Research Review: Gluteus Maximus Cross-Sectional Area is Dependent on the Type of Habitual Exercise


By Jacky Au, PhD, CPT

Edited by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, COMT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

Original Citation:

Niinimäki, S., Härkönen, L., Nikander, R., Abe, S., Knüsel, C., and Sievänen, H. (2016). The cross-sectional area of the gluteus maximus muscle varies according to habitual exercise loading: implications for activity-related and evolutionary studies. Homo67(2), 125-137. - Abstract


The large size of the gluteus maximus (GM) is a feature that differentiates modern humans from other primates (1). Scholars have hpyothesized this is an adaptation to endurance running, allowing our ancestors to travel long distances for hunting and scavenging (2,3). This 2016 study from Finnish researchers challenges this notion by comparing muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) of the GM of athletes from various sports. Compared to physically active controls, they found GM size is greater in athletes who participated in sports with high explosive forces, high magnitude-loading or quick changes in direction, and smaller GM size in endurance athletes. This suggests a large GM is not necessarily an adaptation for endurance, and may have implications for training prioritization based on sporting demands.

Study Summary

Study DesignCorrelation Study
Level of EvidenceIII Evidence from non-experimental descriptive studies, such as comparative studies, correlation studies, and case-control studies
Participant CharacteristicsDemographics

  • Age: 25 ± 6 (mean ± standard deviation)
  • Number of participants: 111 women

    • 9 triple-jumpers
    • 10 high-jumpers
    • 9 soccer players
    • 10 squash players
    • 17 power-lifters
    • 18 endurance runners
    • 18 swimmers
    • 20 physically active non-athlete controls

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Competitive athletes at the national or international level or non-athletic but physically active controls

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Underweight or overweight individuals as determined by body-mass index


Group Assignment:

Athletes were recruited from national sports associations and local athletic clubs, while controls were recruited from a local university.

Participants were selected by sport and organized into groups based