Progressions of Glute Medius Stability
By Chris Carlsen
In in my last blog, “The Trainer-Therapist Model,”LMT Devin McGilvery touched upon a pain pattern that he sees regularly. He stated: “The most common issue that I have come across is low back pain and glutemedius/minimus weakness. When these muscles are not working properly, something needs to compensate for it and it is usually the muscles of the back.”
The gluteal muscles factor into nearly every strength or powerlifting exercise, and as Devin illustrates, their failure to fire properly results in the muscles of the back compensating, often times leading to lower back pain. Below, I discuss the function of the glute medius/minimus muscles, why they become weak in the first place and how to correctly strengthen the gluteal complex.
Why are the glute medius and minimus important?
In short, the gluteal muscles stabilize the hip. Think of them as the rotator cuff of the lower body, as they support the hips to create movement within the joint, and function like suction cups. A lack of stability within this complex causes all sorts of problems, including tight hips, as well as knee and lower back pain. In a normally functioning gluteal complex, these muscles will contract on the leg that is in contact with the floor, when standing on one foot. This contraction prevents one from losing balance and tilting towards the unsupported side, where the leg is lifted (the glute medius aligns with the patella, or knee cap, and keeps the knee from caving in). Standing with one leg elevated also mimics the movement in walking, wherein one is required to balance and distribute weight between both legs. If the gluteal complex is not firing correctly, the leg on the ground (or the leg one steps with) will present with a limp, and the pelvis will tilt towards the leg in the air.
In the realm of strength training and powerlifting, the gluteal complex plays a huge role. If the core is the body’s transmission, the glute max is the engine and the glute medius and minimus (along with our armpits) function as the body’s power steering. They keep the body properly aligned so that the larger muscles can drive. It may be helpful to visualize these muscles as one’s pockets; when hip hinging or squatting, imagine spreading from the pockets and these muscles will typically fire. Furthermore, the pockets work in synergy with the creases (psoas, or hip flexors) to center the hip joint.
What is to claim for their weakness?
In a seated position, the glute medius/mininmus, like the core, are stabilizers. When we sit, the stabilizers shut off and become weak. Since the glutes are major contributors to the act of walking;they begin to decay when they are not used. Our early human ancestors once engaged in a variety of physical activities, including walking, sprinting, climbing, gathering, lifting and carrying, all of which stimulated the stabilizers of the hip. Since modern civilization has become more sedentary, these muscles are weaker, and do not automatically fire when we attempt to activate them. If they do fire, they tend to fatigue quickly. In the case of clients and athletes, certain movements may require more stabilization on one side of the body as opposed to the other. Thus, an exercise program focused on creating symmetry and balanced movement patterns between both sides of one’s body will not only promote performance gains, but will help prevent possible pain.
How can we activate and strengthen the glute medius/minimus?
I have used the progression featured in the video below with great success throughout my career. Bear in mind that the order in which you perform these exercises is crucial and should be followed accordingly. Also, many people will not initially align themselves properly and try to cheat by using other muscles (e.g. hip flexors or piriformis) instead of their glute medius to execute the movement. These exercises will ensure proper firing of all cylinders. Precise execution is crucial, and complete focus is needed to master them, but the payoff will be well worth it.
Have questions about these exercises? Are you interested in learning about our other glute strengthening progressions? For more information, email our team at Info@IronLionPerformance.com.