The glutes are an amazing muscle group. They are the largest muscle in the human body, and they play a role in almost every activity you do each day from athletic performance to functional activities. Even if you aren’t an athlete or don’t train for sports, strong glutes can make your everyday life easier. Strong glutes help with all kinds of movement, including standing up from a seated position, climbing stairs, running, jumping, and even sitting down.
Along with strong glutes, powerful glutes of steel benefit athletic performance. A strong butt is essential for increasing your speed, increasing your power output during activities like sprinting or jumping, and improving your coordination skills. For example, when you take off into a sprint or do a vertical jump, your glutes generate much of the power that propels you into the air or forward when sprinting.
Your glutes are made up of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus muscles. The gluteus maximus is the strongest of these muscles, and it’s the one you strengthen and hypertrophy when you do exercises like hip thrusts and glute bridges. The gluteus medius is a stabilizer and helps keep the opposite side of your pelvis level when you step, walk, or run. The smaller and deeper gluteus minimus plays a role in hip adduction and stabilization. The minimus and medius work together to stabilize the pelvis, internally rotate, and abduct the thigh.
Strong Glutes Protect Your Back
Strengthening your glutes will help protect your lower back against injury. One reason lower back pain is so common is that people spend too much of their life sitting in a chair. When you sit for extended periods, your hip flexors shorten, and your glutens lengthen. In other words, they get no stimulation. This creates a muscle imbalance that increases the risk of lower back pain. Some people who sit too much also develop an overactive piriformis muscle that contributes to back tightness.
Glutes Add Stability Too
Strong glutes also help stabilize your spine when you’re standing upright or moving around. This is especially important for athletes whose sports involve lateral movements or other non-linear actions. A strong set of glutes also helps prevent injury. Glute injuries are common in sports like soccer, volleyball, and football because they require a player to change directions quickly while their legs are in motion. The stronger your glutes are, the better you can maintain stability when your feet are off the ground.
So, to say the glutes are important muscles for functionality is an understatement. You need strong glutes for full mobility, power generation, and stabilization. If you have weak glutes, other muscles will have to work harder to make up for that weakness. Problems can also arise if you have a glute imbalance. For example, when you have uneven glute activation, research shows it increases the risk of injury. Strong glutes also help stabilize the knee, so if they’re strong, you lower your risk of knee pain and injury.
What is a Glute Imbalance?
With a glute imbalance, your glutes may activate unevenly. In other words, one glute muscle activates more than the other when you do a movement. A glute imbalance can also lead to uneven muscle size. For example, your right gluteus maximus may be larger than your left.
Glute imbalances aren’t uncommon, and you might have one and not know it. However, some people are aware that one glute activates more than the other because they feel a difference in activation between the two sides. Try a single-leg deadlift on each side and see if one of your hips rotates. If it does, you probably have a glute imbalance.
What Causes a Glute Imbalance?
You can have a glute imbalance for several reasons. Anatomical issues can be a factor. For example, you may have a significant leg length discrepancy that causes one glute to activate more than the other. A past injury is another common cause of a glute imbalance. However, lifestyle habits contribute too.
Have you ever encountered people who unevenly sit in a chair? They might curl one of their legs underneath them or otherwise bear weight unevenly on their buttocks. Don’t do it! Most people aren’t aware of how they’re sitting in a chair, especially if they work at home and in informal surroundings. It’s easier to slouch and contort your body into positions that aren’t healthy for your back or your glutes.
How to Fix a Glute Imbalance
One way to fix a glute imbalance is to focus more on strengthening the underactive glute. One way to do this is with unilateral exercises, so you can work one side harder than the other. To strengthen the weaker side, increase the volume on the weaker side. Some exercises where you can work one side harder than the other include:
- Bulgarian split squats
- Single leg Romanian deadlifts
- Single leg bridge
- Single leg hip thrusts
- Single leg squats
- Dumbbell Step-Ups
To make the weaker side work harder, double the volume you do on the weaker side, so it can catch up to the stronger side. Don’t only focus on the number of reps. Focus on squeezing the muscle with each rep and use full range of motion. Quality is more important than quantity. Doing isometric exercises on the weaker side will also help get the lazy glute to fire.
Correct bad habits that contributed to your glute imbalance. Reevaluate how you sit in a chair and make sure you’re applying even pressure on each glute. Try to sit less too. Prolonged sitting causes your glutes to become lazy too. Take more walking and stretching breaks throughout the day. Take breaks to do bodyweight squats. Don’t let your glutes get too comfy and lazy.
The Bottom Line
Strong glutes are not only for aesthetics. Sturdy glutes help you move better and avoid injuries. Strong glutes are foundational for most movements in the gym. Unfortunately, glute imbalances are common, and they can affect your functional performance, athletic performance, and increase the risk of injury. Work on evening up muscle activation between your two sides and striking a better balance.
- com. “How Do I Know If I Have A Glute Imbalance?”
- com. “How to Fix Glute Imbalances”
- “Glute Inhibition or Glute Weakness? Fixing Imbalances ….” 07 Mar. 2021, https://www.kinetic-revolution.com/glute-imbalance-inhibition-or-glute-weakness/.
- Whiler L, Fong M, Kim S, Ly A, Qin Y, Yeung E, Mathur S. Gluteus Medius and Minimus Muscle Structure, Strength, and Function in Healthy Adults: Brief Report. Physiother Can. 2017;69(3):212-216. doi: 10.3138/ptc.2016-16. PMID: 30275637; PMCID: PMC5963550.