Don’t Fear the Glute Work!
Posted on April 20 2023
Did you know the butt consists of the largest and most powerful muscle in your body? For an area we spend so much time resting on, it plays a critical role in so much of our movement, including our signature ability to walk upright on two legs.
Today’s post takes a closer look at the butt (i.e., the glute muscles) and what we need to know about their function and significance in our everyday lives. By the end, you will likely have a better appreciation for the backside that keeps us moving!
Why are the glutes important?
Why are the glute muscles so essential to our health and wellness - aside from providing some cushion when we sit? Overall, their biggest job is to keep us upright and push our bodies forward. However, strong gluteal muscles are also essential for walking, running, jumping, standing on one leg, and pelvic alignment.
Basically, they are always doing something important. For this reason, having healthy glutes is essential for maintaining health, performance, and longevity. Furthermore, research published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy1 shows that our glute muscles can help with injury prevention, optimal movement, and athletic performance - which helps explain why glute strengthening exercises are all the rage these days.
Meet the glute muscles.
Your glutes are broken down into three main muscles and six smaller deep ones, which are often called the "Deep 6". Although the three main muscles of the posterior, described below, get most of the attention, the other muscles are important as well. Let’s get to know all the muscles that help keep your posterior functioning, beginning with the big three.
Gluteus Maximus: As the name implies, the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body. Its primary function is to extend your hip, like when you are rising from a squatting position, and to rotate your leg outward. This muscle begins on the back of the pelvis and sacrum, inserting on the back side of the top of the femur. It also connects to the iliotibial band, which goes all the way down the lateral part of the thigh and past your knee.
Gluteus Medius: This is also a large muscle, just not quite as big as the maximus. It’s a pork chop-shaped muscle that sits near the outside of the pelvis (where your thumb might sit when standing with hands on hips) and inserts on the top of the femur. The medius abducts and rotates your leg inward.
Gluteus Minimus: The smallest of the glute muscles is triangular shaped and lies directly under the gluteus medius and connects slightly in front of where the medius connects. It also abducts and rotates your leg inward.
Now, let’s talk about the other six slightly lesser-known muscles that help your buttocks function. Because these smaller muscles are under the gluteus maximus, one of the strongest muscles in your body, they are often overshadowed by it. These muscles include the Piriformis, Gemellus superior, Obturatur internus, Gemellus inferior, Obturatur externus, and Quadratus femoris.
These six lateral rotator muscles are often discussed as a group because they have the same primary action and generally function together to rotate the leg in the hip joint laterally, i.e., turn it outward. They are also hip stabilizers and hip extensors - so when you walk, for example, the deep six help stabilize and open the hip of the working leg.
Why strengthening the glutes matters.
There are many reasons why keeping the glute muscles strong is beneficial to our body’s overall function and health. First, there’s posture. When your lower body and pelvis align, it helps keep your shoulders, neck, and back aligned (i.e., good posture). Misalignment can cause many issues, including painful, tight, or achy muscles and joints that can extend even into your upper back and neck.
Strong, functional gluteal and hip muscles can also help you avoid and recover from injury (during exercise, for example) in your low back, hips, knees, and ankles by creating proper alignment and stability. It’s common to see ‘dynamic valgus’ at the knee in people with weak glute muscles, which is when the knee caves in towards the other leg while lowering into a squat or extending your leg.
Finally, strong glutes help with balance, which is critical in everyday activities, like getting in and out of the shower, vehicle, or even just walking around in general. Therefore, improved glute strength means improved balance - and improved balance can mean improved quality of life even into old age.
Benefits of Glute Massage
Now that you know how vital the glute muscles are to our movement system, you can understand why keeping these muscles strong with movement and exercise is important - especially as we age. When these muscles are injured or weak from not being used properly, the glutes can cause a variety of problems, from low back and hip pain to a shortened range of motion.
However, massage can help manage symptoms associated with these problems while supporting a better range of movement in your lower half, increased circulation, and faster muscle recovery. The experienced massage therapists at Mantra Wellness are trained in various modalities that can stretch and manipulate these muscles for relaxation, strengthening, and healing. Whether it’s part of a full body massage or muscle work that specifically focuses on the glute muscles to relieve any areas of pain or discomfort - your posterior will thank you!