Gluteal Muscles In Yoga

What Are The Gluteal Muscles Doing In Yoga Poses?

Christine Wiese Yoga Research Leave a Comment

Some common poses strengthen the gluteal muscles in yoga

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Can yoga postures strengthen gluteus maximus and gluteus medius?

Type of Study

Clinical research study

Study Participants (Sample)

Sample size: 31 participants

Study participants:

  • 18 female; 13 male
  • Aged 18-35
  • Healthy
  • 7 had done yoga within the last year

Methods

Researchers used electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activity of two of the gluteal muscles, gluteus medius and maximus, in five common yoga postures (tree, warrior two, warrior three, half moon, and bird dog).

Results

The activation of the gluteal muscles in the lifted leg of half moon and warrior three yoga poses was high to very high. Both of these poses actively engaged gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.

Conclusion

Some yoga poses significantly activated the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus muscles. Those postures would be effective at strengthening those muscles over time.

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Background

The gluteal muscles have been a popular topic lately among physical therapists, personal trainers, yogis, and other movement-oriented people for good reasons. Our lateral gluteals (gluteus minimus and medius) and our big gluteus maximus are important muscles in everyday activities. We’d have a hard time standing or walking without those key muscles. Since this group of muscles is so essential for basic movement, the researchers in the study we summarize here were curious about how we use these important muscles in our yoga practice. What are our gluteal muscles doing in our yoga practice?

But before we dive in and look at what the gluteal muscles do in yoga, let’s back up and do a quick review of these muscles. You’ve no doubt heard of the gluteus maximus. It’s the big superficial muscle that you probably think of as your “butt.” However, we also have two other gluteal muscles, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. These muscles are located on the lateral side of our hips. They attach at one end to the posterior part of the ilium (the large elephant-ear-shaped bone that is part of our pelvis). On the other end, they attach to the top of the femur, specifically to the greater trochanter. The smaller gluteus minimus is deep to (underneath) the slightly larger gluteus medius.

In walking, the job of the lateral gluteals is to stabilize one hip joint so we can pick up our other leg and take a step. The gluteus maximus is an important muscle for walking as well. Its key action is extending the leg at the hip. That’s the action that helps us take our leg back as we wind it up before swinging it through for our next step. The researchers in the study we summarize here specifically wanted to know how active the gluteal muscles, specifically gluteus maximus and gluteus medius, are in several common yoga poses. They were interested in whether some yoga postures could be used to strengthen these muscles.

Research question

Can yoga postures strengthen gluteus maximus and gluteus medius?

Gluteal Muscles In Yoga

Research methods

In this study, researchers recruited a total of 31 participants. Eighteen of the participants were female and 13 were male. They ranged in age from 18 to 35 years old. Only seven participants had done yoga within the last year. All participants were considered healthy according to a pre-screening that the researchers conducted before beginning their study.

During the experiment, the study participants each warmed up on a stationary bike for two minutes. Researchers then attached electromyography (EMG) electrodes to their right gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. The participants were asked to do each of five common yoga postures for seven seconds with 30 seconds of rest in between each pose. The postures included: tree, warrior two, warrior three, half moon, and bird dog pose. The researchers randomized the order that each participant did their yoga poses in, so that the results were not biased by the order of the postures.

Results

Gluteus maximus activity

  • There was no difference in muscle activity between males and females or between yoga novices and those who had done yoga within the last year.
  • The highest gluteus maximus activity was in the lifted leg of the half moon pose, and the second highest muscle activity was in the standing leg of half moon posture.
  • The third highest muscle activity was recorded in the lifted leg in warrior three pose.

Gluteus medius activity

  • There was higher gluteus medius activity overall among male participants than among female participants.
  • There was also greater activation of gluteus medius overall among yoga novices when compared to those who had done yoga within the past year.
  • The highest gluteus medius muscle activity was in half moon pose on the lifted leg, followed by warrior three on the lifted leg.

Overall

  • Activation levels of gluteus maximus and gluteus medius in half moon and warrior three poses were considered to be high or very high.
  • The muscle activation stimulated in these two postures was sufficient to serve the purpose of strengthening these muscles if these poses were practiced regularly over time.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

The stability gained from active gluteal muscles has been linked to reduced low back pain, better balance, and improved gait patterns, among other effects. So if we wanted to use our yoga practice to increase our gluteal muscle activity, then it would be helpful to have an idea of which poses actively use these muscles. This research study explored that question. Their study results point practitioners to poses where we actively use the gluteal muscles in yoga.

Conclusion

Some poses actively engaged the gluteal muscles in yoga. The activity of both the gluteus maximus and the gluteus medius muscles was high in the lifted leg of poses like half moon pose or warrior three. This suggests that if strengthening these muscles using yoga was your goal, you could achieve that by regularly practicing postures that include a similar action to that of the lifted leg in half moon or warrior three pose.

Reference citation

Lehecka, B.J., S. Stoffregen, A. May, J. Thomas, A. Mettling, J. Hoover, R. Hafenstine, N. A. Hakansson. 2021. Gluteal muscle activation during common yoga poses. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 16(3):662-670.

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