Muscle Spotlight: Gluteus Maximus

Last week, I posted about gluteal massage being included in massage sessions. I personally believe, as a therapist, that it should be, but I always leave it up to my clients. As clients, you are in control of the session and it can be customized to your needs and desires (within reason, as always), and that means that gluteal massage can be excluded if you prefer that area not be touched. However, once you learn about all the hard work these muscles do for your body every day, you might just reconsider the next time you get a massage! Without further ado, let’s take a look at the gluteus maximus, the largest of the gluteal muscles.

Image courtesy of Trail Guide to the Body, 2nd ed., by Andrew Biel


The gluteus maximus is the powerhouse of the hip muscles. Large, strong, and able to perform four important actions for the hip joint, it gets a lot of work done. It originates at the coccyx (the tailbone), the posterior sacrum and posterior iliac crest of the hips, and the sacrotuberous and sacroiliac ligaments. Its lower fibers insert into the iliotibial (IT) band, and its upper fibers insert into the gluteal tuberosity on the femur. Obviously, with this many attachment points, it also acts as a stabilizing muscle for the entire pelvic region.

Its four major actions are to extend the hip backwards, laterally rotate the hip, abduct the hip away from the middle of the body, and adduct the hip back towards the middle of the body (the lower fibers accomplish this last action). If all the anatomical terms for these motions are unfamiliar to you, you can feel the gluteus maximus doing each of these actions by extending your leg straight backwards, by turning your leg to the outside away from the midline of the body, by lifting your leg straight out sideways, and finally by bringing your leg back down to its natural resting position. If you did all of these in sequence, you’ve just completed the four major actions of the gluteus maximus muscle!

With all the work that the gluteus maximus puts in every day – stabilizing the hips, helping you walk and run, getting you through your exercise routine when you’re doing leg work – it is no wonder that this muscle carries quite a bit of tension that should be worked out. In fact, the gluteus maximus and its associated pelvic muscles are often very tender to massage the first few times they are worked on because they are addressed so infrequently! In addition to this, the glutes can become overstretched and fatigued if you sit at a desk for long periods of time. Remember that the gluteus maximus extends the hip backwards, and sitting at a desk means that your hip is flexed forwards all day, causing the muscle to be stretched out and potentially in need of even more attention if it is fatigued because of that. In fact, if the gluteus maximus is not firing properly and not taking on all the work it needs to perform, other muscles may try to compensate for it, doing jobs they were not designed to do. Such places as the low back and hamstrings become easily overstrained and tender when the gluteals are not firing properly, which is why it is so important to have the area addressed during massage sessions.

Keep an eye out for the next post, in which we’ll be addressing more of the important gluteal muscles – the gluteus medius and minimus!