The Primary Movers of the Lower Extremities


Your body has two primary types of muscles that work together to help you move: primary movers and stabilizers. Primary movers are muscles that perform most of the work of moving your body parts. Stabilizers are closer to your joints, and keep your body in alignment during movement. You can easily see and touch your primary movers in your lower extremities.

Gluteal Complex

  • The gluteal complex, or buttock muscles, are made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the prime mover for hip extension, external hip rotation and abductor, or moving the leg away from the center of your body. It is the large muscle that you can see in the buttocks.

    The gluteus medius and minimus are also prime movers that work together to assist your legs and gluteus maximus to move your leg away from your body. They also internally rotate your thigh when you extend your hip and externally rotate your thigh when you flex your hip. According to Cook, these two muscles also act as stabilizers help the deep pelvic muscles beneath them to maintain posture when standing, walking, or climbing stairs.


  • Your quadriceps consist of four muscles that make up your front thigh muscles: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medius and vastus intermedius. The rectus femoris, the tear-shaped muscle that you see in the thigh that covers most of the other three muscles. The vastus lateralis is located toward the outer thigh, while the vastus medius is located toward the inner thigh. The vastus intermedius lies between the vastus lateralis and medius and beneath the rectus femoris. These four prime movers work together to flex and extend the knee joint and produce force when running, jumping up or forward, and skipping. They also work with your hamstrings and hip muscles to absorb some shock in the legs when you land on your feet after a jump.


  • Your iliopsoas is a group of movers of the hip flexors that flex your hip joint when you bring your knee closer to your chest. It is made up of the psoas major, psoas minor, and iliacus. The psoas major attaches from your lumbar, or lower, spine to your upper thigh bone, or the femur. The psoas minor attaches from the last vertebra of your thoracic, or upper, spine and the first vertebra of your lumbar spine to your iliac fascia, which is a connective tissues that attaches the muscle to the lower front pelvis. The iliacus attaches from the top of the front part of your pelvis and into your upper femur.

    According to Anthony Carey, owner of Function First in San Diego, this muscles group often gets tight from too much sitting and poor posture. This cause the muscles to pull on your lower spine constantly, causing lower back pain and hip stiffness.


  • Your calves, or gastronemius, are the major muscles in your lower leg. They move your foot downward, or plantar flex, pointing your toes away from you. They also control how quickly you dorsiflex, or pointing your toes toward you, opposing the actions of your tibalis muscles that are in the front part of your lower leg.

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  • "Pain-Free Program"; Anthony Carey; 2005
  • "Athletic Body in Balance"; Gray Cook; 2003
  • Photo Credit run legs image by jimcox40 from
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