Specifically, I’m going to discuss my glutes. The maximus, the medius and the minimus. Mostly, though, just the gluteus maximus and the gluteus medius (the names make them sound like some kind of Roman gladiators, right?). I’ll also touch on a few other random hip muscles I’ve learned all about in the last few months of physical therapy.
Apparently, these muscles have a lot to do with how my leg and knee function. I have trouble engaging my glute medius in the right way at the right time (this is the same problem I have with the VMO). It’s most noticeable during hip abduction and when I’m trying to keep from internally rotating my thigh. That means my tensor fascia latae (TFL) kicks in at inappropriate times and tries to do more work than it should. Sucks because that happens to be attached firmly to my IT band. Which is attached to my knee. To be specific, the IT band is attached to the lateral aspect of the tibia via the iliotibial tract.
My PT first mentioned that she thought the IT band was part of my problem at some point in late March. This was after an incident at the pool where my knee locked up on me. Up to that point, my IT band had never been mentioned as a possible culprit. My PT started working on the IT band pretty hard during our sessions, and she gave me new exercises to help strengthen my hips. I do different exercises for the glute medius and the glute maximus, but they’re all pretty much under the category of “exercises I hate to do.”
Glute Medius Activation Exercises
Are you familiar with donkey kicks? No? I wasn’t until my PT made me do them one day. I didn’t even believe her that they were a thing until I came home and googled it. Yup. They’re a thing. Apparently, they’ll give you a “bigger, harder butt” (at least according to one video I found). I haven’t yet seen that result. You’re supposed to do them while kneeling, but I can’t kneel, so I was doing them sort of standing and sort of bent over a table. This is one of those exercises that I hate doing because I’m convinced people are staring at me and wondering what the hell I’m doing.
I do one exercise, specifically to activate the glute medius, that I call “balls to the wall.” No clue what it’s actually called. Essentially, I use a small ball (2-3 lbs) and hold it against the wall with my thigh (the part right above my knee). I stand with my side to the wall, and I hold the ball in place by pushing my leg toward the wall. This makes me engage my glute medius the right way in the leg that I’m standing on.
I also do way more sedate exercises like clamshells, lateral band walk and the seated hip abduction (I had a personal trainer who used to call these the “open for business” exercise). All of these are fairly simple and largely subtle exercises, but they have definitely made a difference.
Clamshells are likely the most well-known exercise for glute medius activation. I’ve certainly seen enough people doing them in the therapy clinic. Here’s a video of the exercise. My hips were weak enough that I had to start these with just a little movement and no band. I also had to focus quite a bit to keep my lower leg from rotating incorrectly. Lots of my frustration comes not from the difficulty of the exercise, but from the difficulty in getting all my body parts to work in the right way while doing the exercise.
Glute Maximus Activation Exercises
I was not allowed to stop with just the glute medius; I had to also incorporate some exercises to target my glute maximus (the big butt muscle, in layman’s terms). Typically, these can be engaged and strengthened by doing squats and deadlifts. Unless you’re like me and can’t do squats or real deadlifts. So…
Hip thrusts are where it’s at, if you need to work on your gluteus maximus and can’t squat. If you google “hip thrusts,” you’re eventually going to run across the name Bret Contreras. He is a big advocate for hip thrusts, and you can see him demonstrate beginner form below. It’s a long video, so skip to at least the one minute mark to start learning about the beginner form.
He talks in the video about mastering body weight first. Um… yeah. I’m still working on that. When I’m feeling really into it, I’ll use a 25-lb weight plate, but I kind of still suck at these.
In addition to the hip thrusts, I also do bridges on the mat. Sometimes, I’ll get crazy and do bridges with my legs up on a Bosu ball. Oh! That reminds me. I’ll sometimes do the hip thrusts with my back on a fitness ball.
I do, occasionally, throw in some deadlifts. I have to do them fairly straight-legged, so they’re not exactly the correct form, but they seem to work well enough for me. I typically use kettle bells because I don’t really enjoy hanging out in the weight room at the gym. Too many sweaty dudes who like to look at themselves in the mirror and talk smack.
If you’re interested in further reading, check out the articles below.
- A rather sassy article about hip thrusts.
- An article about hip strengthening exercises that provides a nice progression.
In addition to all the good info about getting my hip muscles activated and strengthened, I’ve learned interesting terms like “butt wink.” Look it up; it’s a thing.