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Gluteus Maximus: Functional Anatomy Guide


Gluteus MaximusThe gluteus maximus (G. gloutos, buttock. L. maximus, largest.) is not only the largest buttock muscle, but the largest muscle in the human body, period.

Its main responsibility is hip extension, and it’s classified as part of the superficial gluteal region.

The gluteus maximus is the outermost buttock muscle.

It lies superficial to the gluteus minimus and the majority of the gluteus medius, as well as the obturators, piriformis, gemelli and quadratus femoris (i.e. the hip external rotators).

The gluteus maximus originates from the external surface of the ilium, and the posterior sacrum and coccyx. It inserts on the gluteal tuberosity and IT band.

It has an oblique fiber orientation, with fibers running obliquely toward either side of several tendinous septa running through the muscle, giving it a multipennate muscle architecture.

Also Called

  • Glutes
  • Glute max
  • Back of hips
  • Buttocks
  • Butt, backside, rump, derriere, ass, etc.

Origin, Insertion, Action & Nerve Supply

Muscle Origin Insertion Action Nerve Supply
Gluteus Maximus
  • Dorsal surface of the ilium behind the posterior gluteal line
  • Posterior surfaces of the sacrum and coccyx
  • Sacrotuberous ligament
Gluteal tuberosity and iliotibial tract
  • Hip extension
  • Hip external rotation
  • Hip abduction (superior fibers)
  • Hip horizontal abduction
Inferior gluteal nerve (L5-S2)

Exercises:

Note: The table below is limited to exercises that train the gluteus maximus directly. That said, many of the compound exercises are also considered direct exercises for the hamstrings (e.g. Romanian deadlift), quadriceps (e.g. squat) and lower back (e.g. deadlift).

Similarly, the gluteus maximus gets a significant amount of indirect training from some direct exercises for the hamstrings (e.g. glute-ham raise) and lower back (e.g. back extension).

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Isometric:
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Stretches & Myofascial Release Techniques:

Stretches

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Self Myofascial Release Techniques

When using these techniques, give special attention to the common trigger points shown in the image below.

gluteus maximus trigger point

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Common Issues:

  • Inhibited/Excessively Lengthened Gluteus Maximus: The gluteus maximus is inhibited and lengthened in individuals with lower crossed syndrome (LCS) because it is reciprocally inhibited by overactive/short hip flexors. As such, the gluteus maximus is unable to counteract the anterior pelvic tilt associated with LCS. When the glutes are inhibited, the piriformis goes into overdrive to perform hip abduction (when the hip is flexed) and hip external rotation (when the hip is extended), becoming overactive/short as result. This can lead to sciatic nerve impingement, among other things. Also, the hamstrings will often try to compensate for weak glutes during hip extension. Similarly, the lower spinal erectors will kick in to perform lumbar extension to compensate for a lack of hip extension range of motion. Hence why hamstring and lower back injuries are associated with glute inhibition. Knee injuries are also common because the hip adductors are often overactive/short while the hip abductors (including the superior gluteus maximus fibers) are inhibited/long, thus contributing to knee valgus. Knee injury risk is compounded if the tensor fasciae latae is overactive/short and compensating for the glutes during abduction, causing excessive IT band tightness and increased knee valgus stress.

Training Notes:

  1. If you have inhibited and excessively lengthened gluteus maximus, consider the following:
    • Implement soft tissue release and stretching techniques for the tight muscles that are causing the gluteus maximus to be inhibited. See soft tissue release and stretches for the hip flexors and hip adductors. Chances are you’ll also need to do the same for piriformis, since it has the tendency to take over during hip external rotation and hip abduction because the gluteus maximus (and usually the posterior fibers of the gluteus medius) is inhibited.
    • Do very basic gluteus maximus activation exercises. These should be done directly after doing release stretch techniques for the antagonist muscles (see previous bullet point). I recommend a low resistance isometric movement like the glute bridge hold, so you can focus on developing the strong “mind-muscle connection” that is necessary for activating and strengthening an inhibited, weak muscle.
    • Increase total training volume or training frequency on compound exercises that emphasize the gluteus maximus, particularly the movements that involve more hip extension than knee extension (i.e. deadliftgood morning and hip extension variations, rather than squat, lunge and step up variations). When doing these exercises, it’s important to focus on actually using the glutes to execute the movement. Your glute activation work (see previous bullet) will help with this. However, you may also have to reduce the weight and work on your form, since poor technique often prevents the glutes from firing properly.
    • Reduce total training volume on exercises that emphasize the hip flexors and hip adductors.
    • Reduce time spent in postures that inhibits the gluteus maximus. The biggest offender of this is sitting for any prolonged period of time. Modern life makes this difficult for most people, since the majority of many peoples’ day consists of sitting down (office jobs, school, driving, eating, TV, video games, etc.). However, you can make a huge improvement by simply standing up every 20 minutes or so to break up the time spent in a sitting posture.
    • The above bullet points are a solid starting point for fixing your gluteus maximus inhibition. However, this dysfunction is indicative of lower crossed syndrome (LCS). If you think you have LCS, see how to treat lower crossed syndrome (article coming soon) to fix the root cause of your glute dysfunction.
  2. General advice and tips for more effective gluteus maximus training:
    • If you are trying to increase your gluteus maximus strength or size, start by adding in new glute exercises and/or increasing training volume on your current exercises. You can also increase training frequency. So if you’re hitting glutes twice a week now, start working them three times per week. Of course, these suggestions already assume you have proper form and are able to engage your glutes when training them.
    • Maintain a neutral spine and neutral pelvis when performing gluteus maximus exercises. This was a problem for me when I started doing the barbell glute bridge. My lower back was excessively arched and my pelvis was tilted forward, and I wondered why I was feeling the burn in my hamstrings and lower back. I finally got the glutes to kick in once I figured out how to achieve proper spinal and pelvic alignment bracing my lower abs and gently activating the glutes at the start of each rep.
      • Note: If you have a posture where the lower back arch is actually too small and you tend toward posterior pelvic tilt, then you have to do the opposite of what I described above to achieve neutral spinal and pelvic position: You need to engage your lower spinal erectors and hip flexors.
    • Perform lifts explosively when it’s practical. This doesn’t mean you have to lift as fast as possible on every single set of every gluteus maximus exercise, but doing so occasionally can help. Furthermore, avoid doing any slow repetitions (unless you are doing so to learn the technique) since the gluteus maximus predominantly consists of fast twitch muscle fibers, which respond best during rapid, forceful movement.
    • Train with major compound lifts (e.g. squat, deadlift) first, then use more glute-specific exercises (e.g. glute bridge, hip thrust, good morning, single leg Romanian deadlift) as accessory movements afterward. You can do this within the same workout. Or you can dedicate one workout mostly to the major compound lifts, with a second workout focusing on the more glute-specific accessory lifts.
    • If you can’t feel your glutes working during gluteus maximus exercises – especially deadlifts and squats – but you don’t believe a lack of glute strength is the problem, then you need to work on motor control. This entails reducing the weight on the exercise and focusing on technique. But in order for this to be effective, you must first identify which part of the technique is flawed and preventing you from fully utilizing your glutes. Let’s say you’re doing squats and your knees are collapsing in at the bottom of the rep. What you’ll do is perform the squat with light weight and consciously work on externally rotating your hips and pushing your knees out; this will eventually “groove in” a new motor pattern, which will stick with you when performing the exercise with heavier loads.
    • Remember to squeeze the glutes hard during bench press. Not only does this protect your lower back, but it increases your power output by stabilizing your body and facilitating better leg drive.

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