When most people think of glute training, they think of the gluteus maximus. This makes sense, as the glute max is not only the biggest muscle in the body but also one of the strongest. That said, there is another glute muscle that also deserves our attention: the gluteus medius.
As a review, the glutes consist of three muscles. The gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The glute med is about the half the size of the glute max. Because it’s located above the glute max, training the glute med can help reshape the glutes by lifting them up.
Regarding muscle fiber composition, which influences how many repetitions should be performed for an exercise, consider that all the glute muscles consist primarily of slow twitch fibers. Slow twitch fibers have more endurance than fast twitch fibers and as such respond better to higher repetitions and can be trained more frequently. This does not mean you should never perform lower reps, but that for best results, the focus should be on higher repetitions.
Before getting into specific exercises, consider that the glute med helps stabilize the pelvis. Such stability has implications in achieving optional biomechanics in sports and also plays a significant role in reducing the risk of falling. Research on the elderly showed a relationship between glute med strength and the incidence of falling. When you consider that falls is the number one cause of injury and deaths among older Americans, you can understand the importance that training this muscle has in prolonging our quality of life.
For serious Iron Game athletes (or those who just want to get brutally strong), consider that a weakness in one of the glute med muscles can cause the hip to drop and rotate to one side. This will cause the knee on that side to collapse, reducing how much weight you can use in powerful exercises such as the squat. Likewise, such an imbalance can affect other types of athletic movements, such as sprinting.
Finally, glute med training may also play a role in preventing and rehabilitating back injuries by addressing the issue of gluteal amnesia. Gluteal amnesia is a condition characterized by an inhibition of the contraction of the glutes; one possible cause is an excessive amount of sitting in our daily lives. Two ways to address gluteal amnesia are to stretch the muscles that flex the hip (which are antagonistic to the glutes) and to perform glute activation exercises.
One of the most popular glute med activation exercises is to walk laterally with a band around your legs, an exercise commonly referred to as the lateral band walk. To increase the difficulty of this exercise, use additional bands or thick bands. One popular athlete who endorses such glute med activation exercises is Kristin Pope, an elite-level weightlifter and popular vlogger.
Pope has enjoyed a successful athletic career that started with 13 years of gymnastics and progressed to Crossfit, powerlifting and weightlifting. Pope says that her body type, along with her years of gymnastics training, created chronic instability in her pelvis, which she believes was responsible for her challenges with back pain. Pope says that performing glute activation exercises before her heavy weightlifting workouts helped her deal with this imbalance and reduce her risk of back pain. So even though an athlete may be incredibly strong, they can benefit from performing a simple glute med exercise with an elastic band.
With that background, what are the best glute med exercises? One research study that helped answer that question was published in 2009 in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy. The study examined 12 popular glute exercises to determine glute activation. According to the authors, the best exercise for the glute med was the side-lying hip abduction. Here is the complete ranking:
1. Side-lying hip abduction
2. Single-limb squat
3. Lateral band walk
4. Single-limb deadlift
5. Sideways hop
6. Transverse hop
7. Transverse lunge
8. Forward hop
9. Forward lunge
10. Clam with 30° hip flexion
11. Sideways lunge
12. Clam with 60° hip flexion
It should be noted that the researchers also found that the single-limb squat and single-limb deadlift were the highest ranked exercises for activating the glute max. So to get the most “bang for your buck,” you should consider including one of these exercises in any glute med specialization program. As an example, you could start a workout with lateral band walk to activate the glute med, follow that with a single-limb deadlift, and finish off with a side-lying hip abduction and then a hip flexor stretch, as follows:
A. Lateral Band Walk, 1 x 20 steps, each direction, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
B. Single-Limb Deadlift, 3 x 12-15, 3010, rest 60 seconds
C. Side-Lying Hip Adduction, 2 x 15-20, 10X0, rest 60 seconds
D. Hip Flexor Stretch, 60 seconds each side
Glute training is here to stay, and by intelligently incorporating the glute med training ideas mentioned here, you can transform your physique or figure, perform better, get stronger, and enjoy a higher quality of life.