There’s a set of muscles that your body relies on for balance, support and everyday activities like standing, walking and sitting. They bring strength and stability to your movements. They’re your gluteal muscles, located in your buttocks.
Sometimes called your glute muscles or your glutes, this set of muscles includes three separate muscles — the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.
“The glutes’ biggest job is to keep us upright and help move us forward. They provide stability and help support our spine. They also help prevent knee injuries and general wear and tear,” said Andrea Dunn, a physical therapist with Banner Health.
Your glutes are important for:
- Walking: They extend your hip, push your leg backward and propel you forward.
- Standing up: They contract to lift you from seated to standing.
- Climbing stairs: They help you lift your body weight with each step.
- Getting out of bed: They give you the strength to transition from laying down to standing up.
- Bending over: They stabilize your lower back and support you when you bend over to pick something up or tie your shoes.
- Balancing on one leg: Whether you’re putting on a pair of pants or you’re skiing, these muscles support your balance.
- Lifting: They work with your lower back and legs to help you pick up heavy objects.
- Playing sports: They help you generate power, stability and agility whether you’re kicking a soccer ball, swinging a golf club, running and jumping or playing any sport.
- Maintaining your posture: They help you stay upright and distribute your body weight evenly when you’re standing, so you don’t strain your back or neck.
Why are strong glutes important?
Strong glutes are important for your overall health. Because they help with your posture and connect to your lower back muscles, strong glutes may help prevent back and neck pain. They help you stay balanced and stable, so they reduce the risk of falls.
With strong glutes, all of your muscles work together as they should. If your glutes are weak, the forces on your body aren’t balanced when you walk, stand or run. Other parts of your body might have to compensate, and you might have hip, knee or foot pain.
Whether you’re an athlete looking to perform at your best or an older adult aiming to stay independent, strong glutes are key.
What could weaken your glute muscles?
The top reason your glutes may be weak is because you’re not using them. “We spend way more time sitting in society now and much less time moving around,” Dunn said.
If you sit for hours at your job or in your leisure time, your glutes may become weak, especially if you’re not exercising them at other times.
When you have a sedentary lifestyle, your blood flow is reduced. That decreases the nutrients that reach your muscles, causing your glute muscles and most of your other muscles to waste away.
Your glutes could also become weak due to:
- Poor posture: Your glutes won’t engage properly with incorrect posture.
- Imbalanced training: This happens when you focus on certain muscle groups while neglecting the glutes during workouts, such as if you mainly work on the front of your body and not the back.
- Aging: Muscle mass decreases when you get older if you don’t maintain it with exercise.
- Injury or surgery: Trauma, surgery or injury can cause muscle weakness since you can’t use the muscles fully while you’re recovering.
What could happen if your glute muscles are weak?
“Gluteal weakness is rampant due to the sedentary nature of life, and it doesn’t have to be severe for the problems it causes to be dramatic,” said Dunn. “This problem can be the missing link when you are plateaued in your gym lifts, having difficulty moving quickly or struggling to hike downhill or use the stairs.”
Weak glute muscles can greatly impact your body and your life. “The first sign of gluteal weakness is generally poor posture, which will eventually lead to low back pain,” said Dunn. “Weak glutes will also cause an inability to get out of a chair without using your hands or to go down the stairs without holding onto the railings, which will eventually cause knee and hip pain.”
You may also find:
- Your gait (the way you walk) and posture may suffer, which can strain your shoulders, neck and back.
- Your balance may be off, putting you at a higher risk of falls.
- You may be less interested in sports and activities you used to enjoy.
- You may have pain in your hips, knees, ankles and feet.
- Everyday activities like getting in and out of a car or bending over may be painful.
These tips can keep your glutes strong and healthy
Everyone needs to strengthen their glutes, especially people who need to sit a lot for their jobs, such as office workers and professional drivers.
You may want to try these glute-strengthening exercises. If you’re not sure how to do them or if you have pain or other health conditions, talk to a health care provider first. Start with your body weight and add hand weights or resistance as you build your strength.
- Squats: Keeping your knees behind your toes and your back straight, lower your body until your knees are at 90 degrees, like sitting in a chair, then stand back up.
- Lunges: From standing, take a big step forward with one leg and lower your body so your front leg is at 90 degrees, with your knee directly in line with your ankle, then return to standing. Repeat on both legs and step forward, backward and to the side to work all parts of your glutes.
- Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes when your hips are at the top of the movement.
- Step-ups: Step up onto a bench or platform, using your glutes to lift your body. Alternate legs.
- Hip thrusts: Sit on the floor with your upper back against a bench and feet on the floor and lift your hips by squeezing your glutes.
- Clamshells: Lie on your side with your hips stacked directly on top of each other and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet together. Slowly open and close your knees keeping your feet together.
Start slowly to see how much you can tolerate and then build up as you feel more comfortable. Choose a variety of exercises to work different muscles. Add lower body and core exercises so your body stays balanced. Stretch your glutes and hips so you stay flexible, and make sure to include rest days in your routine so your muscles can recover between workouts. Stop exercising and consult a health care provider if you notice any pain.
Be sure to use good form when you exercise so you don’t hurt yourself. “If you are struggling, not confident in the movements or not sure if you are doing them safely, see a physical therapist. They can help ensure you’ve chosen the right activities and are using correct form,” said Dunn.
Dunn also noted that a lot of people stop doing exercises like lunges or deadlifts because their knees or lower back hurt. But often, the pain is because they aren’t doing the exercises correctly.
“Physical therapy is not just for older people or people who have had surgery. It can be for anyone looking to have some specialized instruction to address small aches and pains, subtle changes in ability or even athletic performance issues that are becoming more bothersome,” she said.
While exercising can help, moving around throughout the day is also important. If you have a sedentary job or sit a lot in your free time, get up and walk around regularly to help your glutes and the rest of your body, stay healthy.
The bottom line
Your glute muscles are key to supporting your whole body. You use them when you stand up, walk or climb stairs, and they are important for balance and posture.
Sitting for a long time can make your glutes weak, so be sure to take a lot of movement breaks when you have to sit a lot. Working glute-strengthening exercises into your fitness routine can also help.
A physical therapist, your doctor or a health care provider at Banner Health can help evaluate your glute strength and recommend a personal program to help keep them strong.