If there was one thing that you could do that would help reduce your risk for low back pain, hip pain, and injuries such as strained hamstrings, groin pulls and ACL tears… would you want to know what that was?
What if I told you that by working on this you will also enhance your ability to jump, sprint, cut and run…interested?
And you will also be able to throw around bigger numbers in the weight room, especially with your deadlifts, squats and lunges…sound even better?
Well, what if I also told you that by working on this you will undoubtedly look better in any pair of jeans, sweatpants, shorts or leggings you throw on?
Now I’ve got your attention 😉
So what is this “magical” thing I speak of?
The one thing you need to do in order to make yourself more resilient to a host of injuries, perform at a higher level and look better is to get your glutes working well, and strong.
Why are the glutes so powerful??
Not only are your glutes massive muscles with the ability to produce great force, but they are also the primary stabilizers of the hip joint.
When you are running, sprinting, jumping or cutting, or when you are pushing weight with your squat, deadlift or lunge, your glutes need to work in order to put significant force into the ground and to keep the hip, knee and ankle in a proper position.
If the glutes do don’t do their job, you will see a decrease in power output, as well as faulty movement that often times leads to overuse injuries and joint degeneration. If you are not willing to be a weak and injured individual, it is time to get your glutes going.
Here are 5 things you need to do to how to make it happen!
1. Get your core working to keep your pelvis in position.
If the pelvis is not in a proper, neutral alignment, it is extremely difficult to get the glutes to work well.
Most of the athletes here at TAW come in with an anterior pelvic tilt. This is when the pelvis is oriented (tipped) forward. You can think of this as your zipper or belt buckle being pulled towards the floor, or as a “booty pop”.
When this happens your glutes are not in an optimal (or even good) position to contract. It places your hamstrings on tension which gives them a better chance to kick in and dominate over the glutes…more on this below.
Along with the hamstrings, this places your low back into a position of extension. Not only can this create a compressive force on the back, but it also puts the extensors of the back on tension, again resulting in your back extensors kicking in over your glutes.
So what you need to do is get your pelvis neutral via your core.
You can see how the core attaches to your pelvis. When your core engages (namely the obliques) and shortens, it pulls your pelvis into posterior rotation, which helps to get the hip back to neutral. And once you are in neutral, your core must hold your pelvis in that position when you are moving (training/lifting, sprinting, cutting, etc.).
Once this happens your glutes are then in a better position to have success at turning on, doing their job and strengthening.
Here are a few videos of exercises with cues to help you get your core engaged and strong which will help you keep your pelvis in an neutral position when training, competing and just living.
Deadbug (KB Pullover Variation)
2. Decrease hip flexor stiffness / tightness to achieve true hip extension.
The next thing you need to do to ensure that you can get your glutes working is to achieve the prerequisite range of motion.
When the hip is fully extended, your glutes are in the best position to achieve a sufficient contraction. They will be in a shortened position, and this is where you can more easily feel the muscle working. You can think of full hip extension as when you are standing tall and the femur (leg bone) is straight “underneath” the the hip.
If you can not achieve this position, then you are preventing the glutes from fully working. And the biggest reason most of us can’t achieve full hip extension is because we have a stiff or tight hip flexor(s).
In order to decrease stiffness and lengthen your hip flexor, follow these steps.
1) Foam roll your hip flexor / quad to decrease neural input to the tissue, effectively helping to “de-tone” the excited tissue.
2) Mobilize and stretch the hip flexor and quad to re-establish proper length and elasticity.
The best way to take maximize a mobility exercise is to follow it up immediately with a static stretch.
While I’ve been using mobilities and static stretching in conjunction with each other for quite some time, it was only recently that I came across the term bi-phasic, which I heard first from Dr. John Rusin.
Bi-phasic, or two phases, basically means going from a mobility directly into a static stretch. Here is a video of how to complete this with the Hip Flexor Bi-Phasic mobility.
With the hip flexor de-toned (via soft tissue) and the range of motion at the hip improved (with the hip flexor bi-phasic mobility), the glutes can then have a greater chance to activate and contract to full potential.
3. Know the functions of the glutes and use them to increase activation.
A while back I wrote an article for T-Nation entitled 3 Ways to Power Up Your Glutes.
In it I discuss the 3 primary actions of the glutes, those being hip extension, hip abduction and hip external rotation. I’d suggest reading the article as it gives you a more in depth explanation, but basically this is what you need to know.
Hip Extension: When the femur (thigh bone) moves “backwards” and gets closer to 180 degrees. Think about when you go from seated to standing, your hip is extending.
Hip Abduction: When the femur moves away from the midline of the body. If you are to walk sideways (such as in a lateral band walk) your hip is abducting as you step out.
Hip External Rotation: When the femur rotates away from the midline of the body. If you are to turn your toes outward (like a duck) your hip will need to externally rotate.
Mess around with these actions, and once you understand them it is time to use them when you are squatting, deadlifting, lunging, etc.
Again, check out the article referenced above for some more cues, but here is how you can apply this with your squat.
When squatting think about driving your heels through the floor (hip extension), ripping the floor apart (hip abduction) and screwing your feet into the ground (hip external rotation). At the very top squeeze the hell out of your glutes (as if you were to pinch a quarter between your cheeks) and you will have tapped into all three of the main actions of the glutes, making it more likely to preferentiate the glutes and strengthen them.
4. Decrease hamstring dominance to prioritize your glutes.
As you just read, hip extension is one of the main actions of the glutes.
The reason your glutes sometimes don’t perform as they should with hip extension is because other powerful muscles are doing more of the work for you. In the case of hip extension, your hamstrings are likely to take over and dominate weak/inactive glutes.
While this could be a “chicken or the egg” scenario (are your glutes not working because your hamstrings are dominate, or are your hamstrings dominate because your glutes weren’t working), the goal is to decrease the tone or excitement of the hamstrings so the glutes can do more of the work.
To do this, just like with the hip flexors, you will want to attack the hamstrings first with some soft tissue work (foam rolling, tiger tail, massage if you are lucky or married to a massage therapist :), etc.).
Once the hamstrings have been de-toned you can bring them through some easy mobility and lengthening work.
My two favorites are the supine hamstring pumps, and the 3 way hamstring stretch. You could also throw in the quadruped adductor mobility as this will also get the hamstrings to some extent.
Now that the hamstrings have been addressed the glutes can have an easier time doing their job(s).
5. Always ask yourself where you feel the movement working.
You can take all of the points above but still not get your glutes working and strong the way you want to.
Even if you are doing the right exercises, thinking about the right cues and making sure that every thing is in proper alignment and position to give the glutes the best opportunity to do their thing, if you are not feeling the glutes working, well, they probably aren’t.
This is why with every exercise you must ask yourself, “Where am I feeling it?”.
If the goal is to get the glutes working for you, you better feel your ass doing the work.
If not, you are likely reinforcing one of the faulty patterns (hamstring dominance for example), and making it that much harder for yourself to ever get the glutes going.
“Where do you feel that?” is something you will hear me ask at least a dozen times throughout sessions each day at TAW.
It doesn’t matter how good something looks if you are feeling the work take place in the wrong musculature.
So remember to ask yourself with each set, “Where am I feeling the work take place?”
Get Those Glutes
Lets take all of the info above and put it into action. Here is how you can best attack your training sessions to maximize glute activity, strength and overall performance.
- Soft tissue (foam roll, lax ball, etc.) your hip flexors and hamstrings
- Perform a couple of sets of the bi-phasic hip flexor mobility, supine hamstring pumps and 3 way hamstring stretch…throw in the quadruped adductor here if you want as well.
- Do a few sets of core work to ensure your is working and is setting your pelvis in an optimal position.
- Perform your squats, deadlifts, lunges, step ups, etc. with the intention to use as many actions of the glutes (hip extension, abduction and external rotation) as possible.
- Continue to ask yourself where you are feeling the work take place, and if you are not feeling your glutes, refocus and try again.
- Enjoy the strength, stability, resiliency and looks from your new set of glutes!