Gluteus maximus! Kind of sounds like an ancient emperor doesn’t it? It  IS an emperor of sorts, as it dominates  your buttocks. Made famous by colloquial expressions and Sir Mix A Lot, the gluteus maximus is one of the three gluteal muscles responsible for support and movement of your  hip joint. It originates at the posterior aspect of dorsal ilium posterior to the posterior gluteal line, posterior superior iliac crest, posterior inferior aspect of sacrum and coccyx, and sacrotuberous ligament, spans across  your backside, to insert primarily in the fascia lata at the iliotibial band on the outside of your thigh and into the gluteal tuberosity on the posterior femoral surface.  It is the most superficial muscle of the gluteal group and protects the muscles that laterally rotate the hip, notably the piriformis, under which the sciatic nerve makes its appearance.

gluteus_maximus220

The gluteus maximus is a powerful hip extensor and spinal stabilizer.

The largest muscle in the human body is said to have developed to allow homosapiens to run after their next meal or maybe it was to avoid being another animal’s meal? It is a powerful hip extensor, acting in synergy with the hamstring muscles to propel the body forward when running.  Furthermore, it also acts as a spinal stabilizer in conjunction with the erector spinae to control trunk function at the hip and sacroiliac joint. According to a study by David Lieberman,  it is the most active as running speed increases. You are more likely to “feel the burn” chasing the bus or playing tag, than you are going for a leisurely jog.

Dysfunction in the gluteus maximus can show up as coccyx (tail bone) pain when lowering yourself to sit down or rising up from a seated position as the  muscle stretches and contracts, pulling on the coccyx.  Adhesions to the gluteus maximus also affect the mobility of the muscles it covers, which can lead to the dreaded piriformis syndrome, where the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed, causing numbness and pain deep into the buttocks. Further irritation can also degenerate into often debilitating sciatic pain.  No doubt this is where the expression “pain in the butt” originated!

Another way Gluteus maximus dysfunction can appear is through IT band syndrome.  If I had a dollar for every time I walked into a fitness facility and saw athletes rolling out their IT bands…. Well, I wouldn’t be too worried about my yoga pants addiction.  If I had a dollar for the times I observed athletes working on strengthening their gluteal muscles in isolation,  I may be able to afford a small non-fat sugar-free decaffeinated lactose free no foam extra hot latte, with a hint of cinnamon.

 What does the gluteus maximus have to do with your knee pain?

Weak glutes and hip dysfunction are often the culprit behind patellofemoral syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, and iliotibial-band syndrome, according to Reed Ferber, Ph. D., director of the University of Calgary’s Running Injury Clinic. “Inadequate hip muscle stabilization is a top cause of injury in runners,” he says. “The hips need to be strong to support the movement of the feet, ankles, and knees.”

The gluteus maximus and gluteus medius attach to your IT band, Ferber explains. When these muscles contract, they pull on the IT band and keep your hips and knees aligned.  However, weak glutes can be a cause of knee pain: if these muscles aren’t strong, your hips and knees can twist. This triggers the IT band to rub over underlying tissue and cause pain on the outside of your knee, he says.

In 2007, Ferber conducted a study of 284 patients who complained of leg pain and found that 93 percent of them had weak hip muscles. 93 PERCENT!!!! Even if you don’t have gluteus maximus pain, pain in your legs or in your hips, or if you suspect gluteus maximus dysfunction, get out your Roll Model® Therapy balls and join me on Friday for the next installment of this article,  One Less Pain in Your Butt, and learn some self care techniques for the hips.

References

  • Suzuki, David – The Nature of Things – The Perfect Runner (Documentary) http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/the-perfect-runner
  • Lieberman, D.E., Raichlen, D.A., Pontzer, H., Bramble, D.M., Cutright-Smith, E., (2206) The Human Gluteus Maximus and its Role in Running, The Journal of Experimental Biology, June 1 2006, 2143-2155
  • Ferber, R., Kendall, K.D., Farr, L., (2011) Changes in Knee Biomechanics After a Hip-Abductor Strengthening Protocol for Runners With Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, Athletic Training, Mar-Apr 2011, 46(2), 142-149

Enjoyed this article? Read Gluteus Medius – Your Posterior’s Unsung Hero

Genevieve Herzog

A fellow teacher suggested Yoga Tune Up when he observed how sad my Happy Baby was. A self-proclaimed gym rat, I had ignored my mobility until my lack of it was staring me in the face, or in my case, in the hips. I was hooked from my first class, and knew immediately I wanted to share my knowledge with others. As an occupational therapist, I have seen how chronic injuries, and complacence with pain as "part of the aging process" can impact daily activities. Yoga Tune Up® has provided me with further tips, tools, and techniques that I take great pleasure in sharing with others, empowering them with the knowledge required to move better in their bodies, building healthy habits that last a lifetime. The Level 1 Teacher Training also inspired me to continue with a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training which will help deepen my practice and knowledge of Yoga Tune Up®.

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Julie

Great anatomy info for the gluteus maximus. I also like how you explain that the glute max is involved in a variety of different issues from tight IT band or knee pain. Thanks for the research and your sources.

Haley Bevers

This was helpful! Thank you! I have one side that seems to be completely shut off in my body!

Kammy Fung

Thanks to point out the coccyx pain with the relationship of the gluteus maximus dysfunction and the hip and knee joints relationships.

Kate Clark

Thank you for this article! I have a few different problems in my legs, and it sounds like I would see a lot of improvement if I strengthened my glutes. Thanks!

Stephanie

Thank you for helping me better understand the weak glutes/hip dysfunction/knee pain connection. I stopped running about two years ago because of recurring hip and knee pain. Your article just might get me up and running again. Thanks so much for sharing!

Jolie Mosser

Enjoyed this detailed article on the glute max with your added clever sense of humor. So many people I know have knee issues. This will be great to share on how strengthening the hips as well as adding the YTU balls for therapy rolling will improve their pain. Thanks and look forward to your next article.

Kirsten

Thanks for this very interesting article! After many therapies and additional exercises, I gave up running due to knee and hip pain. After reading this I’m surprised that no one mentioned the glute max.
I also feel inspired to get into action and help myself and others a a very new YTU teacher. Thanks again!

Pascale hazledine

Really fun article to read!i work in a physiotherapy clinic and must tell you that knee pain can occur for many reasons including weak glutes as well as weak vastus medialis. Too much sitting also is a major cause for knee pain and weaknglutes.a heel striker runner will not engage their glutes and thus can result in runner with a flat ,weak butt.

Anastasia Polito

It’s absolutely fascinating that 93% of the population with a leg injury has hip weakness. Thank you for this information! I will be sure to focus on hip strengthen and release with my clients!

margaret schwarz

The glutes! Thank you for pointing out that flat butt syndrome is something other than aesthetically displeasing! Also, I wish more emphasis could be placed on rolling the muscles adjacent to the IT band as opposed to rolling on it.

Clayton

Excellent article! This hits home for me, because I have discovered that my glutes have been week due to being relatively inactive in certain movements. (Sitting all day doesn’t help either). Every once in a while, my knees feel a little weird/discomfort. I realize this comes about when I neglect to strengthen and work on my glutes. I never realized how much of a connection there is between the two. Makes complete sense, and you explained it quite nicely. Thank you!

stephanie blazi

I loved your article! What is the relationship between the glute max and the SI joint?

Maureen

Great article sprinkled with some humor. I love rolling out that entire area. Oh, it hurts so good! Being a runner and someone who sits at a computer all day, this area has a lot of crankiness, but when I spend the time needed to roll it out, I feel relief.

Sheena Nadeau

I love the explanation of how adhesions in the gluteus maximus can lead to piriformis syndrome. The Gluteus Maximus is such an important multifunctional muscle. This information should be common knowledge. Thank you for this awesome article!

Willow Ross

Wow, 93%!! Best get working those hip joint muscles whether you’re in pain or not. I have never really thought about the correlation between hip muscle weakness and leg pain although it makes a lot of sense. This is so interesting to me and is inspiring me to go work my gluteus maximus and as a teacher to add in more hip strengthening work.

Kate Colette

This is a great explanation of gluteus maximus, made even better by your entertaining writing! And now I’m off to find your next post and get on the balls!

Genea

This is great information to pass on to my clients that are avid runners. I would not have made the connection between knee pain and the gluteus. Thank you!

Jill McCubbin-Clare

In “the old days” of yoga I remember the cure was to keep the rear muscles soft. Now there is science that confirms what you are saying in your blog. We need to fire those puppies up! Weak gluteals promote hip and pelvis instability and chronic hip dysfunction.
Using the balls to roll out muscles groups is one of the best ways to free the body of pain syndromes.

Tracey Arnold

Thanks for the entertaining lesson about the gluteus Maximus Genevieve! I’m having an argument with my emperor now. I’m going to throw some balls at it!

Dennis Hunter

I think there’s a lot to be learned here. What I’m currently exploring is the relationship of my chronically tightened gluteus maximus on the left side, potentially putting strain on my sacroiliac joint. However, I think there’s also a danger here in over-generalizing. I see a lot of comments here talking about the Gluteus Max being the culprit in knee pain. The body is complicated and pain in a joint as complex as the knee can have many (sometimes interrelated) causes. In many people (including me) the Vastus lateralis and the Rectus femoris (the middle and lateral parts of the… Read more »

Olga

I see so many people in the gym working out their quadriceps to stabilize the knee and release the pain. and so few of them can think that the problem comes from exactly opposite direction. That their quads are already hyper toned and gluts muscles too weak and misused because of wrong walking habit.

Erin

I think it’s still important to roll out the ITB and TFL but there should be an equal amount of strengthening to go along with the rolling. If you’re not strengthening those muscles and they’re tender when you roll, there’s a good chance they are contracted because of being weak. Balance is always important.

Katrina O'Neill

Nice! I can assure you i will not be getting any of my clients to roll their IT bands. Thanks for the info.

Janie Hickman

“And the hip bone is Donne TD to the thigh bone……” I could not help thinking of the song I sang at camp so many years ago reminding us of how our body is connected. I think we too often forget the many connections our body has and h ow we have to keep them strong in order to support one another.

I learned a lot in this post.

Holly

Great article Genevieve. In Anatomy Trains, the superior fibers of the gluteus maximus joint the TFL to blend into the ITB (IT tract) which travels down to the head of the fibular and joins the fibulas longs and brevis. So, an imbalance in the gluteus maximus superior fibers and TFL and also have a play on the ITB and thus the lower leg (especially the fibula). I am also on board with you about seeing all those personal trainers telling their clients to stretch out their IT bands by rolling them out. Ugh! I am glad we have educated movement… Read more »

Sarah

Exploration of the Gluteus Maximus/Med, periformis was a real eye-opener for me. Until Yoga Tune-up, I did not realize I was NOT engaging my glutes. Really! In everything I did…. I ran two 1/2 marathons, and on the second one I ended up with terrible knee pain. I have no doubt now that it was due to a serious lack of engagement of my glutes (exacerbated by tight hips – and lack of ROM in them) and what was shocking to me was I had no idea. I wish I had found YTU before those races!

Sarah

Genevie, you’re funny! I’m thrilled to have this identified I a different way. I usually focus on the strength in the lateral part of the legs as an issue for leg pain, but taking it back to the trunk roots it even deeper. Thanks!

Thu Maraia

Wow! Didn’t realize weak gluteus muscle group can cause hip pain and sciatic nerve complications. I do get the sciatic pain sometime due to sitting too long and also being pregnant with my children. Now I realize all our muscles are like a web, it connects and intertwine to help stabilize one another. Thank you for the insight.

Angi bloom

Thanks for sharing some great moves for the hips. I worked on my gluts with the Yoga tune up therapy balls last night and found that I increased my range of motion in baddha konasana. Can you imagine what might happen if I work other areas which surround the hip? Please let me know if you’d like me to order some balls for you. Look forward to sharing new ideas with many of you soon.

Julia Lamm

Very informative! The body is so fascinating by making a connection between butt and knee! Thank you for explaining connection between the knee pain and gluteus maximus weakness.Because of the modern posture – sitting on a tailbone, tucking pelvis, sitting a lot, most of us have a “flat butt” syndrome therefore weak gluteus that are very important to make efficient movements and yoga poses. I have also followed the cues of other teachers who instruct “relax your gluteus”. After my YTU training, I stopped doing that cue. I feel more empowered in my back bends as I activate the gluteus.… Read more »

Colleen Alber

Holy butt and hips – yep, weakness here is no doubt the cause of knee pain. Sounds like isolating the glutes with a buttock lifts minivini is in order. It totally makes sense, which is why those stats (93% of study participants with leg/knee pain had weak hips) are staggering.

Nicole A Johnson

Great Post and very helpful!!! I know all about Gluteus Maximus and hip weakness. After having surgery I developed atrophy in my Quad and Glutes it was quiker to lose muscle than it was to gain it back and Im still working on it. Thank God for my new Physical theapist and Yoga Tune Up 🙂 Im increasing my range of motion and losening up the muscles in my lower back, glute, hip rotation, Good stuff!!

Caitlin Melone

I find it interesting that the source of pain in one joint could actually be caused by another joint’s weakness. You may not even think about your gluts/hip, when your knee is hurting, I love how YTU helps improve your awareness of your entire body!

Kim Cordova

I would love a diagram to see how weakness in the glutes connects to the knees. Is it only the IT band or does it affect medial knee pain too?

Amelia

I had no idea that the glutes helped with stabilization until after I started yoga tune up! And so many of us get weak glutes from teachers telling us to turn off our butts. :/

Ashley

This was really helpful for me to understand more about what the gluteus maximus does specifically, especially with the running example. Also, I have a good friend who has been experiencing sciatic pain for a long time and I’m curious if rolling on her gluten might be a good place to start. I have another client with gluteus medius issues – I now see how this muscle is so important in everything we do!

Anne

93% – Wow. If that isn’t an argument for strengthening the hips, what is. Also interesting bit about how weak Glute Max and Med allow the hips and knees to twist, signaling the IT Band to rub on underlying tissue – basically a recipe for disaster! Great article – Thanks!

Luciana

Great opportunity to discuss about this and the other muscles of the groups- gluteus medius and minimus, because a lot of time they are abused especially during the fitness training . I understand the estetic motivations but if these muscles are disfunctions can create A lot of of compressions in the sacro-iliac area and in the thoracolumbar fascia .welcome YTU Therapy Balls!!

Leslie

Your article is thought provoking. One of my friends has been complaining of a brand new knee pain. But I am now thinking that she has just emerged with the spring after hibernating indoors throughout this long, long winter. She has spent the last several months sitting in a soft chair, sipping cocoa.
Probably hasn’t extended her hip since October.
Hmm. We shall get out the Tune Up balls and tuck them into her tush and IT band. These areas will be a good place to start our investigations.
Some spring cleaning.

Molly

Wow! I knew the glutes were important, but I didn’t realize they had such an impact on so many other muscles and joints. Will definitely share this with all the runners in my life.

Michelle

What a great article. This truly speaks to how we need to strengthen different muscles to support the other muscles. I see so many ladies working on their tush to look nice in a bikini but then you hear them complain on knee pain after, we need to emphasize the functional reasoning. Tone your tush Hamstrings so you can run faster or squat down to play with a puppy.

Icia

the way you described how the gluts move with an effect the IT band was truly enlightening and I had an Aha moment. makes so much sense, in relation to knee pain and lower limb stability. Thank you!

Nicole

my first question is, what are ways you suggest to strengthen the gluteal muscles in isolation? later, you mention using the yoga tune ups to work on this area; how do the balls work to strengthen the muscle, verses stretch it? or are they doing stretching so that you can then strengthen. any clarification would be great! Thank you

David D

Lots of great info here, but the biggest takeaway for me was pointing out how interconnected everything in our bodies is. Often times we think of muscles and bones and different body parts in an isolated way. My knee hurts, must be that I have weak knees. In reality, it’s more likely a combination of things, and we need to explore that to find truly effective ways of dealing with the issues that come up. I got my first real glimpse of this with my father. He was having trouble walking for a couple of years, and had some very… Read more »

Stephanie B.

This article is so on point. Until a few of years ago , I had no idea that “the pain in the butt” was linked to my hips. Strengthening my hip muscles helped alleviate pain I was experiencing in my lower back, (I also had pain radiating down into my legs, at times.) Everything is indeed connected! Thanks for the insights!

Crescent Diorio

Really great article! What a great reminder of how the body is so interconnected. I myself have a history of patellar tendonitis. I also have a lot of knee pain and I know my IT band is tight. I will definitely take a look at my hip strength and do some rolling with my YTU balls! Thanks!

Pam Ellis

Amen. My knee pain has greatly diminished thanks to the help of YTU gurus Alex Ellis and Dr. Dawn McCrory. I am so grateful to have escaped the knife.

Tana

Not only for runners! Also for those of us who lift heavy weights 24/7 in the form of body fat 🙂

This is knowledge that should be part of physical education in schools, I love this article almost as much as your classes (love the menu almost as much as the meal). Thanks, Gen.

Off to practice some clam shells.

Cathi

I am waiting with baited breath for the next installment.

Marsha Marsha Marsha L.

This article came at the perfect time. A good friend of mine told me this exact thing. She is an avid runner, and is having so much knee pain and I believe she mentioned patellofemoral syndrome. I want to help her with the Roll Model therapy balls. I’m excited for the next article. Thanks for sharing!!