Did you know that your gluteal muscles (a.k.a. your buttocks muscles) are the foundation for your trunk and lower body? This set of muscles is the largest and, in my opinion, one of the most important muscles groups in the body. This is because it is a building block for keeping our upper body and trunk stable as well as support our knees and legs all the way down to the ground.
The gluteal muscles are responsible for providing “dynamic stability” for the knee joint. This means that they keep the knee safe and supported during movements. These muscles are able to change in length compared to the ligaments and other “static” structures. If these muscles are weak, it may cause compensations, overuse, atrophy, tightness, or straining of other muscles and this is often a key contributor to pain in the knees. Muscle balance is extremely important to maintain proper knee health. If the buttocks muscles are weak, you may see that the knee caves inwardly during walking, squatting or stairs and the person may have a hip drop or sway appearance when they walk as well.
Now we know how important the gluteal muscles are in terms of keeping our knees safe and pain-free. Do you know how to activate and engage your gluteal muscles? You can practice using these muscles during daily activities. For example, squeeze your buttocks muscles during stair-climbing and while you walk to ensure you are engaging and using this muscle. By leaning your trunk forward and hinging at your hips during stairs or running, you will be able to activate more gluteal muscles, and therefore less pressure on your thighs and the front of the knee and less pressure on the knee joint. This can prevent anterior knee pain.
A few of my favorite gluteal muscle strengthening exercises that are very effective and can be performed at home or by oneself are: side leg raise and bridging. The side leg raise is performed laying down on your side, with the top hip rolled forward and the bottom leg bent for balance. Raise your leg up/backward at a 45 degree angle without letting your body move or open up to the ceiling. Hold for five to ten seconds at the top, and you will feel the buttocks muscle working. For bridging, lie on your back and place feet, knees and hips at hip-width apart. Then raise your hips up toward the ceiling and squeeze your buttocks muscles. Hold at the top for five to ten seconds as well. Perform these strengthening exercises until you feel a bit of fatigue in the muscles, every other day.
With consistent strengthening of your gluteal muscles, you will notice that you are more stable, strong, and have less knee pain. You will also notice more toned muscles in this region, and yes you will see your jeans fit better as a secondary effect! You will also be able to perform running, stair-climbing and even walking more efficiently and seamlessly. The gluteal muscles are the foundation, and a great place to focus your workouts and efforts!