Glute Activation = Increased Performance
By Glenn Bond
Do you want better balance, more power and less injuries?
The key is activating the glutes. We know the glutes are the strongest muscles in the body and we think we are using them but you would be surprised at how many people (Master skiers especially- me included) are not activating the glutes to their potential or at all in some cases.
Your gluteal muscles do a lot more than keep your jeans from falling down—or at least, they’re supposed to. When strong, they’re a powerful locomotive force that carries out functions like hip extension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation with power and precision. There’s a strong case to be made that the gluteus maximus is the single most important muscle for sports. Strong glutes deliver power for skating, classic and protect the back.
A lot of people think that their gluteal muscles are already strong, but they don’t realize that their lifestyles lead them into “gluteal amnesia,” a term coined by Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. Extended periods of sitting—and even standing—day after day cause the glutes to basically go on vacation and activate less and less. Over time, people lose what they don’t use, and then they just forget.
The notion of forgetting how to utilize the butt muscles sounds preposterous, but think of it this way: More than 80 percent of the American population complains of lower back pain, knee problems, and hip pain. When your glutes don’t activate correctly, compensatory actions have to occur to pull up the slack. Your lower back isn’t designed to do the butt’s work, so it’s logical that these new demands could lead to discomfort there and elsewhere in the lower body.
Even in the absence of low back pain, inhibited glutes will diminish exercise results and increase the risk of other injuries. And while squats and deadlifts are great for the posterior chain, their recruitment of the glutes is often overstated. Keep doing them of course, but also consider adding some of the following glute-focused moves to your program.
Glute Activation Exercises
If you sit much of the day, you may have weak glutes, tight hamstrings, and tight hip flexors. Use this glute activation program to get your backside firing properly during exercise.
To maximize the proper involvement of your glutes, perform this basic glute activation routine as the first part of your warm up, before your workouts, or after sitting for a long time.
Hip Flexor Stretch / Psoas Stretch
Before jumping into the glute activation exercises, make sure your hip flexors are relaxed. Use this slow, static hip flexor stretch to help inhibit the hip flexors, particularly the powerful psoas muscle, while you get your glutes firing.
- Begin in a forward lunge position and drop your back knee to the floor. Raise your arms and hands up over your head and look up.
- Press your hips forward and down toward the floor. Feel a stretch through your torso, hip, groin and thigh.
- Hold the stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds, release and repeat on the other leg. You can modify this stretch based upon your own flexibility and limitations, but be sure to keep your forward knee over or behind your ankle — not in front of it.
Glute Activation Exercises:
- Band Monster Walks and Side Shuffle – Mini bands are a great tool to activate your glutes from every angle. Two of my favorite moves are the Monster Walks and Side Shuffle since they hit everything. If you even just include these two moves in your warm up, you are good to go in terms of glute activation!
The key with both of these moves is to keep your feet apart and the band tight. Do not let your knees cave in as you walk or your glutes won’t be forced to work. First you will need to get some mini bands; which are easily found online. I suggest you get three to four bands. (easy, medium, hard, very hard) Start with the easy band around your legs just above your knees. Side step across the room then side step back. This is the side shuffle. The monster walk (have the band in the same place) then step out on an angle moving forward.
If you are an advanced skier, you can try to skate ski with the mini band around your legs (again just above the knees). Only do 2-5 minutes with the bands as this exercise is very challenging and focus on good technique and firing the glutes. The glutes will be “on fire” within a couple minutes.
The concept of skiing with the mini bands, I give credit to Mike Mandli for showing me this exercise. Mike is a good friend and excellent xc ski coach.
- The Bridge Exercise
- Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure your feet are under your knees.
- Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles.
- Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine. The goal is to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
If your hips sag or drop, lower yourself back on the floor.
Be sure to contract the glutes hard and keep the hamstrings relaxed. You may need to place your hand on your hamstrings to make sure they stay soft.
You may need to begin by holding the bridge position for a few seconds as you build your strength. It’s better to hold the correct position for a shorter time than to go longer in the incorrect position.
- The Clam Exercise
- While lying on your side, keep both knees bent and flex the hips to 30 degrees.
- While keeping your heels touching and pelvis still, open your knees by contracting your glute medius. This is a very slow, small and targeted movement.
- Place your hand on your gluteus medius (just below and behind your hip) to ensure that it is firing during the movement.
Repeat the movement slowly 10 to 15 times and switch sides.