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May 30, 2021 10 min read

You’re probably already familiar with the largest muscle in your gluteal muscle group: the gluteus maximus.  But, what about the other muscles within your glutes such as the gluteus medius?

Although it’s a less talked about muscle, the gluteus medius is an important muscle to work on if you want an overall stronger, more toned body.  And to help you get started, check out these best exercises for the gluteus medius.

Female Hip and Leg Muscles Labeled Posterior View

What is the Gluteus Medius Muscle?

The gluteus medius is one of four muscles that make up the gluteal muscle group.  Along with the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae muscles, the gluteus medius is an important lower body hip abductor muscle that you should regularly work on strengthening and toning.

The gluteus medius inserts from the gluteal surface of the ilium and then spans the entire area between the anterior and posterior gluteal lines.  It lies underneath the very large gluteus maximus muscle and above the small gluteus minimus muscle. 

In less scientific words, the gluteus medius sits at the posterior, or upper backside, of your hip.  While it isn’t quite as large as the gluteus maximus, it is still considered to be a very important muscle in that region.The gluteus medius has two primary functions including:

  • Generating movements from the hip joint
  • Stabilizing the lower body

First off, the gluteus medius produces two types of movements from the hip joint.  Hence, it is known as a hip abductor muscle.  The first one is the abduction of the thigh and the second is internal rotation of the thigh.  When the entire muscle contracts, the thigh abducts.  When the anterior fibers of the muscle contract, the thigh rotates internally. 

The gluteus medius performs both of these movements with the help of the gluteus minimus.Second, the gluteus medius is an important muscle for lower body stabilization.  Specifically, a strong gluteus medius stabilizes the pelvis which in turn stabilizes the lower back, hips, and legs. 

While it may not sound all that important, having a stable pelvis enables your entire body to perform all of its typical movements without getting injured.  Everything from walking to lifting heavy weights requires a strong and stable pelvis.

Moreover, while the gluteus medius is often overlooked by the larger gluteus maximus, it is important to target it specifically if you wish to have a stronger, more toned, and more stable body.

Benefits of Strengthening and Toning Your Gluteus Medius

Regularly firing up your gluteus medius to strengthen and tone it will enable it to more easily perform movements from the hip joint and stabilize the entire body.  While those two things are beneficial in themselves, several other benefits arise as a result including:

1. Decreased likelihood of developing patellofemoral pain syndrome: Research shows that a weak gluteus medius can cause patellofemoral pain syndrome, a condition in which cartilage under the kneecap gets damaged and causes severe knee pain.  A weak gluteus medius decreases lower body stability, and poor stability regularly leads to lower extremity injuries including those of the knee.  Therefore, if you want to prevent debilitating knee pain, start strengthening your gluteus medius.

2. Reduced lower back pain: Just like knee pain, it’s easy to develop lower back pain from a weak gluteus medius.  Because your gluteus medius stabilizes your pelvis, you’ll resultantly increase strength and stability in your lumbar spine - that is your lower spine.  This prevents pain from developing in your lower back.  Additionally, most exercises targeting the gluteus medius don’t involve lifting heavy weights, so you can avoid the risk of back pain associated with heavy weight-bearing exercises.

3. Prevention of early-onset aging: Most exercises targeting the gluteus medius are used as rehabilitation exercises within the world of physical therapy and sports medicine.  The reason: A strong gluteus medius prevents early-onset aging throughout the rest of your body.  If muscle activity in your gluteus medius goes away, it creates a cascade of other problems associated with early-onset aging such as more injuries in the hip, back, and knee area.  Therefore, if you plan on staying active for years to come, you need to start strengthening your gluteus medius today.

1. Lateral Band Walks

Grab either a loop resistance band or tie a regular resistance band in a knot so it forms a circle.  Wrap the resistance band around the outsides of your legs just above your knees and stand with your feet hip-width apart.  If you don’t already feel resistance from the band in this position, then either grab a resistance band with more tension or tighten the circle of your band.

Get into an athletic stance by semi-squatting down and putting your hands in a prayer position.  Take a step right with your right foot so that your feet end up shoulder-width apart.  You should feel activation in your hips and glutes due to the tension from the band. 

Then, step your left foot right so that your feet are once again hip-width apart. Keep taking small steps to the right with your right leg leading.  Then, repeat going the other direction with your left foot leading.  If this doesn’t feel like enough of a challenge, increase the tension in your resistance band.

2. Lunges and Single-Leg Lunges

Lunges are a great way to fire up all of your glute muscles, including your gluteus medius.  Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips.  Take a medium-sized step backward with your right foot and bend your left leg until your right knee is hovering right above the floor.  Come back up to the standing position and repeat on the other side.

To do a single-leg lunge, get into a typical lunge starting position with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips.  Shift your body weight into the heel of your left foot and lift your right foot onto a flat bench that is set about one to two feet behind you.  The top of your right foot should be resting on the edge of the flat bench. 

Bend your left knee so that your right knee hovers above the ground, then come back up to standing.  The extra balance required to perform the movement on one foot strengthens your gluteus medius more than the typical lunge.

Athlete practicing pistol squats

2. Squats and Single-Leg Squats

Like lunges, squats are a classic can’t fail exercise.  And, single-leg squats strengthen your gluteus medius even more than classic squats.For single-leg squats, start with your feet hip-width apart and hold both of your arms straight in front of your body at chest level. 

Shift your body weight into the heel of your left foot and pick your right foot off the floor.  Hold your right foot up and in front of you, then squeeze your glutes to squat down on your left leg.  Come back up to standing, then squat down again.  Do 10 to 20 reps on your left leg then switch to the right leg. 

This exercise can be quite a balance challenge.  If balancing on a single leg is too difficult, you can either hold your arms out to the side or squat down onto a flat bench.

4. Clamshells

The clamshell exercise is a typical pilates movement.  While they look simple, you’ll feel the heat in your upper glute and hip muscles.Starting by laying on the right side of your body in the middle of an exercise mat.  Create one long line from the crown of your head to your toes. 

Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle so that your knees come up to the edge of your mat.  Keep your feet in line with your hips and the rest of your upper body.  Rest your head in your right hand and put your left hand on your left hip.

When you’re ready, exhale and lift your top knee off of your bottom knee while keeping your toes glued together.  This movement from your legs should look like a clamshell opening up. 

Feel a good squeeze in your hips and glutes as you open that knee up.  Hold at the top for a moment, then inhale and drop the top knee slowly back down to the bottom one.  This should look like a clamshell is closing.

Do 10 to 20 reps while laying on the right side of your body, then switch to laying on the left side of your body.  If your bodyweight alone isn’t enough to heat your muscles, then try wrapping a resistance band around your thighs.

5. Cable Hip Extension

For days when you’re in the gym, give the cable hip extension a try.  They’re not only great for your hip abductor muscles, but they’re also great for toning the backs of your legs including the hamstrings. Start by lowering the cable to ankle height and clipping it onto your ankle strap. 

Take a step backward with both feet while holding both hands onto the cable pulley.  Step back as far as you need to so that your arms are locked straight.  With your feet together, channel strength from the back of your leg and extend your leg that is attached to the cable backward.  Keep the leg straight as it moves.

Inhale and return the attached leg to starting position, then exhale and extend the leg again.  All the while, make sure you’re not rotating from your hips.  You don’t need to extend your leg super high, but just enough so that you feel the tension in the back of your leg and don’t start to rotate.Perform 10 to 20 extensions with your first leg and then switch to the other side.

6. Side-Lying Leg Circles

Lay down on an exercise mat on the right side of your body and create one long line from your head to your toes.  Prop your head up by resting it in your right hand.  Exhale and lift your top leg off of your bottom leg so that it's slightly higher than your hips. 

Start rotating your leg in small circles in the forward direction.  Point your toes and imagine that you’re drawing circles with them.  Do ten going forward and then switch directions.Once you’ve done ten in each direction, flip over onto the left side of your body and begin drawing circles with the other leg.

As you’re drawing circles, make sure to engage your core so that your upper body stays facing forward and doesn’t rotate.  If you’d like to make these more challenging, wrap a resistance band around your thighs. 

7. Side Plank Hip Abductions

Begin by laying down in a straight line on the side of your body.  Place your bottom hand directly underneath your bottom shoulder and press up into a side plank.  Your top foot shouldn’t be on the ground, but it should be balanced on top of the lower foot. 

Channel strength from your oblique muscles to prevent your hips from dipping.  You want to create a long, diagonal line from your feet to your head.When you’re balanced, draw strength from your hip and obliques to lift your top leg off of the bottom one.

Raise the leg to hip height, squeeze at the top, then return to the side plank position.  Lift your leg for ten reps on the first side, then switch to the other side.  If it's too challenging to do the plank on your hand, you can come down to a forearm plank. 

Young athletic strong woman practicing glute bridge exercise with a heavy barbel

8. Weighted Glute Bridges

You’re going to feel some serious glute activation from weighted glute bridges.  Begin by lying flat on your back in a neutral spine position.  Pull your feet in towards your glutes so your knees bend and place a small dumbbell right on the center of your pelvis.  Use both hands to secure the weight.

Press into the heels of both feet and lift your hips off the ground into a bridge position, peeling one vertebra at a time off of the ground.  Imagine that there is a string attached to the entire pelvis region that is pulling you up into the air.

Once you’ve pressed your hips up as far as you can by squeezing your glutes, release that squeeze and slowly bring your body back down to the starting position.  Do 10 to 20 repetitions and then break.  If you want to make the exercise even harder, lift your heels off the ground and balance on your toes.

9. Classic Deadlifts

There’s a reason why deadlifts are often considered to be the king of all exercises.  They promote strength and power in every muscle from your upper back to your ankles, including your gluteus minimus.Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell placed right in front of your feet. 

Squat down and grab onto your bar overhand and with your hands positioned outside of your legs.  It’s so important that as you squat down that your hips stay lower than your shoulders - do not drop your shoulders!  This is the equivalent of asking for guaranteed lower back pain.

Press your shoulder blades together, drive your hips forward, and squeeze your glutes to stand up straight.  The closer you get to standing up straight, the more you should be squeezing your glutes.  Hold at that top position, then slowly release your squeeze and bring the bar back to the ground.

10. Box Step-Ups With a Leg Lift

To finish things off, try traditional box step-ups with leg lifts.  To get started, all you need is a medium-height stepping box.  Make sure that the box is not too low yet not too high so that you’re unable to step straight onto it.Face your box and stand about one foot away from it.

Step your right foot onto the box.  As you come up on top of the box, lift your left leg from behind and lift it so your quad is parallel to the ground. Drop your left leg back to the ground and then step your right foot off of the box. 

Switch to the other side by stepping up with your left foot then lifting your right leg.  If you want to make the exercise more challenging, you can hold dumbbells in each hand.

Final Thoughts on Gluteus Medius Exercises

If your goal is to have stronger, more toned-looking glutes, then you don’t want to miss out on these gluteus medius exercises. As a result, you’ll not only get the benefits of feeling and looking stronger, but you’ll also have an overall healthier body thanks to the increased stability that you gain as a result of strengthening the gluteus medius. 

Bonus tip: Want more exercises to strengthen and tone your gluteus medius?  Then check out our top picks for the best bodybuilding YouTube channels to get some new exercise ideas.