It seems that you can’t scroll through instagram for even a second without seeing a girl, or guy, showing off an exercise that is supposed to grow, activate, or burn your glutes (ya booty aka the gluteus Maximus, medius, and minimus muscles). It’s the trendy topic and cements your spot in insta-fitness fame. So when did full, round glutes become the marker of a fit person? When did glutes become the new abs? But more importantly, why?

Well, not only do fully developed glutes look great, but they are also vital to muscular balance as well as proper movement. Let’s start by dissecting what the glutes actually do as a muscular group, and we’ll see how they translate to moving effectively and efficiently. The glutes all together move your hip. That is their function, they aren’t just there for visually pleasing cushion. The gluteus maximus, or the biggest muscle in your booty, is in charge of extending your hip and externally rotating it (so think, straight leg kicking back and kicking out). The gluteus medius is mainly in charge of external rotation, and the minimus assists with both movements. Below is a quick anatomy lesson and then a video showing two examples of hip extension powered by the glutes.

So now that we know what movements the glutes actually perform, why are they important? 99% of people spend their days sitting at their job or on the couch or driving to and from work. That means that, for a majority of the time, your hip is in constant flexion. This tightens your hip flexors and your quads, allowing them to be your primary movers in your legs. Not only are tight muscles not pleasant, but they also throw off the way you move, whether you feel it or not. Unless you’ve been taught otherwise, if I asked you to show me a squat, the majority of you would shift your weight onto your toes and your upper body would shift forward as well. This puts strain on your knees, lower back, and just feels uncomfortable. The reason your body moves this way, even if it’s not comfortable, is because your body goes with the path of least resistance (aka your hips and quads are tighter and stronger than your glutes, so give them the strain). Over time, without correction, this leads to knee and lower back pain.

So how do we change the tightness? Tight muscles don’t always just mean tightness, they also mean. one muscle is overactive (the “tight” one), while its counterpart (the muscle opposite) is under active. We can do one of two things here. We can either stretch the tight muscle or we can strengthen the underactive muscle. I go with strengthen always because stretching a muscle without fixing the cause of the tightness does nothing but waste your time. Strengthening your glutes will allow the back half of your leg to accept some of the pressure of daily movement, giving your knees a break. As well, strengthening the back half of your hip will relieve some of the tightness of your hip flexors, actually alleviating lower back pain. Now glutes are not the magic cure to all pain, but making sure they are at least balanced with the front half of your leg will allow for better movement over time.

Since you read this far, and hopefully learned a lot, you get my favorite glute exercises (besides my fave, the squat, but we’ll have a whooole post of squats later)! Try throwing them into your routine!

Glute bridge

Either 3 sets of 10-12 reps or a hold for 30 seconds at the end of Glute day

RDL (hip hinge)

3 sets of 8-12 reps

Split squat

3 sets of 8-10 reps/leg

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