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The cross-sectional area of the gluteus maximus muscle varies according to habitual exercise loading: Implications for activity-related and evolutionary studies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-137
JournalHOMO: Journal of Comparative Human Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Greater size of the gluteus maximus muscle in humans compared to non-human primates has been considered an indication of its function in bipedal posture and gait, especially running capabilities. Our aim was to find out how the size of the gluteus maximus muscle varies according to sports while controlling for variation in muscle strength and body weight. Data on gluteus maximus muscle cross-sectional area (MCA) were acquired from magnetic resonance images of the hip region of female athletes (N = 91), and physically active controls (N = 20). Dynamic muscle force was measured as counter movement jump and isometric knee extension force as leg press. Five exercise loading groups were created: high impact (volleyball players and high-jumpers), odd impact (soccer and squash players), high magnitude (power-lifters), repetitive impact (endurance runners) and repetitive non-impact (swimmers) loadings. Individuals in high impact, odd impact or high-magnitude loading groups had greater MCA compared to those of controls, requiring powerful hip extension, trunk stabilization in rapid directional change and high explosive muscle force. Larger body size and greater muscle strength were associated with larger MCA. An increase in dynamic force was associated with larger MCA, but the strength of this relationship varied with body weight. Thus, gluteal adaptation in humans promotes powerful lower limb movements required in sprinting and rapid changes in direction, as well as maintenance and stabilization of an erect trunk which also provides a platform for powerful motions of the upper limbs. These movements have likely evolved to facilitate food acquisition, including hunting.

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • Bipedalism, Endurance running, Hominin, Human evolution, Hunting, Medical imaging, Sprinting

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland