While you may refer to your gluteal region as your gluteus maximus, the glute muscles are actually composed of three chief muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. These muscles attach to different regions on your body and each play a role in moving the leg. The gluteal muscles are some of the strongest and largest in your body. When developed through resistance training, they provide a powerful force for activities like kicking, running or climbing.
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The gluteus maximus is the large outer muscle of the buttocks region. The muscle starts on the inner portion of your pelvis and back portion of your lower spinal column, known as the sacrum and coccyx. The muscle then crosses over the other gluteal muscles and is inserted into your thighbone and your shinbone via a band of connective tissue known as your iliotibial tract. The gluteus maximus helps you rotate your leg outward, lift the thigh backward, extend the hips and raise the thigh to the side. If you experience tightness in this muscle, you may find it difficult to climb stairs.
The term medius refers to the fact that this gluteal muscle is the center of the three muscles. Lying underneath the gluteus maximus yet above the gluteus minimus, the gluteus medius begins on the outer and upper portion of your hip and is inserted on the upper portion of your thighbone. Its positioning helps you rotate the leg inward and outward and rotate the thigh, which is why the muscle is often called the hip abductor. Weakness in this area can cause the hip to sag or destabilize.
The gluteus minimus is the deepest of the gluteal muscles, resting below the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. The muscle begins on the outer surface of your hipbone and inserts to the top of the thighbone, where the gluteus medius inserts as well. The gluteus minimus muscle works to stabilize your hip and thigh and also helps to lift the leg to the side and rotate the leg inward. The muscle works together with the gluteus medius to prevent the hip from sagging.
Because the gluteus maximus is so large, it can be developed through a number of activities like running, stair climbing or resistance training exercises including lunges and squats. The hip abductor muscles -- gluteus medius and minimus -- is more difficult to develop. Yoga, Pilates, the exercise called the bridge and dancing all further develop these muscles and increase stability in your hip joint.