top of page
  • Writer's pictureNick Dengler

What clinic exercises most effectively activate the gluteal Muscles?

What are the gluteal muscles?

The gluteal muscles include a left and right set of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus functions to extend the hip. Hip extension is when the angle between the lower extremities and the torso is increased, i.e when the leg is brought backward.


The Gluteus Maximus

Figure 1: Posterior view of the gluteus maximus in green.2

The glute max is the prime mover of this action, meaning it is the muscle that produces the most force for this movement. It does the job better than any other hip extensor. The muscle itself is the largest and heaviest muscle in the body, accounting for 16% of the cross-sectional area of the hip1


Skeletal muscles are normally classified by their origin and insertion, sometimes also seen as proximal attachment and distal attachment. The distal attachment is usually where movement occurs. The glute max originates on the sacrum, ilium, thoracolumbar fascia, and sacrotuberous ligament. It attaches to the iliotibial tract (IT band) which goes further to insert at the lateral condyle of the tibia, and the gluteal tuberosity of the femur.

The glute max’s main function is hip extension and lateral rotation of the femur. Further, it is innervated by the inferior gluteal nerve.


The Gluteus Medius

Figure 2: Posterior view of the gluteus medius in green.3

The glute med is a prime mover in hip abduction. Hip abduction is when your leg is brought out to the side, during a jumping jack for example.


The glute med originates between the anterior and posterior gluteal lines and inserts on the greater trochanter of the femur as seen in figure 2. It is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve. Along with hip abduction, the glute med functions to medially rotate the hip joint, keep the pelvis level when the ipsilateral(same side) limb is weight-bearing and advance the opposite (unsupported) side during its swing phase.

Rank Ordering common clinical exercises by glute max and glute med activation


Physiological research commonly uses electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activation. Muscle cells activate by an electrical potential. EMG technology picks up this electrical signal and determines how much a muscle is activated.


Two studies (4, 5), have shown a correlation between EMG muscle activation and muscle hypertrophy (growth), giving credence to the claim that activation and growth are related. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy(6) rank ordered common hip rehabilitation exercises by glute max and glute med muscle activation. The research incorporated the findings from other similar studies, to compare the top-ranked exercises from those studies with their own original research.


The researchers used EMG technology to directly measure the muscle activation of the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles. First, they performed a maximum voluntary isometric contraction test (MVIC) to measure the max activation of those muscles. The later muscle activations from the different exercises are compared, and rank-ordered as a percentage of the individual’s max activation (%MVIC).


The top 4 exercises for muscle activation of both glute max and glute med

In no particular order, these are:


Front plank with hip extension – %MVIC gluteus medius – 75.13 — %MVIC gluteus maximus – 106.22

Figure 3: Front plank with hip extension

Side plank abduction, dominant leg up – %MVIC gluteus medius – 88.82 — %MVIC gluteus maximus – 72.87

Figure 4: Side plank abduction, dominant leg up. The dominant leg is the one you favor when kicking a ball.

Side plank abduction, dominant leg down – %MVIC gluteus medius – 103.11 — %MVIC gluteus maximus – 70.96

Figure 5: Side plank abduction, dominant leg down.

Single limb squat – %MVIC gluteus medius – 82.26 — %MVIC gluteus maximus – 70.74

Figure 6: Single limb squat.

The top 5 exercises for gluteus medius recruitment

  1. Side plank abduction, dominant leg down – %MVIC gluteus medius – 103.11

  2. Side plank abduction, dominant leg down – %MVIC gluteus medius – 88.82

  3. Single limb squat – %MVIC gluteus medius – 82.26

  4. Clamshell (Hip Clam) 4 – %MVIC gluteus medius – 76.88

  5. Front plank with hip extension – %MVIC gluteus medius – 75.13

The top 5 exercises for gluteus maximus recruitment

  1. Front plank with hip extension, dominant leg down – %MVIC gluteus max – 106.22

  2. Gluteal squeeze – %MVIC gluteus max – 80.72

  3. Side plank abduction, dominant leg up – %MVIC gluteus max – 72.87

  4. Side plank abduction, dominant leg down – %MVIC gluteus max – 70.96

  5. Single limb squat – %MVIC gluteus max – 70.74

Works Cited

  1. Gluteus Maximus. (2022, March 21). Physiopedia, . Retrieved 23:44, November 6, 2022 from https://www.physio-pedia.com/index.php?title=Gluteus_Maximus&oldid=298335.

  2. Gluteus maximus muscle image – © Kenhub https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/gluteus-maximus-muscle

  3. Gluteus medius muscle (highlighted in green) – posterior view image – © Kenhub https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/gluteus-medius-and-minimus-muscles

  4. Andersen, L. L., Magnusson, S. P., Nielsen, M., Haleem, J., Poulsen, K., & Aagaard, P. (2006). Neuromuscular activation in conventional therapeutic exercises and heavy resistance exercises: implications for rehabilitation. Physical therapy, 86(5), 683–697.

  5. Fry A. C. (2004). The role of resistance exercise intensity on muscle fibre adaptations. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 34(10), 663–679. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200434100-00004

  6. Boren, K., Conrey, C., Le Coguic, J., Paprocki, L., Voight, M., & Robinson, T. K. (2011). Electromyographic analysis of gluteus medius and gluteus maximus during rehabilitation exercises. International journal of sports physical therapy, 6(3), 206–223.

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page