Two women doing a clam shell on the floor with a resistance band

Gluteus medius: how to stretch and strengthen the lower-body muscle responsible for stability

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Are you guilty of neglecting your gluteus medius on leg day? Here, experts explain why this glute muscle aids strength and stability.

Did you know that the glutes comprise three separate muscles? Collectively, the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus “are key to providing the body with stabilisation and balance; working to maintain a strong and correct posture by supporting and in some cases protecting other muscles and joints,” says Vanessa Gebhardt, mind coach and training specialist at fitness app Freeletics.

The biggest muscle, the gluteus maximus, tends to get the most from our workouts as it’s easily activated in compound lower body exercises that focus on building overall strength in the glutes and legs. That means the smaller muscles, like the medius and minimus, tend to be neglected and underdeveloped. Gebhardt says, this is especially true of the gluteus medius, saying, “It is often the weakest glute muscle due to people forgetting about it during their workouts.”

The gluteus medius, which is situated on the top, outer edge of your bottom and into the side of each hip may be a literal side character in the glute show. But Ruth Stone, a qualified PT at fitness company Sweatband says that’s a mistake: “[It supports] leg mobility, pelvic stability, balance, improved posture and better alignment. A weak gluteus medius can mean the alignment of the legs is lost, leading to an imbalanced use of other muscles and stress on the joints – typically in the knees or ankles, which can lead to discomfort or injury.”

With the gluteus medius playing a vital part of so many of our basic motions, it’s high time we to ask the experts how to improve lower body strength and mobility by training this underrated muscle.

Who can benefit from a strong gluteus medius

According to Iveta Bernane, health and fitness expert at fitKit: “Everyone will benefit from strong all-over glute muscles, especially runners and athletes.” She explains, “Improved gluteus medius strength means improved balance, safe and efficient walking and running, fewer injuries and improved fitness performance.” 

Stone advises: “Runners, spinners and cyclists will need to work the area harder than most though, to combat the weakness that results from repeatedly moving the legs forwards because of their chosen sports – which creates an imbalance in the muscle group and over time has a ripple effect for the whole body.”

In order to have a gluteus medius that aids you to run with more momentum, cycle longer and enjoy better lower body mobility, you have to focus some leg day effort on building the muscle. Gebhardt says, “Incorporating a few key glute exercises into your regular routine will create a well-rounded, strong glute muscle group.” 

How to strengthen your gluteus medius

Lauren Evans, PT at nutrition company Myprotein says, “Resistance training is the best way to strengthen the gluteus medius and glute muscles overall.” She advises that you rely on bodyweight and fitness bands to provide resistance while you’re still perfecting your form, and add weights when you’re more comfortable with each movement.

According to Bernane: “Exercises such as squats, deadlifts and lunges mainly target the big part of your glutes – the gluteus maximus. But only focusing on these exercises means you won’t be strengthening the gluteus medius as much as you need.” She suggests exercises that isolate the muscle are the best way to build strength in the small but important area. 

The best gluteus medius exercises

Glute bridges 

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
  2. Lift your hips off of the ground until your hips, knees and shoulders form a straight line. Don’t arch through the back – instead, keep your pelvis tucked by keeping your ribs down and abs drawn in.
  3. Hold this bridge-like position for a couple of seconds at the top, and then ease back down. 
  4. To make it harder, place a dumbbell across your hips or a resistance band around your knees.

    Clams

    1. Lie on your side with your elbow bent so your hand is on your head and bend your knees at 45 degrees so the heels are in line with your glutes.
    2. Stack your legs so your heels and knees are together. Keep your top hip in line with the bottom so you’re not rolling forwards or backwards.
    3. Keep your feet together while you open your top leg by bringing your knee to the sky. Go as high as you can without your heels coming apart and your hips rolling back. 
    4. Squeeze your glutes together at the top and then lower down. 
    5. This can also be done with a resistance band places just above your knees for extra resistance. 

      Lateral band walks

      1. Standing with your feet together, place a resistance band around your ankles, calves or just above the knees.
      2. Keep your chest lifted, hinge at the hips and bend your knees to lower into a partial squat.
      3. Holding this position, take a step to the side with one foot so you’re in a wider squat. Step the other foot in slightly. 
      4. Perform 10 steps each way. 

      How to stretch your gluteus medius

      The gluteus medius supports the mobility that allows us to perform basic everyday movements like bending and standing, and tension in this muscle can cause “back pain, hip pain and even knee pain,” accrding to Bernane.

      So, stretching is vital for everyone, not just people who workout. Laura Evans says, “A lot of people can get tight glutes if they sit for long periods of time or if they overwork them through exercise. Stretching can help relieve tension, prepare them for workouts and support recovery.” 

      The best stretches for the gluteus medius

      Figure four

      1. Lie on your back, bend the knees and plant your feet hip-width apart, bringing the heels close in towards your body.
      2. Cross your right ankle over the left knee and lift your left knee to your chest.
      3. Reach the hands through the thighs and clasp them behind the left thigh. Use your elbow to press the right knee away from the chest.
      4. Keep your head and shoulders down.
      5. Hold for five breaths and switch to the other leg.
      Stretch in 10: Lying Figure 4 Stretch
      Stretch in 10: Lying Figure 4 Stretch

      Butterfly hold

      1. Start by sitting on the floor, with your knees bent and the soles of your feet together.
      2. Then, pull your knees downwards towards the floor.
      3. You should be able to feel your stretch in your glutes and groin. 

      Pigeon pose

      1. Start by getting down onto all fours, then straighten your legs and raise your hips so that you’re in a downward dog.
      2. Bend your right knee and draw your leg forward as though you intend to step into a lunge.
      3. Rest the knee on the outside of your right hand and extend your shin so that your right foot is resting somewhere between the left hand and the left hip. Keep your right foot flexed.
      4. The aim is to have your shin parallel to the front of the mat, but this will depend on your current mobility.
      5. Releasing your left leg to the mat, extend it outwards with your toes pointing down.
      6. Square your hips and find a comfortable place within the posture – you shouldn’t be feeling any pain or discomfort.
      7. Walk your hands forward. Folding your upper body towards the floor, rest your forehead on the mat and hold the posture for a few deep breaths.
      8. Slowly draw yourself back up, return to downward dog and repeat on the left leg.

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