Side stepping with a band is a commonly used exercise in the physical therapy clinic. This exercise is said to sufficiently activate the gluteus medius muscle- a muscle that needs to function properly when a runner is in single limb support. But which leg is more active during the exercise? And is it better to perform this exercise straight-legged, or with a small squat? Researchers at Boston University’s Sargent College investigated hip abductor (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, tensor fasciae latae) muscle activation during the side stepping activity. The researchers assessed differences in activation between the stance and moving limbs, and the effect of posture (upright standing versus squat position).

Findings suggest that the hip abductors on the stance limb are more active than the hip abductors on the moving limb (for both the upright and squat positions). For example, if you side step leading with the left limb, the right limb’s hip abductors are more active than the left limb’s hip abductors. The average EMG signal amplitudes in the stance limb were greater in the squat posture than the upright posture. In the squat posture, the activity of the gluteal muscles is greater than in the upright position. The activity of the tensor fasciae latae (TFL- the arch nemesis of the gluteus medius) is less in the squat posture as compared to the upright standing posture. The goal of this exercise is to engage the gluteus medius as much as possible while minimizing the amount of TFL engagement.

It is recommended that runners perform resisted side stepping to address gluteal neuromuscular control and muscle endurance. The best strategy to do this is to perform the side stepping activity away from the target hip, and with a small squat.

Berry, J. W., Lee, T. S., Foley, H. D., & Lewis, C. L. (2015). Resisted Side Stepping: The Effect of Posture on Hip Abductor Muscle Activation. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 45(9), 675-682.

Paul Nasri, PT, DPT NY Custom PT & Performance 295 Madison Avenue #1026New York, NY 10017 212-682-786