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Muscle of the Month: the gluteal muscle group

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 25th of June 2013 Hadyn Luke 25/06/2013

Tags: Anatomy and physiology

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Muscle of the Month: the gluteal muscle group 

Today’s blog investigates the gluteal muscle group and the kind of exercises a personal trainer might prescribe to work this particular muscle complex.

The gluteal muscle group is the strongest force-producing muscle in the body and comprises:

  • the gluteus maximus
  • the gluteus medius
  • the gluteus minimus
  • the tensor fasciae latae 

The first three are all located in the buttocks; while the smaller tensor fasciae muscle is found anterior and lateral to the rest of the gluteal muscle group.

The origination and insertion of the gluteal muscle group 

Gluteus maximus – The heaviest and most coarsely fibred of the body’s muscles, the gluteus maximus originates on the outer surface of the ilium and the posterior surface of the sacrum and coccyx. It inserts into the upper posterior area of the femur and the iliotibial tract (long tendon) of the fasciae latae muscle. 

Gluteus medius this originates on the upper outer surface of the ilium and is mostly obscured by the gluteus maximus, although it does appear on the surface between the gluteus maximus and the tensor fasciae latae. The insertion is on the lateral surface of the greater trochanter or the top of the femur. 

Gluteus minimus – as its name suggests, this is the smallest of the gluteal muscles, situated deep to the gluteus medius. Its origin is at the middle outer surface of the ilium, below the origin of the gluteus medius, and, like the gluteus medius, its insertion is at the anterior border of the greater trochanter or the top of the femur. 

Tensor fasciae latae – located on the lateral side of the hip, this muscle lies anterior to the gluteus maximus with its origins in the outer edge of the iliac crest. It joins the iliotibial tract just below the hip. 

The action and basic functional movement of the gluteal muscle group 

Gluteus maximus – the action of the gluteus maximus is to extend and laterally rotate the hip joint, as well as to extend the trunk and assist in the adduction of the hip joint. Its functional movements range from walking upstairs to rising from sitting. 

A fitness professional will see clients using this muscle when they are running in the gym, jumping in a fitness class or during the “clean” phase of weightlifting; it is also heavily used in surfing and wind surfing.

Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus – these muscles abduct and medially rotate the hip joint. Additionally, the posterior fibres of the gluteus medius will slightly laterally rotate the hip joint. 

Both have the same basic functional movement, which is stepping sideways, for example over a low fence. Any sports or fitness trainer working with clients who enjoy sports such as cross-country skiing and ice skating will find these muscles are well used.

Tensor fasciae latae – its action is to flex, abduct and medially rotate the hip joint and to stabilise the knee by tensing the fasciae latae. 

The basic functional movement for this muscle is walking and it’s heavily used in horse riding, hurdling and water-skiing.

Common exercises for the gluteal muscle group

Personal trainers looking to work a client’s gluteal muscles may set isolation exercises such as a side leg abduction. This is often to address a muscular imbalance or for rehabilitation purposes. 

However, many of the full-body exercises a fitness instructor might use, such as squats and lunges, will work the gluteal muscles in a more functional way.

Relevant exercises may include:

  • Weighted back squats
  • Side, reverse and forward lunges to target each muscle group and work in three planes of motion
  • The seated leg press
  • Abductor and multi-hip machine exercises 

A wide variety of sporting activities also serve to strengthen and stretch the gluteal muscles, including: cycling, rowing, skiing and fencing. Fitness instructors teaching aerobics classes and personal trainers working with clients on powerlifting exercises will also help them develop stronger gluteal muscles.

Problems arising from tight gluteal muscles

Fitness instructors should be aware that tight muscles in the gluteal group can cause clients to have pelvic imbalances leading to pain in the hips, the lower back and the knees. If an individual spends a long time seated, the gluteal muscles may atrophy; this can be remedied by introducing regular work outs with a personal trainer focusing on this part of the body.

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