In the human body there are three gluteal muscles that form the buttocks. They are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus as shown in the diagram on the right.
In this article I’d like to focus on the gluteus medius – a muscle that is not as well known or visible as the gluteus maximus. Yet it is important to train this muscle during Pilates training.
In the article “Gluteus Medius: Weak Buttocks Ruin the Runner” by Sean Fyfe – he says, gluteus medius weakness is the main culprit in many overuse injuries.
So what is the function of the gluteus medius?
The gluteus medius muscle originates from the crest of the pelvis and inserts into the thigh bone.
When the leg is straight, the gluteus medius muscle abducts the thigh i.e. pulls the thigh away from the midline. During walking, it functions to support the body on one leg, to prevent the pelvis from dropping to the opposite side. Additionally, when the hip is flexed the gluteus medius internally rotate the thigh. With the hip extended, the gluteus medius externally rotate the thigh.
When the gluteus medius does not function well, there are implications down to the lower limbs as highlighted in the article.
During walking or running, the following adaptations may occur:
• The thigh adducts (pulls to the midline) and internally rotates excessively
• The knee falls into a valgus position (knock knee position)
• The tibia (lower leg bone) internally rotates relative to the foot
• An increase in weight transfer to the medial (inner) aspect of the foot
As a consequence a person who does many hours of running may develop problems due to overpronation such as shin splints or Achilles tendinitis:
A person with weak gluteus medius may exhibit the Trendenlenburg sign during walking:
The pelvis will drop on the opposte side. If this situation is not addressed, there will be risks of structural overload to the lumbar spine, sacroiliac joint , hip and knee – and may cause excessive wear and tear at these joints.
In Pilates Training, there are a number of movements that target the gluteus medius – e.g. side lying leg lifts, skater on the Pilates equipment Reformer.
Written by LayYong
An Additional Article by Jim Burke
With their anatomical location, it should not be any surprise that poor gluteal (butt) strength or control can play a role in a variety of injuries. Often overlooked in the management of lower limb, pelvis and back injuries, the gluteal muscles play a pivotal role in ensuring smooth control of the leg during weight bearing movement, as well as in holding the pelvis firmly onto the leg, providing a stable base for the muscles of the pelvis and low back to work from. If the glutes are not functioning well, your back, hips knees and ankles better watch out! If there is any doubt, next time you watch sport, particularly those involving explosive power, take a look at the size of the athletes butt, your glutes really are the engine room for any lower limb movement.
Most of us have heard of and know of gluteus maximus, the big muscle on the top of the butt but this is only one part of the story. There are 3 layers of gluteal muscle all which play an important and varying role in controlling movement. As a general rule in the body, the more superficial muscles are more involved in generating torque to provide movement in the body and the deeper layers (like your core muscles) tend to play more of a gripping, stability role, stiffening the bones of the joint to provide a stable foundation for movement to occur on. The top layer of the butt muscles, the big gluteus maximus is a powerful muscle that predominantly works to assist in extending the hip to generate movement. The middle layer, gluteus medius plays a mixed stability and torque producing role and the deeper layer, the gluteus minimus plays much more of a gripping, stability role in the hip.
There are a number of reasons that the gluteal muscles may stop working well and become weak. Poor standing postures are a common cause of weak glutes. When we stand in sway or prop off one hip, we hang off the joint and allow the butt muscles to switch off and become weak. Poor biomechanics and movement can shift the work from the glutes to other muscle groups either as a result of or as a contributor to developing weak glutes. The sad truth is that the human body is really designed for movement and as we get older, most of us tend to sit on our butt more than using it, resulting in a decrease in strength and control of the muscles. Often as a result of injury such as low back pain or injury to the leg, the brain will inhibit or switch off the gluteal muscles, changing the way we move and causing them to become weak.