How do you know if you have weak glutes?

Having strong glutes (buttocks muscles) is important for overall health and physical performance. Weak glutes can lead to poor posture, lower back pain, and increased risk of injury. Here are some signs that may indicate you have weak gluteal muscles and steps you can take to strengthen them.

Poor Posture

One of the main functions of the gluteal muscles is to help maintain proper alignment and posture. Weak glutes allow the pelvis to tilt forward, causing the lower back to overarch and the abdomen to protrude. This excessive arch in the lower back is known as hyperlordosis or swayback posture. Common postural problems associated with weak glutes include:

  • Excessive arching of the lower back
  • Anterior pelvic tilt (pelvis tilts forward)
  • Rounded upper back/shoulders (kyphosis)
  • Knee hyperextension (knees extending past straight alignment)

If you notice your posture is off with one or more of these postural faults, weak gluteals could be a contributing factor.

Low Back Pain

Weak glutes allow the pelvis to tilt forward, stressing the lower back. This can lead to low back pain, especially in the lumbopelvic region. When the glutes don’t properly support the spine, increased pressure is placed on the lumbar vertebrae and sacroiliac joint.

Studies show people with chronic lower back pain often have weaker gluteus medius muscles compared to those without back pain. The glute medius is important for stabilizing the pelvis and controlling sideways motion.

Weak glutes can also cause excessive tightness or strain in the lower back muscles as they try to compensate for the lack of glute support. These muscles can go into spasm leading to acute low back pain.

Muscle Imbalances

The gluteal muscles work together with the muscles on the front of the hips and thighs (hip flexors and quadriceps) to control leg and hip movement. When the glutes are weak, these opposing muscle groups have to take over more of the work. This can lead to muscle imbalances and strained muscles.

For example, when weak glutes don’t properly extend the hips, the hip flexors have to work harder to lift the legs. Tight hip flexors and quadriceps along with weak glutes is a common imbalance in those with low back pain.

Reduced Strength and Power

The gluteus maximus is one of the strongest muscles in the human body. This large, powerful muscle generates tremendous power and strength for exercises like squats, lunges, and sprints.

Those with weak glutes often struggle to perform these strength-building exercises. You may notice you can’t squat as deep or heavy as you’d like. Weak glutes reduce your ability to jump high, sprint fast, lift heavy, and explode with power.

Knee or Ankle Pain

Weak glutes can alter the tracking and movement patterns of the knees and ankles. This abnormal motion can put stress on the joints over time. Lack of glute strength is associated with some knee injuries like runner’s knee or IT band syndrome.

It’s not uncommon to develop knee or ankle pain as a side effect of weak glutes. The glutes help control motion in all three planes so when they are weak, it can affect movement and control at the knees and ankles leading to pain.

Difficulty or Pain With Steps

Healthy gluteal muscles are essential for stepping motions like walking up stairs, hopping up on a box, or stepping up a curb. When the glutes are weak, these simple motions can become painful or challenging.

Focus on your glutes next time you walk up a flight of stairs. Do you feel them contract and do the work? Or do you feel strain, tightness or pain in the lower back, knees or ankles? Knee or back pain going up or down stairs can indicate weak glutes.

Asymmetric Wear on Shoes

The gluteus medius muscle is important for stabilizing the pelvis and controlling leg and hip motion. When it’s weak on one side, the pelvis can DROP as you bear weight on that leg. This makes the leg functionally longer on that side, causing asymmetry in your stride.

Look at the wear patterns on your favorite shoes. If you notice one shoe is more worn down on the outer rear edge, it could mean your glute medius is weak on that side. The shoe shows more wear where you push off when the pelvis drops.

Difficulty Lifting Legs Backwards

Lie on your side and try lifting your top leg straight back behind you, keeping the leg straight. If you can’t lift your leg very high or control the motion, it indicates weak glutes.

The gluteus maximus muscle extends the hip. Weak glutes have difficulty with this motion, making it hard to lift the leg backwards properly.

Hip Labral Tears

The labrum is a band of cartilage around the hip socket that helps stabilize and protect the joint. Weak glutes that allow dysfunctional hip motion can cause the labrum to tear or fray over time.

Labral tears lead to deep hip pain, clicking, catching, or giving way. Studies show people with gluteal muscle atrophy have higher rates of labral tears compared to those with normal glute strength.

Poor Leg Rotation

Stand with one leg slightly in front of the other. Shift your weight onto your front leg and lift the back foot off the floor. Can you rotate your back leg inwards and outwards? Difficulty freely rotating the leg indicates weak glutes.

The gluteus medius and minimus muscles externally rotate the hip joint. Weak external rotators make it hard to control leg rotation. This mechanism helps explain why weak glutes are associated with knee ligament tears – the leg can’t properly rotate when pivoting.

What Causes Weak Glutes?

There are a few key factors that contribute to weak or underactive glutes:

  • Inactivity – The glutes need to be used frequently to stay strong. Sitting for long periods allows the glutes to become inhibited and weak.
  • Poor posture – Slouched sitting prevents the glutes from activating fully. Over time this teaches them to stay off.
  • Muscle imbalances – Tight opposing muscles like hip flexors inhibits glutes.
  • Injury – Direct trauma or poor mechanics during hip motion can injure the glutes.
  • Dysfunctions – Conditions like arthritis can make it painful to use the glutes fully.

Fortunately, targeted exercises can eliminate weaknesses, imbalances, and glute dysfunction to build these foundational muscles back up.

Strength Tests

Here are a few simple tests to evaluate the strength of your gluteal muscles:

Single-leg bridge

Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other leg extended. Push through your planted foot to lift your hips off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds. Keep the hips square and leg stationary. Repeat on the opposite side. Inability to lift the hips properly or control leg motion indicates weak glutes.

Resisted external rotation

Lie on your side with legs straight and knees together. Have a partner or resistance band apply resistance above your ankle as you rotate your leg outwards. Compare external rotation strength on each side. Asymmetric or poor strength may indicate weak glute medius and minimus muscles.

Hip extension strength test

Attach an ankle strap to a cable machine. Face away and stand far enough back to keep tension on the cable. Contract your glute to extend your leg backwards (hyperextend) against resistance. Compare glute strength side-to-side and the ability to control the motion.

Squat depth

Perform bodyweight squats going as deep as you can with good form. Monitor depth and form. Difficulty squatting deeply with proper mechanics often indicates weak glutes. Have a partner watch from the side and back to assess.

Step-down test

Stand on a box or step with just your dominant leg, holding onto a railing for support. Slowly lower down until your non-dominant foot lightly taps the floor. Push back up through your glute. Repeat 8-10 times. Difficulty smoothly lowering and controlling motion up indicates weak glutes.

How to Fix Weak Glutes

Here are the best strategies for getting rid of weak glutes and developing stronger gluteal muscles:

Stretch Tight Muscles

Loosening tight hip flexors, quadriceps, and lower back muscles helps “un-inhibit” the glutes so they can activate and fire more effectively. Prioritize stretches for the:

  • Rectus femoris
  • Iliopsoas
  • Tensor fascia latae
  • Piriformis
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower back

Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds, 1-2 times daily. Foam rolling these areas works well too.

Activate and Strengthen

Once tight muscles are loose, it’s time to activate weak glutes and strengthen them. Try these exercises:

Glute bridges

Target: Gluteus maximus

Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat. Push through heels to lift hips up to form straight line between shoulders and knees. Squeeze glutes at the top. Lower back down with control.

Side lying hip abduction

Target: Gluteus medius

Lie on your side with legs straight and knees together. Keeping legs straight, lift top leg up and lower back down. Make sure not to tilt your pelvis. Repeat for reps.

Quadruped hip extension

Target: Gluteus maximus

Get on your hands and knees with a flat back. Extend one leg straight back, keeping the knee straight. Squeeze glute and push leg back. Return to start position with control. Repeat on both sides.

Seated band rotations

Target: Piriformis, gluteus medius/minimus

Sit with knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat. Place exercise band around knees. Press knees out against band. Keeping feet planted, rotate knees in and out against resistance of band.

Lateral band walks

Target: Gluteus medius

Place mini-band around ankles and walk laterally with small steps, pushing knees out against band. Keep toes forward and tension on band at all times.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps per exercise, 2-3 times per week. Progress by adding weight/resistance over time.

Increase Daily Activity

Reduce prolonged sitting by taking standing/walking breaks throughout the day. Set a phone alarm to remind you to move every 30-60 minutes.

Get creative with exercises you can do around the house to engage your glutes more – bodyweight squats while folding laundry, glute bridges while watching TV, stair climbing sessions, etc.

Avoid Aggravating Exercises

Certain exercises like heavy squats or deadlifts can aggravate weak glutes. Avoid these advanced movements until you build your glute strength up with activation exercises.

Consider Physical Therapy

If you still struggle to engage and strengthen your glutes after a few months of targeted exercises, see a physical therapist. They can assess for underlying dysfunction and give you personalized treatment.

A PT may use techniques like dry needling or cupping to promote glute activation. They may apply tape to help you recruit the muscles properly.


Once you build strong glutes, be proactive with these tips to keep them active and prevent weakness again:

  • Get regular exercise with compound movements like squats that heavily recruit the glutes
  • Stretch tight muscle groups
  • Avoid prolonged sitting
  • Use glute trainers or mini-bands during warm ups
  • Massage and foam roll regularly
  • Maintain proper posture


Weak glutes can negatively impact posture, back and knee health, exercise performance, and gait mechanics. Assessing posture and performing simple strength tests help identify gluteal weakness.

Targeted stretches, activation exercises, and strength training tailored to the glutes help fix muscle imbalances. Proper activity, stretching, and warmup routines keep the glutes strong long-term.

Don’t ignore signs like poor posture, restricted mobility, and pain. Seeking guidance from a physical therapist can help identify dysfunction and get your glutes back to full strength.

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