Glutes 101: Anatomy, Function, Basic Exercises

You can’t really work out effectively without targeting your body’s biggest set of muscles – the glutes. Targeting your backside, derriere, or rear-view will mean that you not only look amazing but become more functional in hundreds of other ways, too.

Your glutes help your hips and legs to function, and act as a balancing fulcrum for the center of your body, along with your SI joint. Just working on your glutes will help to increase your metabolic rate since they’re so big, and they add power to your sports performance!

Anatomy of the Glutes

The glutes are really a set of three primary muscles:

The gluteus maximus

The biggest of all the gluteal muscles, this muscle attaches to the sacrum and femur. It allows your hips to rotate at the hip joint, and forward movement when you run, walk or rise from a seated position. 

The gluteus medius

Located just underneath the gluteus maximus, this muscle allows hip movement and movement of your legs as well.

The gluteus minimus

The smallest of the three large muscles, the gluteus minimus is located under the gluteus medius and allows rotation of the hips, and circular movements of the thighs.

Beneath these larger muscles are the “deep six” of the lateral rotator group of muscles. These additional muscles within the glutes support the pelvis and hips. They include:

  • Quadratus femoris
  • Gamelles inferior
  • Gamelles superior
  • Obturator externus
  • Piriformis [1]

You can’t really miss any of the minor gluteal muscles as long as you focus on the primary set of three when you are training.

Functions of the Glutes

This large set of muscles along with their supporting muscles do important tasks for our bodies, including:

  • Stabilize your thigh bone (femur)
  • Rotate the femur internally and externally so you can draw your legs backward and forward
  • Allow you to stand, walk, sit, jump, etc.

Glutes 101: Anatomy, Function, Basic Exercises

Sadly, because we sit on this important set off muscles so often (sitting at a desk at an office job, time spent at a computer, commuting in a car, etc.) the glutes are often overstretched or underused. This is why training the glutes can really make a difference. We can train the glutes to counteract a sedentary lifestyle.

Exercises to Try

Try these exercises to target your glutes and the supporting muscles:

Supine leg raises

supine leg raise

Done even without weights, you can lay on your stomach, stretch long to lengthen the spine, and lift your legs together simultaneously to target both the glutes and lower back. This is a good movement to practice before doing more intense gluteal work, as it targets the muscles without too much intensity. Simply hold the legs elevated for 30 seconds and release. If your back muscles are weak, you may want to roll over and practice a forward fold, to stretch the lower back, and follow with lunges to stretch the glutes, preparing them for additional weight training.

Barbell hip thrust

Barbell hip thrust

Known as one of the best ways to activate both the upper and lower glutes comparative to almost any other exercise, the barbell hip thrust is ideal for gluteal training. Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Hold a barbell at the level of your pelvis, and lift your hips using your gluteal muscles. Lower back down and repeat. Aim for at least 8 to 12 repetitions. You can increase your barbell weight to feel a “burn” in your butt. [2]

Walking lunges

Walking Lunges

Another great stand-by exercise when you don’t have heavy weights around is walking lunges. You can hold smaller weights in your hands and simply practice a deep lunge. Join the back foot to the front, and alternate sides as if you are walking, but deepening your stride and the depth of your movement in the lunge. Taking 20 lunging steps with a one minute break twice should be sufficient to feel the burn in your glutes.

Squat

Glutes 101: Anatomy, Function, Basic Exercises

Among the most commonly practiced bodybuilding techniques for the glutes are squats. They also target large leg muscles, but by varying your stance width, you can actively work all three large muscles groups on the glutes, and use the stabilizers as well for effective targeting of this important muscle group. You can also add intensity to this movement by holding weights in your hands, balancing a bar on your shoulders, or utilizing resistance bands.

Post-Workout Stretches for the Glutes

Since they encompass such a large muscle group, the glutes can get very tight and sore after weight training. This can cause inhibited movement in your hips. To counteract this tendency, simply practice a few post-workout stretches meant to open the hips and stretch the gluteal muscles.

Try:

Pigeon pose

From a seated position, bring your right leg forward, and leave the left leg outstretched behind you. Bend the forward leg bringing your ankle close to your opposite thigh crease. Take a deep breath and lengthen your spine, and begin to fold over the front leg. Try to keep both buttocks equally on the floor. Hold the stretch for about one minute, using the breath to deeply relax the gluteal muscles. Release and repeat, switching out the legs so that the left leg is now forward, and the left leg is extended behind you.

Seated leg cradle

Sit comfortably on the floor with legs folded in a comfortable position in front of you. Pick up one leg, cradling it like a baby, bringing both the foot and knee closer to the chest. The shin should be parallel to your chest to instigate a deep gluteal and thigh stretch. Hold for several seconds, and release. Then repeat on the other side.

With a little perseverance, you can reverse lazy gluteal muscles, and make your rear-view your best view, add functional strength, and have the strongest glutes ever!


[1] Miller, J. (2018, November 13). How to Work and Use Your Glute Muscles Correctly in Yoga. Retrieved from https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/yoga-anatomy-get-to-know-your-glutes

[2] The 25 Best Workout Moves To Build Your Butt. (2018, November 8). Retrieved from https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/g19546820/best-glutes-exercises/?slide=1