The gluteus medius are two muscles that form your outer hips. They create stability in the hips and contribute to healthy functioning of the back.
In many yoga poses, it is possible to bypass the firing of the glute medius. This scenario can lead to weakness of the glute medius — and ultimately pain in either the hips or in the lower back.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to self diagnose this underutilization and correct it. And as a cherry on top, the yoga practice offers many chances to strengthen, release, and stretch these outer hip fibers.
This article lays the groundwork for healthy functioning of the glute medius.
Let’s make sure yours are doing what you want them to do!
Feel free to jump around by using the table of contents, right here:
Table of Contents
- 1. Overview of the Glute Medius
- Action + Function
- When do we use it in yoga?
- 2. Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Gluteus Medius
- Balance poses for stabilization
- Common misalignments to watch out for
- Yoga poses with hip abduction
- Common underutilization with joint dumping that can lead to damage over time
- How do I know if I’m activating appropriately?
- Correcting underutilization
- Balance poses for stabilization
- 3. Yoga Poses to Stretch the Gluteus Medius
- 4. Final Words
1. Overview of the glute medius: action + function
Located on each outer hip, the glute medius attaches to the top of the ilium (the rim of your hip bowl) in a broad, fan-like fashion. It crosses the hip joint and then connects to the greater trochanter, a knobby protrusion of the upper femur.
It spans your body from front to back with both posterior and anterior fibers, which, as you’ll see, makes this muscle quite a sophisticated, maybe even high maintenance, mover.
Glute Medius Action + Function
The glute medius:
- externally rotates the thigh,
- internally rotates the thigh,
- abducts the thigh (bringing your leg out to the side, away from the midline).
Essentially then, it’s got three major actions. All three of these actions lead to one important function –> STABILIZE THE HIP.
Functionally, it also does a lot to support your posture and therefore keep your back healthy.
When is the glute medius used in daily functioning?
We need it all day long.
Most notably, it stabilizes the hip joint while standing. It also stabilizes the hip when balancing or when shifting weight from one foot to the other, as in walking, climbing steps, or moving side to side.
We use it when we lift a leg out to the side for any reason — getting into a vehicle, for instance.
Essentially, there’s no way to not be using it all day. What a reason to keep it happy.
When is the glute med used in yoga ?
There are two primary instances when the gluteus medius muscles are especially called upon in yoga — show up in many iterations.
First, all standing poses — and especially balancing poses — require the glute medius OF THE STANDING LEG. Remember how we said it internally AND externally rotates the leg all at once?
Just picture that! On your base/foundation leg — the one planted on the ground — it rolls the thigh rotationally inward at the same time that it rotates it outward. This creates an ever-active, always dynamic balancing act. It’s no wonder we wobble!
Second: You’ll also use the glute medius any time you suspend the leg out to the side against gravity and therefore engage in abduction.
Half Moon (see pic above) may be the most common yoga pose for glute medius activation of the floating leg.
2. Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Gluteus Medius - And Misalignments to Watch Out For
All standing balance poses will strengthen the gluteus medius — when performed with attention to activating this muscle.
Tree Pose (see pic above) is a great example.
Catch misalignment before it hurts:
First of all, notice the hip of your base/bottom leg. Where is the weight? Is it shifted out to the side, or is it squarely centered?
The tendency can be to let the weight shift laterally. If you find yourself doing this, know that you’re placing pressure on structures not meant to take this kind of weight.
Kick on the gluteus medius by intentionally hugging your hips in toward your center line. When you do this, your hip will be stacked directly above your ankle and knee instead of jutting out to the side.
This activation can be helpful in nearly ALL STANDING POSES (think: Warrior 1, High Lunge, Tadasana, Chair Pose).
Take this refinement a step farther by intentionally squeezing the posterior fibers of your gluteus medius. (At this point, the gluteus maximus may also kick on to assist in the action — there’s nothing wrong with that!) You might feel as though your thighs are energetically rotating externally, bringing your buns closer together.
Yup, it’s a butt squeeze.
What will happen when you squeeze the posterior fibers is that the entirety of your gluteus medius will now be participating in the stabilization of your hip. It’ll be functioning in the way it is intended instead of being bypassed.
Even better, you’ll notice that this intentional engagement serves to stand you TALLER, relieving pressure all the way up your spine and making it easier to kick on the abdominal muscles.
If you want some extra yoga magic, use your root lock, AKA mula bandha, to draw your energy INWARD & UPWARD. This is samana vayu (in case you wanted extra credit), and the medius helps you access it. It’s the inward/upward movement of energy. You can think of it as postural energy, spinal energy, chakra energy, and even emotional energy.
Cuz… Don’t you feel better when you can stand tall and feel strong and light?!
4 More Balancing Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Gluteus Medius
Yoga Poses to Strengthen + Activate the Glute Med - with Abduction:
Remember, abduction is when you bring a limb away from your midline. It makes sense that the muscle sitting on your outer thigh would act to lift the leg like a lever out to the side.
The gluteus medius muscles are also responsible for widening your legs in wide-legged shapes like wide-legged seat and — less obviously — Warrior 2, Triangle, and Side Angle.
Here are some yoga poses that feature thigh abduction:
- Half Moon
- Warrior 2 (especially front leg)*
- Side Angle (especially front leg)*
- 3-legged dog when hips are open (top leg)*
- Baddha Konasana when you are ACTIVELY sending the knees to the ground
- Seated wide-legged fold when you are ACTIVELY widening the thighs
*What’s with the asterisks?
These are poses where the medius can be accidentally underutilized. These shapes often get executed for years without appropriate enlisting of the medius. In the worst cases, the practitioner will suffer quietly with pain. Luckily, pain with this root cause is preventable and curable.
Yoga poses in which under-utilization of the gluteus medius can lead to hip damage over time:
I’d venture to say that the vast majority of yoga practitioners are prone to misusing or underusing the glute medius in open-hip lunges like side angle (above) — especially when executed with hip sinking lower than the knee on the front leg.
How do I know I’m using the glute medius “right”?
#1) Does the knee point forward and not in? When you’re appropriately engaging your gluteus medius in Side Angle, it is helping to keep your knee pointing directly forward (instead of knocking inward, a common tendency). Even long-time yogis who THINK they’re doing it “right,” are surprised to learn, upon an alignment check, that their knee occasionally drifts inward.
A cue that I appreciate is to send your inner knee forward. I like this more than “point the knee in direction of your second toe,” for instance, because our bodies vary so dramatically. Though the knee isn’t moving laterally, per se, the energy and action of abduction must be present in order to hold the knee in this alignment.
When it goes “wrong,” it shows up as either a knee drifting inward or a hip jutting outward. Or both.
#2) Does your front hip sink below your knee? Does your butt stick out the left? Here’s another way it goes “wrong,” especially in the deeper variations: We lean down into the bones and ligaments and rely on a downward energy to hold us in position (did someone say “dumping”?).
This is obvious to the eye and can been seen when a practitioner’s hip descends lower than the knee (a shape that is possible to execute with healthy glute medius but not probable). Typically, the hip will also jut out.
But bone dumping is not always visible! Make sure you’re not doing the sneakier version of it.
To find out if you are dumping weight into the hip joint, TRY THIS:
Begin in Warrior 2. Mindfully, S L O W L Y move into Side Angle. Notice what the hip is doing. Does it hold your weight firmly? or does your weight shift into the joint/bones?
If you’re not sure, try this:
Begin in the variation of Side Angle with your forearm on your thigh. Then move into a deeper variation like putting your hand on the floor or on a block just inside your front foot — but hang on! Do it S L O W L Y, do it mindfully, and notice any shift of the burden.
Does your hip give out? Does it hand its responsibility over to your ligaments? Does the hip swing wide to the side?
You should feel buoyancy in the upper leg / hip, and you should feel engagement in your quadriceps.
“Shoot, I think I might be bone dumping…”
Okay, let’s fix it!
To ensure that your glute med is working the way you want it to in Side Angle and in similar shapes — like Warrior 2 and even Triangle…
Come up way higher than you know you can go. There is no room for ego in this task!
THEN, mindfully — yes — S L O W L Y re-enter the deeper variation.
NOTICE if and when your hip stops doing its action, and if it does BACK OFF again just a couple of inches. Re-enter and back off. Re-enter and back off until you can build strength at this threshold place (This is how deep power is built — always).
Incrementally & over time your glute medius will learn to do its job well.
3. Yoga poses to stretch the gluteus medius
It’s not just weakness and underuse of the glute medius muscle that causes discomfort. Since yoga and other activities ask a lot of the glute medius, it is totally possible to strain it, inflame it, and to make it generally sore.
Sometimes it’s a sore you can live with, sometimes it’s the kind that feels intuitively wrong. Either way, gentle stretching can go a long way to making the muscle feel, well, nice.
To stretch the gluteus medius, you’ll want to think primarily of adduction — any time you’re bringing your leg into or across your midline. If you can squeeze internal rotation into the picture, it’s a double whammy since you’ll then ALSO be stretching the hardworking posterior fibers of the muscle.
Yoga poses that stretch the glute medius:
- Pigeon pose
- Gomukasana or Cow-Faced legs
- Ardha Matsyendrasana
- Baddha Konasana
- Double Pigeon Pose
To amplify the stretch:
- Pigeon with a twist
- Fallen Triangle and then set your front hip down
Pigeon with a twist:
- Here’s the juicy variation –> Slide the arm opposite to your bent hip under the other arm until you can set your shoulder onto the ground or onto a cushion. Rest your cheek on the ground as well. There’s a trick–
When you take this twisting variation, the right hip is going to want to lift up. Don’t let it! That would rob you of the sweet stretch.
The trick is to keep your bent hip heavy on earth and then think of your heart as leaning away from it.
Stay for a minimum of 15 breaths, but 3 or more minutes is even nicer. Use breath to open your body from the inside out and to soften you everywhere.
4. Final Words
The glute medius works damn hard for you all day, and it’s often thrown jobs that it can barely handle. Softening it is nourishing and hydrating for the muscle — and for you! As always in yoga, this is about balance. You want to be strong without strain, soft without being floppy. The tools of asana are at your fingertips. Enjoy!
There you have it. How to optimize function of your glute medius muscle with yoga.
Did you make it through this whole long article? Do you think your gluteus medius is kicking on when you want it to in the practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Leigha Butler is a long-time YouTuber, yogi, momma, vegan, and lover of wellness. She brings her former life as an Environmental Lit teacher to bear on her writings — with the goal of uplifting people and planet.
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