Biggest Loser: Why Glutes?
As a unit, the three gluteal muscles serve as hip external rotators, lateral abductors and hip extensors. For those of you that are not in the medical profession, are not certified trainers nor do you sit around reading medical/therapy journals, the glutes turn your toes outward from your hip, move your thigh away from the center of your body as well as move your leg backwards behind your body. Your gluteal muscles are also the protectors of your pelvis and spine. The medius and minimus gluteal muscles protect you by decelerating the shifting motion of the pelvis with the torso when your body is in motion. In his article, Build Strong Glutes and a Pain Free Lower Back, Biomechanics expert and American Council on Exercise Team member Justin Price, describes them as “a brake for the lumbar spine, protecting it from excessive movement and stress”. Protecting our spine should be of the utmost importance in our everyday lives, not just in the gym or during athletic endeavors. Your glutes are made to be your safety net. How secure will you be if your safety net is weak?
In his interview with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, Gary Ward, Founder of Anatomy in Motion, states the “glutes are the kingpin in the muscles that bring us upright”. I completely agree because your glutes also function as your hip stabilizers. Therefore, weak and inactivated glutes can result in poor alignment of your entire lower body. When your alignment is off from a vital starting point such as your hips, you can imagine your posture will also be compromised. This will undermine your stability, strength and safety to perform routine day to day movements not to mention any athletic ventures you may attempt. Many studies have been performed on the effects of poor posture on the body. Results have shown that the detrimental side effects of poor posture range from soreness and pain to poor circulation, gastrointestinal issues, and poor lung function. More than just how you present yourself to the world, your posture can be diminishing your quality of life. Creating strong glutes gives you an important base from which to build your posture.
In our sedentary society of computers, cell phones, long commutes and binge-watching Netflix, the human body which was designed for movement will make adaptations. The hip flexors will tighten with the corresponding issue of overstretched weak hip extensors. This anatomical imbalance and many others resulting from weak gluteal muscles allow for injuries and often causes pain in the lower back. One example of how weak inactivated glutes allow for lower back pain would be when the body tries to adapt by using your psoas (the muscles that run from the front of your lower spine to the pelvis and thigh bone) to do the work for the potentially powerful glute. Obviously the significantly smaller muscle was not created to work as a powerful glute muscle. When it becomes over used the result can be lower back pain and possible compression of the lower lumbar vertebra. Let me once again reiterate that your hip extensors (glutes) need to be strong. If your gluteal muscles are not firing correctly, pain manifesting in other areas can be the side effect. I do hope you are beginning to see how important your glutes are when it comes to body alignment, posture, safety and pain alleviation. Another vital aspect of your glutes is to maintain an erect trunk. The ever-important gluteus maximus works as one of your antigravity muscles. When a muscle(s) has such an essential job but is not “awake” (activated), your amazing body will pay a heavy price for the compensation.
I encourage, even challenge, you to learn how to wake up your sleepy glutes as Dr Chatterjee puts it. Take some time to look up Dr Rangan Chatterjees glute activation moves on his website Http://drchatterjee.com/blog/category/movement/. Dr Chatterjee will demonstrate in four separate videos how to wake up your glutes. Try these and pay special attention to the mind muscle connection to ensure your glute is activating. Mentally focus on only feeling the movements in your glutes. If activating your glutes is a struggle, then invest in a trainer that can show you many ways to recruit your glutes for life. I have included a few good moves to try to master for increasing your quality of life via strong gluteals. There are far more moves available, especially as you learn how angles play a role in activating different muscles. Not every human body was created the same, therefore trying to train someone’s glutes in the exact same manner as another will not elicit the same results. Training should be a personal endeavor created around an individual’s anatomical strengths and weaknesses. Where one client may feel more glute activation in a back squat, another may feel more activation during a leg press. Find the moves that work well with your limitations and specifically fire your glutes.
I want to close this article with a few exercises for you to try as you begin your journey to strong glutes. Start with light weight or just your body weight to make sure that you are truly activating your glutes as you perform the following exercises. As mentioned before there are many exercises available that work your glutes and others not in this small list may be ideal for you. Use these as a foundation and opportunity to focus mentally on activating the glutes you worked hard to turn on using the moves you saw on Dr Chatterjees website.
The Hip Thrust/Hip Bridge – Position your scapula (upper back) on a stationary flat bench. Body Alignment -Head forward and back neutral with a slight posterior pelvic tilt with knees at 90 degrees. Dip your hips down and thrust up with a strong glute squeeze. Do not arch your back at the top of the movement. Begin with 3 sets of 20 body weight repetitions then add load aiming for 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. If using a barbell as your load pull it up above the pubic bone. The Hip bridge is performed on the ground versus your scapula on a bench.
Glute Back Extension – Position the pad on the back extension so that it hits below the pelvic bone. Body alignment - Turn your feet so the toes are slightly out and round your upper back which takes the back extensors out of the movement. Relax as you lean forward maintaining the rounded upper back. Using your glutes bring your trunk up as you “thrust” your hips into the pad. Please realize this movement has a small range of motion. Aim for a higher repetition count using your own body weight. For example, 2 sets of 20-25.
Donkey Kick – Begin by kneeling on all fours, hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Maintaining a neutral spine and 90 degrees in your knee drive one leg heel to the ceiling. Start with 2 sets of 30 using your body weight before adding resistance. For resistance you can use a band, a smith machine or the reverse hyper.
Glute Planks – Position your head, neck and tops of your shoulders on a stationary flat bench. Body alignment – create a table with your body maintaining 90 degrees with your knees. Using your glutes in an intense squeeze hold this position for time. Work your way up to 60 seconds. Once you can maintain form for 60seconds add resistance by placing a weight plate on the pelvic girdle. Do not arch your back as you maintain the table position.
It will be well worth your time and energy to learn how to activate your very important quality of life enhancing glutes. Make the decision to change your posture, reduce your pain and susceptibility to injury and increase your overall strength by dedicating training time to your glutes. Start today!
Kimberly Fredrick developed a passion for fitness and strength training when she began exercising in middle school with her father. Her passion led to years of playing volleyball which included playing for the University Of Tampa. She received her Personal Training Certification in 2007 and her Health Coach Certification in 2016, both from the American Council on Exercise. She has been sharing her passion for a strong and healthy lifestyle with clients at McLeod Health and Fitness Center since 2010. She lives with her husband, eleven year old son and two daughters, seven and five, in Florence.