Recruit the Glutes

May 31, 2018

Do you suffer from low back pain? Spend more time sitting than walking? Skipped going to the gym a few times this week, and when you finally do go, are you thinking that doing squats will build your butt? Think again! You probably suffer from a common problem of having weak, under-developed and ill-firing glutes. Let me explain.

The body is an incredible machine. It works by activating or ‘firing’ muscles in a million different sequences in order to complete whatever physical task you give it. A physical task can be achieved by using many different muscles. We aren’t usually interested in which muscles we are using to complete a task because we are more focused on getting the task done. Unless you’re an athlete or you’ve been coached on proper technique, you probably are guilty of delegating one muscle groups’ job to another – a very common example of this can be seen when looking at the body’s biggest muscle group, the glutes.

The trend most commonly seen in the lower body is the transfer in responsibility from the glutes to the other parts of the body like the quads, or worse, the lower back. We live in a highly quad-dominant society, meaning most of us are rely heavily on the quads and are not ‘recruiting’ the glutes. This practice results in a muscular imbalance of strength and activation that can lead to physical complication.

What the Butt?!

There are three muscles that make up your butt:
• Gluteus maximus
• Gluteus minimus
• Gluteus medius
Together these muscles make up what we call the ‘glutes’ and are responsible for:
• Hip Extension (e.g., standing upright from a seated position)
• Abduction (e.g., bringing your leg out to the side from a standing position)
• External rotation (e.g., turning your foot to face outward)

Putting it All into Action

With what we now know, it is very possible to miss out on training the glutes even if your typical leg day includes movements we often correlate with glute work, such as squats or leg presses. Though we squat at least ten times a day–such as when we get out of bed or stand up from a chair–it is actually a quad dominant exercise, meaning the glutes can and should be involved but are typically secondary in activation compared to the quads. This means it’s time to start adding some new hip dominant exercises to the routine. Here are some great exercises to do for your glutes:
-Hip thrusts
-Single-leg hip thrusts
-Glute bridges
-Single-leg glute bridges
-Single-leg RDL
-Back extension
-Sumo Deadlift

Trouble Shooting:

You may run into a few problems when trying these new hip-dominant exercises. Some common issues my clients have had in the beginning of this transition are:
-Trouble feeling it in the glutes
-Trouble feeling it on one side
-Feeling it too much in a completely different area like the hamstrings or calves
-Knee pain

These problems are usually due to an individual’s inability to activate a particular muscle group, as well as muscle imbalances, tight muscles, and trigger points.

Recruitment in General

Due to lack of use for long periods of time, it can be difficult to get a muscle to fire, especially if the muscle in use is difficult to see. If this is the case, it will take some time and deliberate, consistent training before you develop the ability to control a particular muscle. This is referred to as proprioception or a mind-muscle connection. If you’re having any of these issues, I would suggest using an elastic band around the knees or ankles during your warm-up and training. This will force you to push outward with your knees and help get the glutes firing. There are many versions of these elastic bands available online. Personally, I prefer to use a Sling Shot Hip Circle made by Mark Bell.

Some good band exercises you can use in your warm-up are:

-Lateral steps
-Forward/backward walks
-Standing kickbacks
-Kneeling kickbacks
-Clam shells
-Standing abduction

If the hamstrings are much weaker than your glutes, you may feel a strong fatigue there before you even have a chance to fatigue the glutes, or vice versa. We almost always favor one side of our body. Chronic compensation leads to muscle imbalances, and this can lead to further issues and even injury. The way we address this problem is with unilateral exercises–exercises where we isolate one side of the body at a time.

Tight Muscles/Trigger Points
Tight muscles can pull on other muscles, bones, and joints and may cause knee pain. This issue can be addressed by stretching regularly. Trigger points develop in the muscles from overuse, causing pain and tightness. This can be addressed from self-myofascial release techniques known as ‘foam rolling’ or through deep-tissue massages.

Sample Program
Here is a template for you to follow when redesigning your workouts:
General warm-up (3-5 minutes): Pedal a stationary bicycle to increase heart rate and get blood flowing.

Dynamic warm-up (3-5 minutes): Dynamically stretch the muscle groups you will be addressing during your training: toe touches, soldier kicks, butt kicks, gate walks, step, and hinge.

Activation Exercises (5-10 minutes): Use your resistance band and perform one set of each; clam shells, lateral steps x 20, hip thrusts x 20, squats x 20, standing abduction x 10 each leg

Resistance training (20-45 minutes): Use weights that challenge you but allow for proper form:
-Single-leg RDL 3 sets of 10
-Hip Thrusts with Dumbbell 3 sets of 10
-Single leg glute bridges 3 sets of 10 each leg
-Back extension 3 sets of 10-15
-Cool Down/Stretching (5-10 minutes): Hold each stretch for 30 seconds to a minute, breathe deep, exhale slowly, and repeat 2x the following stretches:
-Pigeon or modified pigeon
-Hollywood stretch
-Knee-back kneeling quad stretch
-Sit and reach
-Frog stretch

By Matt Mickey BS Exercise Science, CPT

Questions or comments? Ask me anything, I’m always available to you! requested subject line: LAFRA

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