These days, the glutes get a lot of attention, and it’s well deserved. When your glutes are built and strengthened the right way, they not only make your body look better, but they also increase your performance and can diminish knee pain. The problem is that most people aren’t taking an optimal approach to training for the highest level of glute development.
Anatomy of the Glutes
Let’s start with a little anatomy. When we say “glutes” we’re referring to three separate muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
The gluteus maximus is, by far, the largest of the three, and it mostly determines the overall shape of your butt. In fact, gluteus maximus earned its name by being the largest muscle in the body.
The gluteus medius is significantly smaller and lies underneath the gluteus maximus.
Finally, gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three (hence the name), and it lies deep below the gluteus medius.
Functions of the Glutes at the Hip
To develop the most effective training plan for a muscle group, it’s imperative to understand all of the primary functions that muscle can perform.
The gluteus maximus can perform three functions at the hip: extension, abduction, and external rotation.
The primary function of the gluteus medius is hip abduction and the posterior portion of the muscle can assist in hip extension and external rotation.
The gluteus minimus works with the gluteus medius to perform hip abduction.
Since the glutes perform three actions at the hips, it’s clear that if you train only one, or even two, of those movements, your results will suffer. This means your clients will lack the overall glute strength they need, which can cause knee pain.
Sign up for ISSA’s Certified Glute Specialist program to help your clients build that strength in their glutes and the overall posterior chain. Become the expert clients seek out for glute-related goals and their overall fitness!
The Shortcoming of Most Training Programs
Variations of the squat, deadlift, lunge, and glute bridge are all good choices for any strength program. However, those popular exercises strengthen only one function of the glutes: hip extension.
By doing nothing but hip extension exercises, you’re neglecting the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, as well as two other potential functions of the gluteus maximus (i.e., abduction and external rotation), as shown in the table below.
MusclePrimary Actions at the Hip
extension, abduction, external rotation
abduction (some extension and external rotation)
But making a point to start training the glute muscle fibers that perform abduction and external rotation goes beyond muscle development. Building strength in those movement patterns is essential to knee health and performance.1
You can begin to help clients improve the strength of all three gluteal muscles by including the side plank clam into their program:
Modified Side Plank Clamshell with Band
By adding this exercise, your client will benefit three ways:
Less knee pain: The strength of the glutes, especially for producing abduction and external rotation, are correlated with knee health.2,3
Better performance: High levels of glute strength, in all three planes of movement, are beneficial for improving your client’s performance when running, jumping, and quickly changing directions on the playing field.4
Better glute strength: In order for the glutes to have optimal strength, all three of their potential actions must be developed.1 Simply adding the side plank clam into your client’s program will develop hip abduction and external rotation strength. The third action - hip extension - will be developed through traditional exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges.
How to do it: Start with two sets of a 30-second hold on each side, every day. Increase the duration of the hold by five seconds every 2-3 days, or whenever possible, until you reach 60 seconds. At that point, switch to a band that has more tension and repeat the progression from 30-60 seconds over the course of a few weeks.
Progression and Preventing Knee Valgus
When you watch people land from a jump, or squat a challenging weight, you’ve inevitably seen one or both of their knees buckle inward. This faulty movement compensation is knee valgus and it occurs from a combination of hip adduction and internal rotation.
Knee valgus is not only detrimental to performance due to the lack of control at the hip, but it can also contribute to dysfunction of the knee joint.2,5,6
Furthermore, dynamic knee valgus is associated with various knee injuries, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.3
The good news is there’s a simple way to ensure all three gluteal muscles are strengthened when your clients perform squats or deadlifts: simply place a mini-band above their knees and cue them to keep their knees directly above the feet in the “knee neutral” position.
Stretching the band kicks in the gluteal fibers that perform hip abduction and external rotation, which are the areas that most people lack strength.
Once you’ve used the side plank clamshell exercise to isolate and build strength in the glutes, your client will have a solid muscular foundation to start working on those ever-popular squats and deadlifts with a band above the knees.
Now you have a simple program to help your clients build glutes that not only perform better but also reduce stress to the knees. You can’t beat that combination.
Ready to learn more AND boost your personal training business? Sign up for ISSA’s Glute Specialist Certification. Become the go-to trainer for building better glutes along with whole-body training. Start your journey now!
Powers CM. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40:42-51.
Claiborne TL, Armstrong CW, Gandhi V, et al. J Appl Biomech. 2006;22:41-50.
Hewett TE, Myer GD, Ford KR, et al. Am J Sports Med. 2005;33:492-501.
Taunton JE, Ryan MB, Clement DB, et al. Br J Sports Med. 2002;36:95-101.
Powers CM. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003;33:639-646.
Hollman JH, Ginos BE, Kozuchowski J, et al. J Sport Rehabil. 2009;18:104-117.