Gluteus Medius Strengthening
Chris Lawson, PT, DPT
Fit For Life Physical Therapy
Hip strength is one of the most common impairments we work on with runners & walkers at Fit for Life Physical Therapy. This is because weak hips can cause your leg stability to break down and contribute to a number of running injuries by placing excess stress on certain lower body structures. One of the hip muscles, the gluteus medius is located on the outside of your upper buttock, just below the crest of your hip. It is responsible for the majority of stabilization at the hip. Let’s discuss ways to determine if this muscle is weak, how it may be affecting your running gait, and how you can strengthen it.
One way we can determine if muscles are weak is to perform a manual muscle test. This is where you push on a specific part of the body and resist while isolating a muscle. However, this is tough to do without a partner who has experience in testing strength. As sports medicine physical therapists, we do these tests every day at Fit For Life Physical Therapy.
The next best option is to perform a strength exercise “to fatigue.” To isolate the gluteus medius you can lay on your side and slowly raise your leg towards the ceiling, while keeping your foot parallel with the floor and your pelvis perpendicular to the ground. See if you can perform 30 consecutive repetitions without a rest break. If this was very difficult, there is a good chance you could benefit from strengthening this muscle.
Another way you can test this muscle is to perform a single leg exercise (such as the ones we show below) that requires stability from the gluteus medius or to take a video of your running form. While this would test stability more than strength, it can give you a general idea if this is something you should work on.
Try having someone take a video from behind as you run or walk. Common impairments that may be caused by a weak gluteus medius are hip drop (pelvis isn’t staying level as you land on each leg), knee valgus (knee is collapsing inwards), or trunk lean (excessive leaning with the upper body to the side as you land). Not only can these compensations lead to injury, but they also make running and walking less efficient, slowing you down.
Another great exercise to test this muscle is a lateral step down. Try standing on the edge of a step, either in front of a mirror or have someone take a video from the front. Gently tap one heel to the floor and return to the top position, sort of like a single leg squat. Is your hip dropping or your knee collapsing inwards? If so, your gluteus medius might be weak.
Once you or your FFL physical therapist have determined that this muscle is weak or you are lacking stability, there are many great options to strengthen this muscle. Some examples are sidelying straight leg raises, side steps with a band, hip hikers, and lateral step downs. Try performing these exercises 3 times per week to build strength.
Sidelying leg raise
Start without weight, try performing 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions, and add an ankle weight if this is easy. Make sure to avoid turning your foot towards the ceiling, or rolling your pelvis back.
Find a resistance band that is challenging for 2-3 laps of 10 steps. Avoid turning your toes out.
Stand on the edge of a small step or book and slowly raise and lower your hip while keeping the knees straight.
Lateral step downs
Slowly perform a single leg squat off the side of a step, while trying to keep the knee in a straight line between the hip, knee, and ankle. Also avoid dropping the hip. If it is too difficult don’t go as deep or find a smaller step. If this becomes easy, you may hold a dumbbell in your hand on the side that the foot is tapping the ground.
If you are dealing with aches or pains with running or walking, especially in your hip, please contact Fit for Life Physical Therapy. Fit For Life Physical Therapy cares for people of all activity levels - to help prevent, recover from, or rehabilitate sports & orthopedic injuries. We are proud to move people every day.
Please visit our website https://www.fitforlifephysicaltherapy.com/, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or text us at any of the phone numbers for our three convenient locations inside Fleet Feet + FrontRunner stores:
Polaris: 1270 East Powell Road Lewis Center, Ohio 43035 ~ 614-981-2065
Upper Arlington: 1344 West Lane Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43221 ~ 614-981-1979
New Albany: 5792 North Hamilton Road, Columbus, Ohio 43230 ~ 614-581-7441