Gluteus Maximus is the largest and strongest muscle in the human body - and it's only 1 muscle in the 3-muscle "gluteal group." All-together, the glutes perform external rotation of the hip, internal rotation of the hip, adduction of the hip (eccentric), abduction of the hip, and extension of the hip.
Simply put, the glutes make up the strong, driving power behind every movement of the hip and pelvis. At least they SHOULD...
In sedentary people, the body can condition itself to use the hamstrings & quadriceps to perform the actions that the glutes would usually perform. This has the benefit of using less energy, since the quadriceps and hamstring muscles are much smaller than the glutes. In the short-term, if you're not exercising, this isn't much of a problem, but if you're an active, sporty person this can cause massive problems!
The hamstrings and quadriceps aren't large enough or strong enough to deal with a glute-sized load. They can become injured and cause painful injury like runner's knee, ITB syndrome, quadriceps contusion, hamstring spasm etc.
Moreover, as the hamstrings and quadriceps tighten, they change the way in which the knee moves. The muscles of the lower leg (i.e. gastrocs, tib. ant., peroneals) need to carry the load that the quadriceps otherwise would, and will cause injury in the ankle and foot.
If you're not sure if your glutes are firing, try these simple tests:
Sit on an average-height desk chair. Lift one foot slightly off the ground and use the other leg to lift-up into a standing position. If you struggle to do this, or if your knee collapses inwards, then your glutes need some work!
Lie on your back, with your legs bent and you feet flat on the floor. Lift your bum off the floor into a bridge position and hold it for as long as you can. If you collapse within 30 seconds, then your glutes need some work!
For more information on glute strengthening, email me directly via the contact page. For specific information on an injury you have, or for treatment, contact one of my clinics directly. You can find that information here.
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Dr Mitch Clark