Besides being the “butt” of many jokes, the gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial of the three gluteal muscles. It makes up a large portion of the shape and appearance of the hips. Its size is unique to humans; no other mammal has such expansive rear area, as pointed out in the classic reference book, Trail Guide to the Body by Andrew Biel. Perhaps this is why we are apt to laugh about it? All jokes aside, it’s important for us to give attention to this major muscle in order to maintain healthy posture and a happy lower back. When the gluteus maximus is unhealthy, adhered or possessing swarms of trigger points, it can start a game of tug-of-war with the lower back muscles, especially quadratus lumborum (QL).
The gluteus maximus is often referred to as “the sleeping giant” due to the fact that this large muscle, which has the potential to be the strongest in the body, is usually weak and misused. Let’s get familiar with some of the specifics of the gluteus maximus (GM) to understand why this is. The GM originates on the outer surface of ilium behind posterior gluteal line and posterior third of iliac crest lumbar fascia, lateral mass of sacrum, sacrotuberous ligament and coccyx. It inserts into the gluteal tuberosity of femur and the iliotibial (IT) band. It’s most powerful action is hip extension, or increasing the angle between the pelvis and femur, with assistance by the biceps femoris (long head), semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and adductor magnus. The lower part of the muscle also acts as an adductor and external rotator of the limb. The upper fibers fire-up to abduct the hips.
Tightness of the gluteus maximus and other external hip rotators can also create the too common “duck feet” problem. The GM, so helpful when walking, standing or running, also gradually loses tone when sitting too much, especially with poor posture. Our modern, chair-laden lifestyle causes an inhibition and delayed activation of the gluteal muscles which in time leads to weakness. When the GM is weak, the hamstrings and low back muscles often compensate.
Just because a muscle is tight and short does not mean that it is strong. As a massage therapist in the exercise-obsessed state of Colorado, I see many clients with overly tight and adhered gluteus maximus. Many tight GMs are still weak because they haven’t been trained properly, or they have been inhibited by the aforementioned curse of the chair. Even strong and properly utilized gluteals are too often bound tight, which can restrict the optimal range of motion of the surrounding joints.
It wasn’t until I heard Jill Miller teach the use of Yoga Tune Up® balls to create “fluffy butt” that I understood that we can have gluteal tissues that are both super strong AND relaxed and hydrated. To the athletic set who are convinced that “buns of steel” is the ideal, I am here to tell you to trade in your buns of steel for fluffy buttocks.
Come back Friday for my favorite GM specific techniques for your fluffiest backside. Your rear end (and low back and hammies) will thank you!