Lower Body Anatomy: Know What Glute Muscles You’re Working Before You Work Them

Lower Body Anatomy: Know What Glute Muscles You’re Working Before You Work Them

Understanding how your body works isn’t something you think about every day, and while it’s not a complete necessity to know every single muscle, bone, and joint that make up your insides, having a general knowledge can help you to improve your work out game. We’ve spoken before, briefly, about the major muscles that make up your gluteus region, the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, but today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at how these muscles function, along with the supporting muscles of the gluteus region, and those of the thigh. 

glute muscles

The Gluteus Region:

First off, what is the gluteus region, and what function do these muscles serve? Well, the gluteus region is the area located at the rear of the pelvic girdle, where the femur bone of the leg begins. These are the muscles that allow us to move the hip joint, making it possible for us to sit down, stand up, and walk. As you can imagine, these are some pretty important muscles, so making sure they’re well looked after is crucial to everyday life. Unfortunately, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle can mean these muscles don’t get the attention they deserve. 

There are two groups of muscles in this region of the body: 

  • Superficial abductors and extenders – the major muscles we love to talk about (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), and the tensor fascia lata. These muscles are the ones that abduct and extend the femur, making your leg go up and down, and out and in. 
  • Deep lateral rotators – these are the smaller muscles that include the gemellus inferior and superior, the quadratus femoris, the piriformis and the obturator internus (don’t worry, we can’t pronounce them either!). The lateral rotators are responsible for, you guessed it, laterally rotating the femur, that is, turning the leg away from your center. 

Gluteus Maximus 

The gluteus maximus is the biggest of all the muscles in this region. This muscle is the muscle that produces the shape of the buttocks. It is the primary extensor of the thigh and will work to assist lateral rotation. What many people don’t realize though, with this muscle, force is needed to actually activate it, as it will only be used when force is required, such as performing tasks like running or climbing. 

Gluteus Medius 

This muscle sits between the gluteus maximus and minimus and shares a similar fan shape, and function to the latter. The gluteus medius is one hard-working muscle, serving several purposes, including abduction and medial rotation of the lower limbs, and supporting the pelvis during motion. It helps to prevent pelvic drop of the opposite limb, so a strong gluteus medius is great for stabilization and posture. Research also suggests that the medius produces a small amount of lateral rotation. 

Gluteus Minimus 

Of the superficial gluteus muscles, the minimus (as the name would suggest), is the smallest, and the deepest. Like the gluteus medius, this muscle works to abduct and medially rotate the lower limbs, as well as acts as support for the pelvis. 

Tensor Fascia Lata 

Often times, the forgotten superficial muscle of the gluteus region, the Tensor Fascia Lata is a small muscle that lies at the front of the iliac crest (the wing of the pelvis). It assists the gluteus medius and minimus with abduction and medial rotation and supports the body during its gait cycle (better known as a single stride). 

Deep Muscles 

As mentioned earlier, these deep muscles work to laterally rotate the lower limbs. They are all located underneath the gluteus maximus. These muscles also work hard to pull the femur head towards the pelvis, to keep everything stable as you move your hips. 

  • Piriformis: This is the most superior of the deep muscles. 
  • Obturator Internus: This muscle forms the lateral walls of the pelvic cavity, and helps to rotate the hips. 
  • Gemelli (Superior and Inferior): These are two narrow, triangular muscles, separated by the obturator internus tendon. 
  • Quadratus Femoris: This is the most inferior of the deep muscles, and is located below the gemelli muscles. It is flat and square in shape. glute muscles

The Thigh Muscles

When we look at the thigh muscles, which often work in accordance with the gluteus muscles, we separate them into three groups, the anterior, the medial, and the posterior. All three groups have distinct functions but come together to basically allow us to move, stand and sit, much like the gluteus muscles. 

The Anterior Muscles 

As a general rule, these muscles act to extend the leg at the knee joint. There are four major muscles in this group: 


  • The Pectineus: This muscle is flat in shape and sits at the base of the femoral triangle. It is a transitional muscle between the anterior and medial muscles of the thigh. 
  • The Sartorius: This is the longest muscle in the entire body. Running the length of the thigh, it is long and thin and acts as a flexor, abductor, and lateral rotator at the hip joint, and a flexor at the knee joint. 
  • The Quadriceps Femoris: Forming the main bulk of the thigh, the quadriceps femoris is made up of four individual muscles and collectively act as one of the most powerful muscles in the entire body. They work to extend the knees and stabilize the patella (also known as the knee cap. The muscles are the vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and rectus femoris. 
  • The Iliopsoas: Comprises of two muscles, the psoas major and the iliacus, which come together to form a tendon. Unlike other anterior thigh muscles, the iliopsoas doesn’t extend the leg at the knee joint. Instead, it works to flex the thigh at the hip joint. 


The Medial Muscles  

The medial group of muscles in the thigh are collectively known as hip adductors, as they allow us to move our legs back into the midline of our body.  

  • The Adductor Muscles: There are three adductor muscles, the adductor magnus, the adductor longus, and the adductor brevis. They all sit along the femur (or thigh bone), with the adductor magnus at the bottom and the adductor brevis on the top. They all work hard to move the thigh. 
  • The Obturator Externus: This muscle sits at the top of the medial thigh, above the adductor brevis and helps to laterally rotate the thigh, as well as adduction. 
  • The Gracilis: The most superficial and medial of all the muscles in this group, this muscle cross both the hip and knee joints. It works to adduct the thigh at the hip and flex the leg at the knee. 

The Posterior Muscles 

These muscles you will have definitely heard of before. Collectively known as the hamstrings, they act to extend at the hip and flex at the knee. 

  • The Biceps Femoris: The main action of this muscle is the flexing of the knee, but it also works to extend the thigh at the hip, and rotate both the hip and the knee. It has two heads, a long and short one, and is the most lateral of the muscles in this group. 
  • The Semitendinosus: This muscle serves the same actions as the biceps femoris. It is mostly tendinous in nature (hence the name) and covers the semimembranosus. 
  • The Semimembranosus: Working alongside the semitendinosus and biceps femoris, this muscle is flat and broad. 

glute muscles

Putting Theory Into Action

Obviously, remembering all the names and functions of every single muscle in your glutes and thighs is a near impossibility! However, a basic understanding of the groups of muscles and what they do can help you to better your workout strategy. Knowing what muscle does what means being able to look at your intended exercises to allow for maximum toning and strengthening. So next time you’re hitting the gym, or going for a run, or grabbing those resistance bands we know you love, have a look back on your knowledge of the muscles in these groups, to get the best out of your work out!

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