The gluteus maximus is a powerful hip extensor and lateral rotator and our most important muscle when we try to accelerate our body upward and forward from around 45°-60° of hip flexion. On top of that, it plays an important role in plant and cut maneuvers to the opposite side. Hip dysfunction is one factor that has been associated with low back and various lower extremity pathologies and there’s a strong association between lateral rotation weakness and patellofemoral pain syndrome.
When designing a strengthening or rehab program for patients there are multiple factors that play a role in the exercise selection. One of those factors is the degree of muscle activation that can be achieved by a certain exercise and measured by EMG. Reiman et al. (2012) did a systematic review in the year 2012 and evaluated the activation of the gluteus maximus in several exercises. Here are the top 5 with the highest activation from low to high:
Top 5 Exercises at a glance:
1) Retro Step-Up
2) Wall Squat
3) Single leg Squat
4) Single Leg Deadlift
5) Step Up
6) Our personal favorite: Weighted Hip Thrusts
Be aware that EMG activity is only one factor that you should take into account when designing an exercise program. So while it can be a good basis to know how well a certain muscle is targeted, you should further analyze your patient’s functional needs and take other factors into account like joint angle, open and closed chain, coordinated demands, sensorimotor feedback, level of irritability and skill of your patient to select suitable exercises.
If you are curious about the 5 best exercises to target the gluteus medius which is our most important hip stabilizer in the frontal plane, check out the post here!
Reiman MP, Bolgla LA, Loudon JK. A literature review of studies evaluating gluteus maximus and gluteus medius activation during rehabilitation exercises. Physiotherapy theory and practice. 2012 May 1;28(4):257-68.