Firstly what are the glutes? They are a group of 3 muscles made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles. Each is a different shape and size as the name suggests and has a different purpose. Let’s start with the largest muscle in the body and the top layer of glute – the gluteus maximus. This muscle is huge and has coarse muscle fibres. It attaches to the back of the pelvis and the thoracolumbar region (the fascia in the low back) as well as the ischial tuberosity (we call them your sit bones in the studio) and the ITB on the outside of the thigh. The glute max is used when power is required for example when getting up from a seated position, walking up hill or climbing stairs and running. It also assists other muscles in standing up straight from a bent over position. The glute max is only briefly used in the very early stages of taking a step during strolling or casual walking and is not used when standing still. The glute max extends the thigh, assists external rotation, keeps the thigh steady and helps other muscles when getting up from sitting.
The gluteus medius and minimus muscles have similar actions and attachments to each other. Their job is to abduct and internally rotate the leg as well as ensuring the pelvis is kept level when standing and weight bearing on one leg. This action is important during walking. The attachment points for these two muscles is the pelvis with the medius covering the minimus and the greater trochanter of the femur (a protruding bump at the top of the thigh bone).
So now we know what they’re used for how can we make sure the glutes stay strong so we can maintain basic functions such as walking, running, climbing stairs and getting off the couch? Weakness in the glutes may present as low back pain and tightness in the buttocks, hamstrings, outer legs, hip flexors and quads amongst other weakness during your everyday activities.
Here are some exercises that we do in studio to strengthen the glutes. With all exercise but particularly in pilates there is a focus on alignment, controlled actions, breath and mindfulness so to get the best and safest experience contact us for a consultation.
Standing wall plies:
Stand against a wall with either a ball or foam roller behind your lower back. Have your feet far enough away from the wall so when you bend your knees they align over the ankles and don’t go beyond the toes. Plant the feet firmly on the ground. Bend your knees until you come to 90º unless you experience pain in the knee. Ensure your pelvis stays neutral and your body remains open and upright. Draw your sit bones together and engage your core as you straighten the legs and come back to standing. Keep the knees tracking over the 2nd and 3rd toes. Do a set of up to 10 of these three positions :
- Feet parallel, hip-width apart. Hip width apart is the front hip bones not the outside of the hips as commonly thought.
- Feet in Pilates v – Heels together, toes apart, legs externally rotated about 25º. This is not a ballet first position.
- Feet wide, slightly externally rotated.
Side Lying Clams:
Lie on your side with your knees bent and feet together. You may like a pillow or your bent arm under your head for support. Lift your underneath side waist off the floor using your oblique muscles. If there was a mouse it should be able to run under your waist. While doing these clam exercises remember to stabilise your pelvis using your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and isolate that leg in the hip joint.
Clams: Externally rotate your knee in the hip joint and control the leg back down to touch the bottom leg. repeat up to 10 times.
Lifted Clams: Keep the bottom knee on the floor but lift both feet still keeping them together. Keep the feet lifted as you repeat the above clams exercise.
Knee-Knee / Toe-Toe: Feet placed back on the ground lift the top leg and internally rotate the thigh so that only the knees touch, then externally rotate the thigh that only the feet touch. That’s one set, repeat up to 10 times.
You can do these exercises daily or every second or third day and we don’t recommend any more then 10 repetitions of each exercise.
To see how pilates can help further strengthen you book in for an initial consultation with our starter package.