The gluteus medius or glute med for short is a muscle on the lateral portion of the hip that is crucial for a variety of activities of daily living. When we try to perform higher-level activities like weight lifting and sports activities, this muscle becomes even more important! Why? The glute med is so important because it is vital to our ability to stabilize ourselves during single leg balance. While we might not realize it, we live on 1 leg a lot. Walking, for instance, is the act of repeatedly balancing on a single leg over and over again. Strengthening the glute med can also help to resolve hip pain, low back pain, and even pain at your knee or foot! This article will take a closer look at what the glute med does as well as some of the best exercises for training this muscle.

 

What is the Glute Med?

The glute med is a muscle on the side of the body that extends from the top of the pelvis (the iliac crest) across the hip joint to the top of the femur on the greater trochanter. As you can see from the picture below – working this muscle will pull your leg outward into a position called abduction.

best exercises for glute med the prehab guys

Image courtesy of Learn Muscles

However when your leg is on the ground, as it is during single leg activities like walking, this muscle functions to stabilize the pelvis on the hip and prevent your hip from hiking upward. This is known as a Trendelenburg gait or hip drop (described by the dropping of the opposite side of your hip, rather than the hip hiking on the standing leg). Thus, as we spend a lot more time walking than we do reaching our leg out to the side, the primary function of this muscle is to stabilize our hips to maintain what is referred to as a “neutral pelvis”. As you can imagine, the demands on your glute med during higher-level activities such as running, cutting, and jumping are much greater.

 

Maximize Glute Med Engagement and Overall Hip Health!

Hip Prehab Program glute med exercises prehab guys

It’s all in the hips! This program will bulletproof your entire hip complex, which creates a foundation for your entire lower leg, and also helps with your pelvic and back health! 

 

So how do we train the Glute Med?

We have already established that the glute med muscle is primarily a hip abductor that will lift your leg outward away from your body. More importantly, this muscle will maintain your hips in a neutral position when your foot is planted on the ground. Thus, the glute med can be trained through any variation of these 2 motions. Some common exercises for targeting the glute med include:

  • Clamshells

 

  • Sidelying Hip Abduction

 

  • Lateral Band Walks

 

  • Squats with a band

 

  • Bridge with a band

 

How Do We Assess An Exercise?

With all the different options, it can sometimes feel difficult to pick the best exercise to target your glute med. Fortunately, there has been a great deal of research in this area. A number of studies have used electromyography (EMG) to evaluate the activation produced in a muscle while performing a given exercise. To assess how well an exercise targets a muscle researchers must first establish an MVIC or  “Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contraction” which represents the maximum amount of force a muscle can generate when performing its motion against resistance. Researchers can then compare the force generated during a given exercise to its maximum and express that force as a percentage of MVIC.

LISTEN: TALKING GLUTES WITH BRET CONTRERAS

glutes bret contreras glute med exercises prehab guys podcast

 

So which glute med exercises are the best?

Thus the best exercise for the glute med would be one that generates a force of 100% MVIC. However, any exercise that generates greater than 70% MVIC would be considered an excellent glute med exercise.  Researchers in 2009 compared 12 different exercises in 21 healthy subjects to evaluate the best exercises for the glute med. These exercises included:

  • Sidelying hip abduction

 

  • Clamshells at varying degrees

 

  • Single Leg Squat

 

  • Single Leg Deadlift

 

  • Lunge variations

 

  • Hop variations

 

  • Lateral walks with a band

 

They found that sidelying hip abduction was the best of these exercises for the glute med producing 81% MVIC. This was followed by the single limb squat (64% MVIC). Surprisingly, the traditional clamshell exercise had less than 40% MVIC.

 

Watch This Video To Learn The Secrets To Building Stronger Glutes

 

Sidelying Hip Abduction

Sample Hip [P]Rehab Program Exercise Video

  • HOW: Begin on your side with your leg on top straightened out. Elevate the top leg towards the ceiling and back wall simultaneously. Avoid crunching at your low back or rotating your body open towards the ceiling.

 

  • FEEL: You should feel the outer hip, particularly the glute muscles with this exercise. You can place your top hand on your pelvis to assure the motion is coming from the hip and not the lower back.

 

  • COMPENSATION: Avoid rotating your entire trunk or performing a side crunch with this exercise. Make sure the shoulder that is facing the ceiling stay in front of the shoulder that is against the floor.

 

Single Leg Squat

Having a box behind you is a great way to start working on the single leg squat. If this is too challenging, try it supported!

READ: Exercises To Fix Your Trendelenburg Gait

trendelenburg gait exercises best exercises for glute med prehab guys

 

Supported Single Leg Squat

Sample Hip [P]rehab Program Exercise Video

Using equipment like the TRX can help you with the single leg squat if you are lacking stability and/or adequate strength to perform this movement unsupported. No worries if you do not have access to the TRX! Use any object, such as a wall or chair to hold onto. Focus on putting as much weight and load through your leg as possible and as little load through your upper body that is needed to ensure you are working that glute med as well as the rest of the lower extremity to its maximum!

 

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Is there anything better?

While this was an excellent study, a more comprehensive study analyzing 22 different exercises was performed in 2011. This study examined many of the exercises in the previous study but also included a variety of higher-level exercises such as side planks with hip abduction. These researchers actually found that the side plank with hip abduction was the best exercise for recruiting the glute med, reaching a level of 103% MVIC in the leg that is on the ground. Furthermore, side plank with hip abduction was also the 2nd best exercise for the glute med when analyzing the leg that is lifted into abduction (88% MVIC).

Best Exercises For The Glute Med

best exercises for the glute med the prehab guys

 

Side Plank – Hip Abduction

Learn more side plank progressions HERE!

The 2011 study allowed increased depth for the single leg squat as compared to the study published in 2009.  This crucial difference led to a higher level of glute med activation during the single leg squat in this study than the sidelying hip abduction. Additionally, this study included clamshell variations such as the reverse clamshell which was shown to have greater glute med activation than the sidelying hip abduction exercise.

 

Clam – Internal Rotation

Sample Hip [P]Rehab Program Exercise Video

 

The graph below outlines the top exercises for glute med activation that were found in this study.

Glute Med Activation Based On Specific Exercises

 

But, what about clamshells?

It is worth noting the exercises listed as hip clam 4 and hip clam 3 are both clamshell variations with hip internal rotation as shown in the video above. As you can see the traditional clamshell (Hip Clam 1) only generated 47% MVIC of the glute med. This is consistent with the earlier study mentioned.

However, while the traditional clamshell may not be the best exercise for the glute med, it has been shown to be the best exercise for preferentially activating the glute max and glute med while minimizing the activation of the Tensor Fascia Latae or TFL.  This is often a priority during rehab as utilization of the TFL over the glutes has been shown to contribute to altered lower extremity mechanics in a pathological lower extremity. Thus, while the clamshell exercise may not be best for your glute med, it certainly still has its place in rehab!

Level Up Your Clams!

 

Closing thoughts

  • The side plank with Hip Abduction is THE BEST exercise for activating the glute med
  • This exercise should be performed on both sides as it benefits each leg differently.
  • The clamshell with internal rotation and the sidelying hip abduction exercise is better for activating the glute med than the traditional clamshell
  • The traditional clamshell is the best exercise for activating the glute max and glute med while minimizing the activation of the TFL.

 

Take Control of Your Hip Health!

Hip Prehab Program glute med exercises prehab guys

It’s all in the hips! Okay, maybe not ALL but in most activities the hips are the main driver of movement. The surrounding hip musculature provides stability and force production for walking, lunging, single leg stance, and squatting patterns. It’s a unique design that requires mobility, stability, strength, and power. If mobility and stability become compromised discomfort becomes the result. In this program, you learn to take control and earn back meaningful activity by improving hip mobility, stability, and strength, or a better way to put it: function!

 

References

  1. Distefano LJ, Blackburn JT, Marshall SW, Padua DA. Gluteal muscle activation during common therapeutic exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39(7):532-540. doi:10.2519/jospt.2009.2796
  2. Boren K, Conrey C, Le Coguic J, Paprocki L, Voight M, Robinson TK. Electromyographic analysis of gluteus medius and gluteus maximus during rehabilitation exercises. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011;6(3):206-223.
  3. Bishop BN, Greenstein J, Etnoyer-Slaski JL, Sterling H, Topp R. Electromyographic Analysis of Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Tensor Fascia Latae During Therapeutic Exercises With and Without Elastic Resistance. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2018;13(4):668-675.

 

About The Author

Tommy Mandala, PT, DPT, SCS, OCS CSCS

[P]Rehab Writer & Content Creator

tommy mandala the prehab guys

Tommy Mandala is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Sports & Orthopedics, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in New York City. He is the founder of ALL IN ACL, a digital coaching platform dedicated exclusively to helping ACLers return to the life they had before their injury with full confidence in their knee. Prior to that, he worked in the sports clinic at Hospital for Special Surgery, the #1 Orthopedic Hospital in the country. While there, he had the opportunity to hone his skills as an ACL specialist working closely with world renowned surgeons and evaluating patients from all over the world. He completed his sports residency training at the University of Delaware where he had opportunities to work with many of their Division I sports teams as well as the Philadelphia 76’ers NBA G-league affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. He also trained at Champion Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama where he had the opportunity to learn from researchers in the American Sports Medicine Institute. Currently, Tommy works exclusively with ACLers through his digital coaching model. While many of these clients are athletes, Tommy works with ACLers of all different abilities helping them to build the strength they need to overcome this unique injury. One of his favorite aspects of his job is taking active clients who have never been a “gym person” before and showing them the amazing things that happen when they learn to strength train.

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Tommy Mandala PT, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS

20 Comments

  1. Karina B January 29, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Thank you so much! It was interesting to read.

    • Sherif Elnaggar January 29, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Of course, thank you very much for your support!!!

  2. Wellbeing 365 February 8, 2021 at 2:22 am

    Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it and have definitely learned something

    • Sherif Elnaggar February 8, 2021 at 7:08 am

      You are welcome! Thank you very much for your positive response, we greatly appreciate it!!!

  3. Martin Forshaw February 16, 2021 at 4:25 am

    This is a real eye opener and well put together, thanks!

    How concerned should I be if I don’t feel the glute med very much when performing some of these exercises? For example the clams, I my groin fatigues before my butt. Monster walks seem to get it firing and I do quite a lot of them, but clamshells, side planks and others don’t seem to hit it.

    Thanks again!

    • Sherif Elnaggar February 16, 2021 at 4:33 am

      You’re welcome! Thank you for your support! Unfortunately we are not allowed to give direct medical advice through this platform as it is illegal. What sometimes helps improve muscular activation is increasing your contraction hold times of a muscle.

      You can read more on how to progress lower body exercises that my be helpful to you here! https://theprehabguys.com/how-to-progress-lower-body-exercises/

      Hope this is helpful!

  4. Martin Forshaw February 17, 2021 at 1:50 am

    Much appreciated Sherif, thank you.

  5. Unabis March 2, 2021 at 7:16 am

    Hello! Thank you for this really useful article and exercise, please continue and make more such content. I’ve been looking for this really long time. You don’t even know how happy I am to be able to feel my gluteus medius they always cramp because of how weak they are and it’s causing me back problems I’ve tried normal clams and banded hip abductions but I suffered to feel them!!! Thank you it’s really worthing exercises! I’ll definitely add this website to my bookmarks

    • Sherif Elnaggar March 2, 2021 at 8:15 am

      Thank you so much for your positive support!! We are so happy that you found this article to be helpful!

  6. cbd reakiro July 20, 2021 at 6:19 am

    This is the first article that I read about this topic and I like it, very helpful, thank you guys!

    • Prehab July 21, 2021 at 7:25 am

      You are most welcome!! We are so glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful!

  7. Rob October 20, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    Hi. Would doing side lying hip abduction on a bench with extra range of motion be as effective as the top leg working in the side plank with abduction? Thanks!

    • Team [P]Rehab October 27, 2021 at 4:40 am

      Hi Rob! Great question!! This is another great way to target the glute med. Ultimately the leg that is down against a surface stabilizing your body will be working the hardest, but getting some extra range of motion with the other leg is a great way to progress this movement. Thank you for sharing!!!

      All The Best,

      Team [P]Rehab

  8. Fido November 14, 2021 at 6:07 am

    We want that kinds of this articles for single muscle top 5 exercises

  9. Gillian January 6, 2022 at 1:11 pm

    I have found improvement by doing standing hip abduction but with leg going slightly backwards (instead of straight out to the side) and the foot turned slightly inwards.
    I find standing far more comfortable than lying down, I hold on to back of chair for stability.
    Glute bridges with resistance band have been helpful also.

    • Team [P]rehab January 9, 2022 at 10:40 am

      Hi Gillian!

      Thank you so much for your insight on what you have found to be helpful!! These are some excellent exercise variations.

      All The Best,

      Team [P]rehab

  10. Fashion Styles April 1, 2022 at 5:44 pm

    I am so happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc.

    • Team [P]rehab April 4, 2022 at 8:51 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words and support! We are so appreciative of your positive interaction with our content.

      All The Best,

      Team [P]rehab

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