The Forgotten Muscle That's Key to Being a Better Athlete

It's not enough to simply (and blindly) train the 'glutes.'

Compared to 20 years ago, the number of people who want to develop and train their glutes has multiplied exponentially.

Some want to develop their glutes for aesthetic purposes while others are more interested in how better-functioning glutes drives elite athletic performance. What many people don't realize is that there are multiple sections within the "glute" muscle itself—including the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus.

The glute max covers the largest amount of surface area and plays a key role in hip drive, so it gets a lot of attention. But let's talk about the glute medius. The glute med runs from the back side to the front side of the hip and is a big time pelvic stabilizer that should contribute every time we step, land, squat or bend. While a decent amount of information is readily available on training the posterior glute med (back side of the hip), you don't hear quite as much about the anterior glute med (front side of the hip).

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Compared to 20 years ago, the number of people who want to develop and train their glutes has multiplied exponentially.

Some want to develop their glutes for aesthetic purposes while others are more interested in how better-functioning glutes drives elite athletic performance. What many people don't realize is that there are multiple sections within the "glute" muscle itself—including the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus.

The glute max covers the largest amount of surface area and plays a key role in hip drive, so it gets a lot of attention. But let's talk about the glute medius. The glute med runs from the back side to the front side of the hip and is a big time pelvic stabilizer that should contribute every time we step, land, squat or bend. While a decent amount of information is readily available on training the posterior glute med (back side of the hip), you don't hear quite as much about the anterior glute med (front side of the hip).

While the posterior component of the glute med is responsible for extending our hip and rotating our hip out, the anterior glute med is responsible for helping to flex our hip (moving it towards our chest) and rotating it inwards. They can also work together, as happens in abduction.

I believe the anterior glute med to be a very important muscle that's vastly overlooked in most modern training programs. This is a big problem!

Why is the Anterior Glute Med Important?

Without a well-functioning anterior glute medius, overall pelvic stability suffers. Other muscles that internally rotate the hip, such as the TFL, can easily become overactive, causing discomfort. Additionally, due to a lack of balance, muscles that externally rotate the hip can become super overactive, as well. Heck, training internal rotation (IR) in general is possibly one of the most overlooked aspects in all of training. I know I overlooked it for a decent amount of time. After studying material from the Postural Restoration Institute, I realized the importance of addressing IR and the importance of the anterior glute medius.

Many people tend to have excessive external rotation (ER) range of motion, especially on the left side, due to some inherent asymmetries that our bodies are designed and developed with. Many have excess on both sides based on common patterns seen with squatting, running and sitting.

Excess ER with limited or no IR is a problem for anyone looking to move well. If we can't rotate in, we can't squat down without compensating at the knees or back (or even higher up in the neck, or lower down in the ankle/foot). If we can't rotate our hip in, we can't rotate effectively from side to side (i.e., we're going to have a hard time swinging a golf club, hitting a baseball, swinging a racket, throwing a punch and even walking, without some kind of unwanted compensation). Last but not least, if we can't rotate in, the structures that rotate out are going to be angry, which can lead to even more complications with their friends above and below (especially the low back).

Bottom line: we need to train internal rotation, and we need our anterior glute med to be a part of it to do so optimally. Once you have the ability to actually perform some IR, and later be strong with it, the amount of freedom and control that you will feel in your hips and back will potentially be life changing.

How To Train The Anterior Glute Med

First, we need to actually be in a pelvic position where our thigh bone has ample room to move inside the hip joint. If we are tilted too far forward at the waist or rotated/shifted toward one side, our hip joint will not be centered, and our bones are going to be playing bumper cars with each other. Thus, we won't be able to internally rotate efficiently. Check out my previous article on STACK: "3 Causes of Recurring Hamstring Injuries" to learn more about this. Assuming we are in a centrated enough position, here are some exercises we like to use at my facility to bring the anterior glute med out of the shadows!

1. Side-Lying Pullback with Internal Rotation

This exercise emphasizes a specific pelvic position while training IR. First, we are pulling into one side of our pelvis by moving the acetabulum (hip socket) over the femoral head (head of leg bone) and then internally rotating the femoral head inside of the acetabulum, similar to what we do when we walk and take a step. Most people only focus on training exercises that move the femur in the acetabulum (thigh bone in the hip socket). In real time activity, we move the acetabulum over the femur just as much as we do the opposite. Thus, we need to train both for optimal hip function.

Keeping your hips and ribs square, pull the top knee behind the bottom knee, and then squeeze down into the pad (can use a pad, rolled up towel, pillow, squishy ball, etc.) as you rotate your foot higher than your knee, turning your hip in. Hold this position while you take 3 to 4 deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth while letting the ribs expand on the inhale and come back down and in on the exhale. Notice how the feet are on the wall. This gives us a reference center and mimics "standing on the floor," allowing us to get better communication with the hips. You should feel the anterior glute med contracting just behind your front pocket. You'll also feel your adductors (groin area) engaging on the inside of your hip and thigh. You can do this exercise for static stability as described or perform reps, as demonstrated in the next variation. Ultimately, its good to train each from time to time.

2. Side-Lying Internal Rotation

This exercise trains basic internal rotation while the pelvis is in an unbiased position. This is like the anterior glute med equivalent of a Clam Shell, a commonly used exercise for the posterior glute med.

Simply square your hips and ribs up as shown, and then rotate your foot up while squeezing down into the pad. Do this for 8 to 12 reps. You should feel it in the same areas as the previous exercise.

3. Side-Lying 90/90 with Internal Rotation

Now we are training the fibers while the hip is in an extended position. Ultimately, we need to be strong in both a flexed and extended position.

Line the hips up in this split position as shown. Rotate the hip as done in the last couple of drills. You might feel some new fibers engage in the position, but it'll still be in the same general vicinity. Take 4-5 breaths and own the position.

4. Seated Internal Rotation

All of the side-lying stuff is great, but ultimately, we need to be able to utilize this muscle and effectively internally rotate while we are in more progressed postures.

Sit with your hips and trunk squared up and level as shown. Pull the working side knee behind the opposite knee, squeeze the pad and rotate in. This can be done for reps or held while taking breaths to train static stability (as in the first exercise.)

5. Standing Internal Rotation

Being able to utilize this muscle while on our feet is essential so that it's able to help us with our regular activities, whether that be running, swinging or squatting.

Stand on a block or step. Pull back into the working side hip (left side in the above video), as you did with the earlier pullback drills. Once here, rotate your hip in (foot outside the knee) and hold while you take four or five deep breaths. The opposite hip (right side in the video) should be "pushing off" and you'll feel that glute contracting to help "push" you over to the working side. You'll be looking to feel the same fibers contracting as in those previous exercises; however, you now will have assisting muscles from your feet on up working in harmony with the anterior glute med and adductors. You should try to conscientiously feel what is going on from hip to toe on each side. Feel different muscles turning on and feel your weight through your heel and arch. This can also be done for reps, pulling into the hip and rotating each rep.

While there are numerous exercises that can train this muscle, this is a nice progression I like to use with a variety of clients. Much thanks to the Postural Restoration Institute for opening my and many eyes to the importance of this specific hip work. When it comes to proper training and keeping the body balanced, specificity goes a long way. It's not enough to simply (and blindly) train the "glutes." We need to know which part of the muscle we are training and make sure to balance out those parts appropriately. You wouldn't train the biceps without also training the triceps, or the front of the shoulder without training the back of the shoulder. The glutes and the hips should not be treated any differently. Internal rotation needs to stop being put on the backburner for external rotation, and the anterior glute med needs more attention. Give these exercises a shot to move and feel better!

Photo: MichaelSvoboda/iStock

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Topics: GLUTES | LOWER BODY | GLUTEUS MAXIMUS