gluteus medius exercises for elderly

The side-lying abduction is very similar to the side plank with abduction, except it is done on your side.  This makes it a great exercise for the general public or rehab exercise as taking out the plank makes it significantly easier to perform.  However, it still gives a killer gluteus medius workout and generates 62% MVIC. This is a great exercise to do at home as you only need your bodyweight or some hip bands to increase the load. 

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How To Perform The Side-Lying Abduction

  1. Lie on one side on the ground
  2. You can either lay your head down or rest on your elbow
  3. The bottom leg can either be straight or bent in front of the body
  4. Lift your top leg as high as it can go and come down
  5. Keep your top leg straight throughout the entire movement
  6. If you use a band, put it around the knees 

4. Single Limb Squat

gluteus medius exercises for growth

Remember earlier when we talked about the importance of the gluteus medius in supporting the body when on one leg? This is what we’re talking about.

When performing a squat with one leg, you take an already great exercise for the glutes and enhance its effectiveness for targeting the gluteus medius. This is due to the sheer amount of force they must produce in order to keep the hips from sagging and maintaining frontal plane control. 

One “problem” is that a single leg squat requires high levels of strength to perform. But don’t worry as there are three variations that you can choose from dependent on your training level:

  • Perform with full range of motion
  • Perform with partial range of motion
  • Perform with some form of support or straps
  • Perform with a box or bench as seen in the picture above.

Depending on what method you use, expect to reach up to 82% MVIC 

How To Perform The Single Leg Squat

  1. Find an elevated surface to stand on, such as a box
  2. With one foot hanging of the side, perform a squat on one leg by allowing the foot to drop
  3. Go down as far as you are able. You may use any of the variations from above
  4. Drive your body up to full extension 

5. Single Leg Wall Sit

gluteus medius exercises for runners

The single leg wall sit can be used as a stand-alone exercise or as a progression towards the single leg squat.  The mechanisms are exactly the same except you will be performing a wall sit on one leg.  While not as effective as a full squat, you will still get 52% MVIC gluteus medius activation. 

How To Perform The Single Wall Sit

  1. Stand near a sturdy wall facing away (Must be sturdy!)
  2. Slide your back down the wall until your knees are bent at 90-degrees
  3. Your shins should be vertical and thighs perpendicular to the wall so adjust your feet as necessary
  4. Pick one leg up and maintain that position.  Keep your back placed firm on the wall

6. Front Plank With Hip Extension

upper glute exercises

A front plank with hip extension also takes advantage of the gluteus medius’s role in controlling hip stability. This glute exercise begins in the plank position. You then lift one leg up, with the knee bent, as high as you can go, which will cause extension of the hip (pulling the leg backward). The side with the leg on the ground will be responsible for maintaining frontal plane control, which will require 75% MCIV from the gluteus medius. This is an impressive number in its own right. Still, this movement has also been found to be able to cause the highest activation of the gluteus maximus at 106% MVIC! 

Yes, this is an article for the gluteus medius. However, if you can train both of these muscles simultaneously to such a high degree, you should definitely do them. The front plank with hip extension is the best exercise when looking at total activation in both the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.

How To Perform The Front Plank With Hip Extension

  1. Get into a plank position on your elbows and toes
  2. Lift one leg up with knee bent
  3. Attempt to pull your leg up past parallel
  4. Squeeze at the top and come down 

7. Clamshell

gluteus medius exercises with bands

We talked about this exercise earlier with the banded hip thrusts. Clamshells get the name as they resemble the opening of a clamshell when performed. Makes sense! 

With this glute exercise, you lay on your side with your knees bent out in front of you at 90-degrees and ankles together.  You then externally rotate your hips to open your legs while being sure to keep the ankles together. When performed correctly, you can get up to 76%MVIC.

To get the most significant activation, use a resistance band that allows you to open your legs to at least 60 degrees. Hip bands like our Fabric Resistance Bands would work great! 

Related: Benefits of Fabric Hip Bands

How To Perform The Clamshell

  1. Lay on the ground with your knees bent out in front at about a 90-degree angle
  2. You can either lay your head down or rest on your elbow
  3. Place a band around your knees
  4. Keep your feet staying stationary and in contact with one another
  5. Rotate your top knee up to at least 60-degrees
  6. Come down slowly

8. Frog Pumps

how to strengthen gluteus medius

Frog pumps look like a cross between a clamshell and a glute bridge.  To perform frog pumps, you lay on the ground with your knees bent and hips externally rotated so that your knees are spread open.  You then thrust your hips (hip extension) in to the air, like a glute bridge. This will activate the gluteus medius from the abduction and external rotation of the hips. There are multiple ways to perform this exercise:

  • Bodyweight only
  • Use of a dumbbell in the crease of the hips to increase the load on hip extension
  • Use of a light band on the knees to increase the load on hip abduction (this hits the gluteus medius!)
  • Use of a dumbbell AND band

How To Perform Frog Pumps

  1. Lay on the ground
  2. Bend your knees so that you are able to put the soles of your feet together
  3. If you use a dumbbell, place it in the crease of your hips and hold with your hands
  4. Tuck the pelvis forward so that it is in a posterior tilt position before starting the exercise.
  5. Tuck your chin into your chest
  6. Thrust your hips into the air with the side of your feet into the ground
  7. Be sure to keep your lumbar spine straight and core tight
  8. Focus on squeezing your glutes, especially at the top

9. Lateral Step-up

side butt exercises

Lateral step-ups will evoke 58.7% MVIC of the gluteus medius and are extremely easy to do. Instead of a traditional step-up with your feet facing an elevated surface, lateral step-ups have you facing perpendicular to the stairs. This causes an increase in hip abduction and control of the frontal plane as the leg must lift the body up AND to the side. This can be done as a bodyweight exercise only or while holding weights.

How To Perform The Lateral Step-Up

  1. Stand next to an elevated surface with your sidebody facing it
  2. Pick up the foot near the surface and place it on top
  3. Drive the elevated foot down to lift the body and bring it on top
  4. Be mindful of using minimal push from the lower leg

10. Single-Leg Deadlift

side glute exercises

The single-limb deadlift offers a significant MVIC at 56% MVIC. The reason it doesn’t get as high of reading as a single leg squat is largely due to the need for control of the frontal plane. The single-leg deadlift is a hip hinge movement that involves more of a “swinging” motion of the body forward and involves less of a drop in the hips.  

While the single-leg deadlift may not be the go-to movement for the gluteus medius, don’t ignore it. One advantage it has over many of the other gluteus medius exercises is that it is significantly easier to add a higher load. 

How To Perform The Single Leg Deadlift

  1. Choose an appropriate pair of dumbbells
  2. Pull one leg up behind you and begin to let your torso come forward
  3. Think of this motion as a pendulum
  4. Keep your core tight, and scapula pulled back
  5. Keep lowering until the weights get to mid-shin
  6. If you can keep good form, you can go lower
  7. Using the leg that is on the ground, pull your body erect

exercises for gluteus medius

When Should I Train My Gluteus Medius?

Unless you are obviously lacking strength in the gluteus medius or actually suffering from Trendelenburg gait, there is no reason to have a specific gluteus medius workout. The easiest way is to work some of the above exercises into your normal glute training, whether you train them on lower body days or pulling days

What Are The Top 3 Exercises For The Gluteus Medius?

All of the above  are great gluteus medius exercises to strengthen the muscle.  However, a few of them top the list if you need specific work. The top 4 exercises to train the gluteus medius are:

1. Side Plank With Abduction

2. Single-Leg Squat

3. Clamshell

BONUS: 4. Frontal Plank With Hip Extension 

gluteus medius exercises bodybuilding

How Many Reps Should I Use To Train The Gluteus Medius?

As with any muscle, it’s best to train them throughout the spectrum of reps, from 3-20+. 

By training the muscle with a range of reps, you will be sure to increase strength and hypertrophy by increasing the neuromuscular system’s efficiency, increasing mechanical tension, and increasing metabolic stress. However, for the gluteus medius, many of the exercises aren’t suitable for heavy loads. This is either due to it being too dangerous or it will cause your form to break down. For example, it would be very difficult to do lateral step-ups with a heavy load and not use excessive pushing with your back foot. Below will give you guidance on how to train each exercise.

Best Exercises To Use Heavy Loads (>85% 1RM with 5 or less reps)

  1. Banded Knee Barbell Hip Thrust
  2. Single-Leg Squat
  3. Single-Leg Deadlift

Best Exercises To Use Moderate And Light Loads (<85% 1RM with 6 or more reps)

  1. Side plank with leg abduction
  2. Side-lying abduction
  3. Front plank with hip extension
  4. Clamshell
  5. Lateral Step-up
  6. Frog Pumps
  7. Singe leg wall sit

Keep in mind that you can still use light loads with the “heavy exercises” as well. 

In your workout, always start with the heavier exercises first and then continue by using progressively smaller movements. And, always remember to perform warm up exercises for your gluten before your workout.

Check out this article for ideas and how best to activate your gluteus medius before you hit the weights: Glute Activation Exercises with Bands

And here is a booty band workout for your glutes!

upper butt exercises
Recap Of The Gluteus Medius

The gluteus medius may often be over shadowed by it’s bigger brother, gluteus maximus, but don’t let it! You now see that they play a significant role in your body’s performance and well-being, and neglecting them will only bring unwanted health issues into your life.

But that should never be a problem now that you have these exercises!   You now have everything you need to know to build the most powerful gluteus medius muscles in the gym!

Related: A Woman's Guide to Building Wider, Sexier Hips and Improving Waist-to-Hip Ratio

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Other Muscle Specific Articles:

- Best Piriformis Stretches and Exercises
- Best Gluteus Maximus Exercises
- Best Gluteus Minimus Exercises
Best Erector Spinae Exercises
- Best Rhomboid Exercises
- Best Psoas Muscle Strengthening Exercises and Stretches

gluteus medius strengthening


1 Response

jenny
jenny

June 24, 2021

quite useful tips and info

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