The gluteus maximus is the larger and more superficial muscle that forms part of the gluteul muscles (along with the gluteul medius and gluteul minimus). The gluteus maximus is the main extensor muscle of the hip and also helps to stabilize the hip joint as well as the knee joint.
Even though the gluteul maximus is the largest of the group it is often weak or inactive and could cause various problems. Signs that your glutes might be weak include:
- Lower back pain – When your glutes are weak or inactive your hip mobility will be compromised. This in turn will affect your lower back as the lower back muscles will become
overactive to compensate for the lack of support provided by the glutes.
- Tight hip flexors – Your hip flexors (antagonist of glutes) will be tight or go into spasm when the glutes are weak or inactive, which will cause an imbalance between your anterior and posterior segments of the hip. This will change your pelvic tilt and affect your posture.
- Hamstring tightness – The hamstring will take over the primary function of the glutes to extend the hip, causing strain and tightness.
- Knee pain – This is due to the poor control of the femur putting the knee under a lot of strain. In return, knee injuries could also inhibit the glutes from working optimally, thus, glute activation and strengthening should be an important part of your knee rehab.
- Locked ankles and chronic ankle sprains – Poor hip control will lead to vulnerability in proprioception and gait. Ankles will lock to restrict full hip extension. As mentioned, the main function of your glutes is to extend your hips. When your glutes are weak, your body will prevent full extension and will do this by locking your ankles.
- Plantar fasciitis – Weak glutes and overactive hip flexors will cause an entire chain of events that leads to plantar fasciitis. It will push the femur into internal rotation, the knees will collapse inwards and the tibia will rotate internally. This will ultimately cause the foot to pronate, loading the plantar fascia.
If you have any of the above problems or think that your glutes might be weak, you can easily test your glute strength by doing the following:
Stand in front of a chair (facing the chair) with your feet under it (shoulder width apart) and your knees touching the seat of the chair. To help with balance place your arms out in front of you. Move down into
a squat position, trying not to push your knees into the chair or moving the chair away with your knees. Should your knees push into the chair or move the chair your glutes are not working properly.
If your knees come forward into the chair (over your toes), you are making use of your quadriceps to initiate the movement rather than making use of your glutes and consequently placing unnecessary
pressure on your knees. To initiate the squat with your glutes, start by pushing your bottom out before you start bending your knees. This will help to engage the gluteus maximus.
This test could also be used as a strengthening exercise (also often performed standing facing a wall – slightly more difficult, as your arms will be up in the air) but be sure that you know how to activate
your glutes effectively before incorporating it into your routine.
An easy way to teach yourself how to activate your glutes is by doing a prone hip extension. To start the exercise, lie on your stomach with your legs straight and flat. Place your hand over your glute, which will help your brain know where the muscle is that you want to work and what the muscle is supposed to do. You then want to contract the glute muscle, feeling the muscle bulge into your hand. Once you feel the muscle contracting, proceed by lifting the rest of the leg of the ground and then slowly return to the starting position. Be sure that you maintain the glute contraction throughout the movement, and only relax the muscle once your leg is back on the ground. Once you are comfortable with the exercise, try and do the chair test again.
Should you have any of the above-mentioned problems or if you are uncertain of how to activate your glutes, it would be advised to go see your Biokineticist. They will do a full assessment, identifying where your weaknesses and imbalances are and will be able to provide you with a treatment plan to strengthen your glutes adequately.