The human gluteus maximus is a distinctive muscle in terms of size, anatomy and function compared to apes and other non-human primates. Here we employ electromyographic and kinematic analyses of human subjects to test the hypothesis that the human gluteus maximus plays a more important role in running than walking. The results indicate that the gluteus maximus is mostly quiescent with low levels of activity during level and uphill walking, but increases substantially in activity and alters its timing with respect to speed during running. The major functions of the gluteus maximus during running are to control flexion of the trunk on the stance-side and to decelerate the swing leg; contractions of the stance-side gluteus maximus may also help to control flexion of the hip and to extend the thigh. Evidence for when the gluteus maximus became enlarged in human evolution is equivocal, but the muscle's minimal functional role during walking supports the hypothesis that enlargement of the gluteus maximus was likely important in the evolution of hominid running capabilities.