“It’s a hard muscle to isolate, so you really don’t see aggressive strengthening,” says Farah Hameed, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Plus, it can atrophy because we sit all day, she explains. And even if we are active, we’re not targeting it properly, because we don’t often move in a lateral—or side to side—plane.
A good test to see if your glute med is firing correctly is to stand in front of a mirror and practice a single-leg squat. Is the hip of your lifted leg dropping, and/or is the knee on your standing leg collapsing in toward your midline? If so, this muscle could use some TLC.
According to Hameed, if the glute med is weak it can cause a multitude of misalignments and injuries. This improper alignment also puts a lot of undo stress on the knee. As a result, the foot and ankle can over pronate, or collapse inward, which places more pressure on the foot and ankle structures. Simply put: If this band isn’t firing correctly, it causes a funky chain of kinetic events.
“If there is already an imbalance and you then start running, jumping, and putting more force on the joints, it could result in an injury,” says Emily Cook Harris, founder/head trainer of Empowered, and creator of NYC FITWeek.
Here, Harris shows us 3 exercises that can help us target this sneaky muscle and protect our joints. To ensure that your glute med is active, begin with the first move, and even place your hand on the muscle briefly to encourage it to activate. Later, progress to the standing variations. Follow each movement slowly and deliberately. Focus on keeping your pelvis stable throughout the variations, and try not to jump ahead to the more challenging versions right away so that you don’t fall back into your old habits. While maintaining good form, complete as many reps as you can of each movement. (Looking for more simple, smart tips?
Side-Reclining Leg Lifts
Harris says this variation is a great place to start because it works the core, and the sideways position removes the likelihood of compensating with other muscles.
Rest on one side with left hand behind head and right hand on floor in front of you for support. Engage core and lengthen torso—as if you were standing up tall. With straight legs, place right big toe behind left heel, and make sure hips are stacked on top of each other. Keep both hipbones facing forward, and try not to let hips fall back behind you. Flex aerial foot and reach through heel as you slowly raise and lower it back down. Not sure if you’re hitting the right muscle? Internally rotate top leg a few degrees—meaning, point toe toward floor as you raise leg. This ensures that you’re initiating the movement from the gluteus medius itself and not compensating with other muscles. Switch sides, and repeat same amount of reps.
Standing Mini-Band Leg Raises
According to Harris, this version stabilizes the pelvis by teaching the glutes to resist the movement of the hips.
Place mini-band around calves and put hands on a steady surface in front of you, like a kitchen countertop. Bend left knee (supporting leg) and straighten right leg (moving leg) behind you on a diagonal to place tension on band. Lengthen torso and engage core as you press against band to raise back leg, which is slightly turned out to target gluteus medius. Raise and lower right leg, and resist the tendency to let hips swing or back to arch. Work to keep weight in left heel and try to keep hipbones facing directly in front. You’ll notice that the supporting leg has to do a ton of work to stabilize your pelvis while the opposite leg is moving, and that’s a good thing. Repeat, and complete same amount of reps on opposite side.
“This movement is the most dynamic and functional, because more muscles are involved—the glutes, quads, hamstring, and core,” says Harris. This is also a great test to see if you truly are building strength in this underrated muscle. (Here’s how to do squats and lunges without killing your knees.)
Position yourself in front of a bench, chair, or ledge. Stand on left leg with right leg extended on floor in front and arms reaching forward. With weight in left heel, hinge at hips and slowly send hips backwards toward bench, all while keeping back straight and core engaged. Left knee will want to fall in toward midline. To resist this collapse, gently press out on knee to maintain alignment of knee over toes. It’s helpful to do this exercise in front of a mirror to ensure that the pelvis and hips stay level and you don’t lean into one hip. Drive through heel to stand up tall and repeat. Switch sides, and repeat an equal amount of reps.
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