One thing you’ll notice if you look at the top athletes in any sport is that they have very large and very strong glutes. The hips are the most powerful engine in the body and if you want a fast and explosive run, stride, jump, or cut, you’re going to need powerful glutes.
How do you train your glutes?
If performed correctly through a FULL range of motion, one of the best exercises for developing the gluteal muscles is the squat. Strong glutes lead to a big squat but sometimes a big squat does not lead to strong glutes. Huh?
Often what we see with our athletes is that they go to work or school, for 6-8 hours a day, then come to the gym with their glutes turned off and start squatting. The glutes, in this case, contribute almost nothing to the lift relative to the knee extensors which results in an athlete with strong quadriceps but no glutes. These same athletes also tend to default into a ‘knees in’ squatting pattern because of the lack of strength in their hip external rotators. There are a couple of ways you can address this issue:
When you sit all day, not only do your glutes turn off, but they get stiff and cruddy. You may have the proprioception to activate your glutes, but as long as they are stuck together like glue you will never activate them to their full potential. Lucky for us, Dr. Kelly Starrett, owner of San Francisco CrossFit, is a genius and has created the Starrett Method of Movement and Mobility (1) to help us with this problem. Dr. Starrett has a number of techniques for attacking the glutes which he mostly covers in this video:
Get your gluteal muscles firing before a squat session with simple activation exercises. These exercises are not meant to tire you out but should be used to wake up your glutes and promote maximal contraction during hip extension. Experiment with one or two of these exercises before you squat to see which one works best for you:
a) Glute Bridge
Lie in a supine position with your knees bent at roughly 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Brace your midsection and raise your hips toward the ceiling by squeezing your glutes. Your spine should remain neutral and you should finish with your hips fully extended – a straight line from your knees all the way to your shoulders.
Perform 2 sets of 10-15 reps before your squat session.
b) Single Leg Glute Bridge
Same set-up as the basic glute bridge. In this instance, however, you will work one side at a time. Raise one foot off the ground by fully extending the knee. Drive the hip toward the ceiling as in (a) but make sure to keep the hips square to the floor by keeping the quads parallel at all times. This is a great exercise for someone with a glute imbalance.
Perform 2 sets of 8-12 per leg before a squat session.
c) Monster Walk
Fold a monster band in half and wrap it around the legs just above the knees. This is important – if the band is below the knees, you may experience knee pain due to the shearing force produced by the band pulling the tibia inward. Assume a semi-squat position and step laterally. Just like a squat, weight should be on the heels, chest is up, and you should be driving your knees out against the band.
Perform 2 sets of 5 steps in each direction before a squat session.
Advantages to having STRONG glutes:
1) Stable hip, knee, and ankle.
If your feet are turned out about 5-10 degrees during your squat, by driving with the hip and activating the glutes you will help put the three joints of your leg in a stable position:
External rotation of the femur (stable hip) -> Medial rotation of the tibia on the femur during flexion (stable knee) -> Arch in foot (stable ankle)
No matter what sport you play, this stable movement pattern and positioning will not only lead to increased performance through efficient transfer of power and strength, but it will help prevent significant knee injury.
2) Powerful engine.
The glutes are the primary extensors of the most powerful engine in your body. If you don’t have explosive glutes, as an athlete especially, you don’t stand a chance. One of the general principles of power production is that the movement starts from the core (the hips) and finishes with the extremities (legs, feet, arms, hand, etc.). One of the best examples of this application of power is the baseball pitch:
Watch as Washington Nationals Drew Storen starts the pitch by leading with his hip, transfers power through his core into his shoulder girdle, undergoes massive external rotation of the shoulder before whipping his elbow into extension, and ends with a flick of the wrist.
A study published this month found that the gluteal muscles played a significant role in stabilizing the pelvis of back catchers during throwing, and concluded that back catchers would do well to train their glutes. (2)
3) Reduce back pain.
Whether you’re carrying things, picking stuff up off the ground, or standing for long periods of time, life can be tough on the lower back. One of the ways you can relieve stress from the lower back is by strengthening the glutes.
If your glutes are underdeveloped then your spinal erectors are likely working overtime in attempt to stabilize your lumbar spine during every day activity. By strengthening the glutes you will give your lumbar the added support it needs by stabilizing the pelvis and your erectors will thank you by shifting into relaxation mode.
A word of CAUTION:
Coaches – Beware of the strong and proud athlete with no glutes. In your strength and conditioning career you are sure to find athletes who are are brutally strong but have underdeveloped glutes and poor squat mechanics. It’s your job to make them understand that it will be better for them long term to take weight off the bar and develop their squat (and their glutes) properly.
Athletes – Beware of yourselves. Do not let stubbornness get in the way of your gluteal development. Your pride may hurt a little now, but your knees will hurt less, your performance will increase, and your career will last longer.
Whether you want to run faster, ease low back pain, or look better in jeans, squatting will be your key to success. However, pay attention to detail and make sure you are “squeezing your butt” and “driving with your hips” or your quest will be futile.
This week’s #Drama…
1) Personalized Programming
Welcome to long distance coaching. Personalized programming is an economic way of tapping into the coaches brain without having to show up for a one-on-one session. The catch? You have to push yourself.
You have the drive to get to the gym, but are struggling with how to set up a program that works, don’t know the best exercises, need advice on form, need a challenge?
Package pricing varies according to training experience, training frequency, goals, and video analysis.
Contact email@example.com to inquire.
2) New Classes at NCR
NCR has announced the addition of four new classes:
Monday @ 8am – CrossFit Basics
Monday @ 9am – Mobility (with Jenna)
Tuesday @ 7pm – CrossFit
Friday @ 9am – Mobility (with Jenna)
In addition, the traditional Friday @ 4pm time slot is now a CrossFit Basics.
Click here for the complete schedule.
3) The Open
First Open workout announced February 27th, 2014 @ 8pm EST. Sign up now.
2. Plummer, H.A., Oliver, G.D. (2014). The Relationship Between Gluteal Muscle Activation and Throwing Kinematics in Baseball and Softball Catchers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 87-96.