Too often in the gym people spend the majority of their time working in a front to back motion or sagittal plane.
However, life is a multi-plane activity. We're constantly bending, twisting, reaching and side stepping. We're always moving in a variety of ways and all that sagittal work can lead to imbalances. The quads and hip flexors become stronger at the expense of other muscles in the hip and pelvis.
Improper stretching, too much time sitting in chairs and too many abdominal crunches add to the issues.
Throw in bad eating habits and high stressed lifestyles which can inhibit the core muscles that stabilize the pelvic region and it's a recipe for knee pain, shin splints and other ailments.
Motion check • Here's a few ways to tell if you have an imbalance. Do a simple squat, your knee should stay in line with the second toe and your weight should remain in the heels. Next, step off a curb or step. Your knee should stay in line with the toe. Often the knee "falls in" toward the middle of the body.
Then do a lunge and hold the down position. Check that alignment, is it dead on?
Finally, you can test yourself by lying face down. In this position, lift a leg, keeping it straight as you lift. If the knee flexes significantly or if there is a dipping motion in the spine, the glute muscles likely are inhibited.
While there are three gluteus muscles the maximus, medius and minimus there are several other muscles that run through the pelvic region and play a role in glute/hip movement. The best way to work the glutes is to do so with multi-plane motions to make the whole hip complex work together. Here are two of my favorite exercises:
Easy • To do the "clam," lie on your side with your knees bent in front of you at about 45 degrees with legs stacked on top of one another.
Keeping the heels together, raise your top knee off the lower one in a motion that mimics a clam opening its shell.
Make sure your body doesn't cheat by rocking backwards to create the opening. Keep your hips stacked on top of one another.
This exercise can be made harder by using a band around your knees to create some resistance.
A good range is four to five sets, of 10-to-15 repetitions.
Challenging • Start by standing on one leg and squat down slightly. It might take a while for you to reach this point. Once you can bend down in this semi-squat position, twist and reach over the leg and then back to the other side. As you get good at this, you can hold a weight in your hand and vary your directions, reaching high and low as you twist. No surprise, you should feel this in the glutes! A good goal is to perform four to five sets, of eight to 12 reps.