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!
Bj, tell me how to work the max gluteus in his low part, the suspensor of the iliaquewhen i m on the run please.
I’m curious about whether the combination of super strong and also hydrated and relaxed is unique to the gluteus maximus, or if that is the kind of balance we should be seeking in our musculature in general.
Love this article! I am a massage therapist also, and so often, I have to help my client strengthen the “short tight” muscle before we can get proper flexibility out of it. We need to work out our weak-ass muscles! I love the buttock lifts for this!
I have discovered that using the Yoga Tune Up balls against the wall is a great way to roll out my Glut Max. I have also used the Coregeous ball against the wall, straight after my bath (in the privacy of the bathroom where I can use it directly on my skin). The advantage of this is that the muscle is already relaxed and skin hydrated by the warm bath, so fluffing becomes that much easier!
I have been suffering with sleepy glutes lately myself and have felt first hand the knock on effect of pain and discomfort. This article is a lovely reminder that its about quality and taking care of them in every way not just about the aesthetics!
Great article! Thank you for this short and sweet statement:
“Just because a muscle is tight and short does not mean that it is strong.”
Rinse, repeat…right?!? So many of my students strive for an aesthetic ideal that doesn’t actually improve functionality. In fact, buns of steel often undermines them contributing to crankiness in the low back. I’ll definitely employ your advice and impart the need for fluffy buttocks!
What a great piece of information. Being a long time butt-builder in the gym (not too successful though) I’ve implemented pretty much all conventional recommendations that are out there. No significant improvement. That made me roam through Internet articles in search of deeper understanding of the bio mechanics in the bum-department. GM load and release relationship is a valuable take away. And the extensive picture on what different actions GM muscle’s fibers perform allows me to get away from all-so-familiar butt exercises and create my own rational routine, base on pure anatomy.
Karolina Hess, besides rolling out our glutes, one of the best things we can do is strengthen our glutes through progressive overload in the gym. Bodyweight exercises such as glute bridges (without hyperextending the hips) and side lying clam shells can be great to train that mind-muscle connection. Many women tend to be quad dominant and have a hard time feeling their glutes when they train. From my own experience waking up my sleeping glutes by learning how to activate them has played a huge difference in my performance. Hope this helps!
“Just because a muscle is tight and short does not mean that it is strong.” Totally agree with this sentence! Besides rolling out our glutes, one of the best things we can do is strengthen our glutes through progressive overload in the gym. Bodyweight exercises such as glute bridges (without hyperextending the hips) and side lying clam shells can be great to train that mind-muscle connection. Many women tend to be quad dominant and have a hard time feeling their glutes when they train. From my own experience waking up my sleeping glutes by learning how to activate them has played a huge difference in my performance and day-to-day life.
Thank you so much for this blog post! You’ve offered such a wonderful description not only of how weak GMs contribute to issues in the body, such as low back pain and tighter hamstrings, but also how we get weak GMs in the first place. I also really appreciate you highlighting that tighter GMs isn’t necessarily the answer, and that we should be aiming for stronger, but also relaxed and hydrated muscles in our glutes. I’m excited to share this with my students!
Thank you for this article. I like the catchiness of the ‘fluffy butt.’ All too often we as a society are obsessed with looks and forget that our gluteals are not for showing off, but for extending our hips and glute med’s stabilize! I do a lot of yoga and Jill brought up the point that we are discouraged from using our gluteal muscles in certain poses like bridge pose. In my experience the more I use my glutes, especially in balance postures, the more lift I can get out of my pelvis and have more space for length and core activation.
First off, I love the catchphrase “fluffy buttocks”! I also greatly appreciate the reminder that it’s just as important to relax, soften, and hydrate our muscles as it is to strengthen them. Every time I roll with the Yoga Tune Up therapy balls I FEEL the improved balance, comfort and freedom in my body, and increased blood flow, hydration and aliveness in my muscles!
Appreciate your mention of the role the GM plays in back health and its connection to the QL and other low back muscles, and how both “buns of steel” and weak GM’s can both contribute to back pain. All of our students/clients can benefit from fluffing up the buttocks!
J’ai marché avec des pieds de canard, donc des fessiers sous utilisés.
Maintenant je les roulent et les renforcent : ) MERCI!
Thanks, Elise, for your breakdown of anatomy and the attachments and functions! I’m a big fan on YogaDownload!
“Super strong AND relaxed and hydrated” is going to be my new motto for life, not just my bum!
Super strong AND relaxed and hydrated is a great goal! I’m working on this for my whole body, but I have been working a lot lately using YTU to try and bring symmetry back to this area…having one side’s external rotators much tighter than the others is playing havoc with my pelvis.
This post really resonates with me. My glutes were so tight that my pelvis was pulled out of alignment. It took my massage therapist more that 4 sessions to fluff up my butt so that my pelvis could stay in proper alignment.
“just because a muscle is short and tight doesn’t mean its strong”
Can I get an amen sister!?!?!!!
As both a dancer/choreographer as well as yoga/fitness teacher, this is a hard sell…until people feel the difference!
I was a hold out myself until i felt what the hydration and lack of adhesions brought in terms of range of motion!
Im greedy…ill take it all please!
thank you for a great article!
plusieurs seront surpris qu’un fessier en fer n’est pas nécessairement un fessier en santé.
Our glutes are so important but are so heavily abused. And growing up sitting all the time, making weak and tight glutes the norm, just exacerbates the problem. Making these muscles ‘fluffier’ is so important for being a stronger and more limber human being.
I love using the balls to fluff up my glutes. I was amazed the first time I tried this routine by how much tension had been stored in these tissues. I thought I knew how to relax my butt until i felt the difference between the “before” and the “after.”
I too live in the exercise obsessed state of Colorado! Thank you for writing this article reminding us all that it is equally as important to soften our muscles as it is to strengthen them for the sake of comfort and function.
Strong and Flexible is definitely the way a “butt” should be!
A great reminder to keep the GM supple AND strong. So many benefits in doing so!
The sleeping giant which has the potential to be the strongest muscle in the body. I can roll with that.
this is great! so important for us athletes to remember that buns of steel can often actually be indicative of adhesions and lack of hydration, especially if we sit more than we’d like to admit.
Great post and so true. I would have to say that this concept of short & tight doesn’t mean strong, makes me think of bodybuilders. Too often, body builders have tight muscles, but too often, these tight muscles cause imbalances in the rest of the body and I am sure many and most of them suffer from pains as a result of these tight muscles! I’d like to be able to teach the world to roll! Thanks Jill!!
What a refreshing article. Our society is so focused on the importance of a tight and firm body. I love your comment that a tight and short muscle doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a strong muscle. In my yoga classes I emphasize the need for balance in the body – strength and length. “Fluffy butt” is a great expression to demonstrate the need for some softness amidst the firmness in the body.
Love this and its so true! Tight asses are not too functional when push comes to shove!
Great article. So many of my massage clients are surprised to find out that their GM is contributing or causing their lower back discomfort. I love the image of the GM as a “sleeping giant” because every time I fluff my buttocks I feel them awaken! After hydrating my GM I find that it fires more efficiently in everyday activities like walking, running, and sitting into a chair.
I to have suffered from having weak yet tight glutes I experienced some atopby after having knee surgery. While trying to gain strength to the glutes I realized how effective the Yoga Tune Up balls were helping me not only to activate my glutes muscles but also in releasing me from a lot of lower back pain. Also the explanation and visual of insertion and origins of the gluteus was very helpful. I think I’ll be passing along some YTU balls to some of my ballerina and duck walking friends. Thank you.
I have several tight muscles that are extremely weak in my “rear end” area. It always amazes me how when I work out those muscles the tightness and pain tends to alleviate. I am going to continue working on my GM and other muscles. Thank you!
Great article. I walked like a duck for many years due to years of forced external rotation due to dancing. I now do my best attempts to walk toes in front of heels but the memory of all that external rotation still haunts me and I often fall back into it. I have found not only great relief with the YTU massage balls but I also notice significant improvement in my posture. My knees are much less sensitive and I feel like i can sense the earth underneath me. Often other people are the ones to notice when I fall back into my habit, they’ll say….look at your duck feet. I use this as my rallying call to get back on those balls. Thanks for the great work.
I had for years associated firm / hard with strong. I am changing my mind and embracing “fluffy butt” because of misuse my glutes were causing a host of other issues. The culture of sitting has unfluffed GM and I am thrilled to use the balls to counter this.
What a concept— I would never have thought gluteus Maximus would be a weak muscle and need to Be ” fluffed” It makes sense in our society where we sit much! I will take this in stride!
This post really resonates with me. For most of my young adult life, my flat butt was the joke amongst my girl friends. I tried strengthening my gluts, but that didn’t seem to do anything. It wasn’t until I did a series of rolfing and got a lot of adhesions out of my gluts and I actually got a butt! Now my squats are actually developing my tush. I’m not getting back pain the way I used to because I’m no longer posteriorly rotating my pelvis.
This make sense, as our glutes are tight from sitting and even squatting from strength training, doesn’t make it a strong muscle,. By making it strong and tight, the range of flexiblity and range of mottion are limited. By using the “balls’ to massage from the hip pulling the muscle , medius, minimus and the maximus, it loosens up all the tension, and help me sit crossed-legged with ease.
I have a client with quite pronounced duck feet and have somehow not looked at GM. He has been getting worse in the last 3 months now that he is sitting more. He is now working a full time job at a computer as opposed to self employed and more flexible with his time. At his last visit I dug into upper quad, TFL, IT Band, and then as I reached something he about lept off the table. Reading this blog an looking at the insertion points of GM I will be working on glutes at his next visit. I did test for unevenness in his glute medius and have him doing a strengthening of the weak side.
Fascinating to read that duck feet can be caused by over tightness of the GMs and other external hip rotators. The more I work on the trigger points and tightness of the glutes and IT band, I’m curious how that will help improve my foot alignment!
This is interesting. I recently come across one of yoga teachers talking about “butt amnesia”, when GM is not firing at all. I’ve been practicing yoga for years now and just recently realized that I might be suffering myself. I have tools to work on this “problem in my butt”, but I also want to make sure I keep tissues supple and relaxed.
Great blog, the ” cheek-alinies” are always worth spending time on!!!!
My flutes were so hypersonic I had to have them massaged several sessions in a row to allow them to relax. Now I have my therapy balls and the knowledge to use them. I will always have a fluffy butt!
I have seen both ends of the spectrum with under and over used Gluteus Max muscles. At worst, both extremes have ended up with si-joint issues, no surprise! and that is not the least of there problems. I use the YTU balls with many of my clients to “Fluff” their GM muscles. We all could use a little fluffing 🙂
Some great insight to the how and when of firing glute muscles. Also a great motivation to keep strengthening the GM in consideration of our crazy chair-sitting ways! It is crazy to think of the ideal aesthetics that are impressed into our psychology through media emphasis etc., when in fact the exact opposite is what is actually good for us!! Fluffy buttocks all the way!!
Dr. Stuart McGill coined the phrase “gluteal amnesia”, and has identified poor glut activity as a common source of low back pain.
Fluffy Butt to correct Duck Feet! Perfect!
As I rolled my GM and other external hip rotator muscles today in YTU class, I wasn’t all too thrilled. These areas were so tight, I eventually got off the floor and rolled on the wall. This article is incentive for me and a reminder for how important it is to keep rolling to keep those tissue hydrated and fluffed and eventually more relaxed. I will wake the “sleeping giant”.
It never occured to me that a human butt was bigger than other animals, but it’s true! Rolling the hips creates so much low back (and leg) relief , it’s one of my favorites!
Some one should design and market a massage desk chair that massages the lateral and posterior thigh and butt.
Massage chairs exist with rollers that massage the entire spine up and down,
Considering that sitting is a “given” in our culture, why does not someone come up with a massage desk chair that will have rollers for
massaging the butt, and thigh (posterior and lateral)?
The “tug of war” between the weak, tight glute max and the QL is a revelation! Another great reason to roll the butt on the balls – and I thought it just felt great 🙂
Just because a muscle is tight and short does not mean that it is strong…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.” —Very nicely worded. I have started incorporating rolling my gluteus in addition to my IT band and TFL. It wasn’t until YTU I realized you have to roll out more than just the IT band, because the whole body is interconnected! I also used to think that if a muscle was too tone, it wasn’t possible for it to be flexible and vice versa. Now that I cross train across fitness disciplines and also incorporate YTU rolling, I know this is a misconception now!
We need more strong AND fluffy butts! I don’t think most people make the connection between tight hamstrings, lower back problems and a weak Gluteus Maximus. Great post! 🙂
Yay for fluffy butt! Its so interesting that as a society we do not associate relaxed with toned and strong. And that short and tight almost seems like something gym goers strive for, and then have to figure out why they are in pain. This concept of fluffy butt where the GM can be strong but also relaxed and hydrated is so important.
Great perspective, Elise, nice to read your work here on the YTU blog. ‘Just because a muscle is tight and short does not mean that it is strong.” “When the GM is weak, the hamstrings and low back muscles often compensate.” This was a fantastic read, full of share-able language with my students.
Really enjoyed this post. It made me feel great about my most recent purchase – a standing desk! I think the fluffy butt vs. buns of steel concept is so important for people to understand because it goes against the traditional wisdom. Thank you for sharing this!
I love “fluffy butt” After using the tune up balls pretty consistently on my derrière, I’ve noticed a difference that, to me, feel like ‘space’ in the joint. I feel a sense of ease and freedom, (if that makes any sense at all), when walking or sitting. I drive carpool 2-3 days a week and can be in the car for 1-1 1/2 hrs each time. The pain was incredible. I got used to bracing for pain every time I got out of the car, but now, I catch myself bracing for pain I rarely have. That’s an amazing thing.
I love the concept you’re presenting of major differences between the misconceptions that are out there — when we think of strong GM muscles, we should absolutely be thinking of tissue that is (not tight beyond function) “super strong AND relaxed and hydrated.”
More posts like this please. Would also love to read about specifics on the implications of tight / weak GMs to the QLs and hamstrings.