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February 10, 2021 2 Comments
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:
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….
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.
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 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.
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.
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 muscle1, which may result in decreased hip stability, which can cause lower back pain or contribute to the Trendelenburg gait 2.
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 hip1. 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 abduction3. 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.
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.
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 rotation4. 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)4.
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 injuries5. 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 injuries6. This can be mitigated by strengthening the 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.
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% MVIC7 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
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% MVIC8, 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
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% MVIC8. This is a great exercise to do at home as you only need your bodyweight or some hip bands to increase the load.
How To Perform The Side-Lying Abduction
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:
Depending on what method you use, expect to reach up to 82% MVIC9!
How To Perform The Single Leg Squat
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% MVIC8 gluteus medius activation.
How To Perform The Single Wall Sit
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% MCIV8 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
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%MVIC8.
To get the most significant activation, use a resistance band that allows you to open your legs to at least 60 degrees10. Hip bands like our Fabric Resistance Bands would work great!
Related: Benefits of Fabric Hip Bands
How To Perform The Clamshell
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:
How To Perform Frog Pumps
Lateral step-ups will evoke 58.7% MVIC8 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
The single leg deadlift offers a significant MVIC at 56% MVIC8. 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
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 leg days or pulling days. You could also add a few butt lift exercises to your leg day for an added glute boost.
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
BONUS: 4. Frontal Plank With Hip Extension
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.
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!
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!
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