Muscle of the Month: Gluteus Medius

Massage Therapist and Trainer Sara Stevens walks you through a new muscle each month, highlighting everything from what the muscle does to how to relieve tension in that muscle and how we use that muscle in Spears Strong workouts. We hope you enjoy learning about the muscle of the month, or MOM as we're calling it. Want to learn more? Come to Sara's Strength & Flexibility and Relax & Restore workouts where she'll teach you all about the muscles. 

By Sara Stevens

When we hear the word “glutes” most of us just think, butt. BUT... there are actually three gluteus (or glute) muscles on each side that make up the "glutes." We tend to think of this group as one working unit, and while that’s true to some extent, each of the 3 gluteals produce slightly different movements and each are just as important individually as they are as a group. This month we are going to focus on the versatile Gluteus Medius, also known as glute med.

Location Glute med sits under glute max, and above glute min. It starts on the pelvic bone known as the ilium. If you find the top of your hip, in the back, and move your hand just below the top edge, that’s the top of glute med. From side to side, it starts around the center of the pelvis and fans across to attach at the top of the femur (thigh bone). It covers a large enough area that we see the same thing we saw with trapezius and pec major; there are groups of fibers that run in different directions, and so produce different movements. In the case of glute med, it actually produces a couple of opposing movements.

What does it do? Glute med is broken up into two groups of different fiber directions; anterior (front) and posterior (back). Anterior fibers will flex the hip (bring the knee up toward the nose) and medially or internally rotate the hip (turn the knee in toward the center of the body). Posterior fibers will extend the hip (pull the leg backward) and laterally or externally rotate the hip (turn the knee out away from the midline of the body). As a whole, glute med will abduct the hip (take it sideways away from the midline).

When do you use it? Because glute med moves the hip through five of its six possible movements, we use it constantly. When walking, climbing stairs, running, riding a bike, through all phases of a squat, doing pendulum kicks, reverse rotational storks, shoulder bridges and more.

We do not use glute med while we are sitting. That means glute med is one of many muscles prone to becoming tight and weak from long periods of sitting.

We do not use glute med while we are sitting. That means glute med is one of many muscles prone to becoming tight and weak from long periods of sitting. It is also prone to being “turned off” by the nervous system from lack of use.

Our bodies are extremely energy efficient; they strive to use as little energy as possible at all times. If we are not using any given muscle on a regular basis, our nervous system will start to decrease how much it talks to that muscle in order to save energy. It would be like turning off the breakers to the areas of your house that you don’t use that much, and only operating in those rooms by flashlight. This decrease in communication makes it harder for our bodies to perform movements requiring the muscles that have been “turned off," leading to a higher chance of compensation, poor movement patterns, and injury.

That’s why Spears Strong workouts emphasize moving in every direction, taking modifications and practicing good form over doing whatever it takes to look like the person next to you, and of course, squeezing your glutes. 

How to relieve it When glute med feels tight, it often just needs to be activated! Reverse rotational storks or shoulder bridges are a great way to give glute med a little mid-day boost, as well as stretch out other hip flexors that often feel tight. Follow that up with a hip lift stretch and a few cats and dogs. And of course, don’t forget some spreadfoot reverse pullovers. Spreadfoot position is another great way to activate and stretch glute med.