Why is everyone talking about glutes?

You have probably heard a lot of talk in the fitness and physical therapy world about glute activation. So…what are these muscles? Why are they so important? And how do you activate them?

The Glute Muscles

There are 3 glute muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus). These muscles stabilize the pelvis, spine and hip. See the specifics on each one below:

Glute Max – extends the hip, externally rotates the hip, abducts the hip

Glute Med – abducts the hip, internally (anterior fibers) and externally rotates the hip (posterior fibers), extends the hip

Glute Min – abducts the hip, internally (anterior fibers) and externally rotates the hip (posterior fibers)

How do the glutes become weak and inactive?

The saying goes, “Sitting is the new smoking!” We sit for long hours at work, and then we come home and sit on the couch. Lack of blood supply and lack of activity can impact how well the glutes function. They can also become weak due to poor activation with exercise technique. With exercise, form is key! If you perform exercises with poor form, then you might not be targeting the muscles optimally. Lastly, these muscles can be tight or overly contracted from overexertion, which also leads to the glute muscles being weak. Proper stretching and myofascial release are important to perform in order to maintain proper function of these muscle groups.

Why are the glutes so important?

Working together, the glutes hold paramount importance to stabilize the hip joint and the low back. When the glute muscle group functions well, they optimize the function of the pelvic floor, assist in posture, and improve sports performance. If these muscles are weak and underwork, other muscles and ligaments may overwork, which can lead to IT band pain, low back pain, SI joint pain, hip pain, pelvic floor pain, just to name a few.

How to activate the glutes: 

Exercises done properly can help to activate and strengthen the glutes. The video below features some of our favorite glute activation and glute strength beginner exercises. As your activation improves, then progressing to exercises like deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, reverse lunges, hip thrusters, and squats might be appropriate. Seek out assistance from a trained professional to help you with progression of exercises. Remember that form is key and maintaining a neutral spine and pelvic position will ensure the glutes to activate optimally. See the video below for exercises to help with glute activation from Dr. Andrea Barberio.

Shout out to the external rotators (aka “rotator cuff of the hip”)

There are a group of smaller muscles called the external rotators in the back of the hip that are stabilizers of the hip and pelvis. While they are not considered glute muscles, they are a very crucial part of the stabilization system for your pelvis and spine. They may be weak and tight, which causes these external rotators to be dysfunctional and compromise postural stability. Performing stretching, strengthening, and myofascial release to these areas are also vital to the health of the pelvis, hip, and spine. Future blog post on these small, but mighty muscles coming soon!


If you have pelvic pain and/or pelvic floor dysfunction, please seek out assistance from your pelvic floor physical therapist before engaging in these exercises. In pelvic pain and pelvic floor dysfunctions, glutes and pelvic floor muscles might be constantly clenching/spasming, and so doing the above exercises might lead to further pain and problems.

Written by Dr. Andrea Barberio, PT, DPT

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