You may have heard a coach or trainer talk about “firing up your glutes.” That is because, due to our mostly sedentary lifestyle, our gluteal muscles develop muscle amnesia, and basically forget that they need to activate and get involved with our movement, whether it’s running, weight lifting, or simply the everyday movements of life.
Injury can be another cause of inactive glutes. When a person is injured, their body mechanics can change. This can lead to some muscles working overtime, while others, like the glutes do the opposite.
Even active people, those who work out frequently, can have inactive glutes, especially if the rest of their day is spent sitting at a desk.
What happens when your glutes don’t activate?
Your gluteal muscles are powerful muscles that help prevent injury and provide power for many sports, including running. Weak glutes, or glutes that don’t fire when needed can lead to the wrong muscles trying to take over those actions. This can lead to low back pain or knee injuries as those areas of the body try to compensate.
A runner needs both to activate as well as strengthen her glutes. And activating and waking them up before strengthening, as well as before running is vital.
Try this exercise to see the difference.
Stand on your right leg and hold onto something for balance. Standing straight, lift your left leg behind you without bending your knee. Now, lower your leg, purposefully squeeze your left glute. Try the same movement. Notice the difference? During the second lift, you should feel your glutes kick in as you lift your leg. This is activation.
Glute Activation Exercises
Do a few of these exercises before your runs, as well as before your strength training sessions. That will make sure that your glutes are awake and ready to do their job. The key is to make sure that you squeeze your glutes through these movements, then give an extra squeeze at the top of each movement.
A note on engaging the core. You will notice that most of these exercises instruct you to engage your core as you complete them. By that, we mean to contract your abdominals by pulling in your stomach and bracing them as you would if someone was going to punch you. Practice that and make certain that you breathe during each move.
Lie on your side with your knees bent and your feet together. Support your head with your arm or a pillow. Squeeze your glutes, lift your top knee, keeping your heels touching. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
To progress: Use an elastic band around your thighs to create more resistance.
Kneel on all fours, aligning your shoulders above your wrists and your hips above your knees. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and lift your right legs out to the side, keeping the knee bent at about 90 degrees. Hold for a second, then lower to starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes, engage your core, and lift your hips so that your weight rests on your upper back. Keep your spine straight as you lift your hips. Hold for a second then slowly return to starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
To advance: Do the move holding one leg extended off the ground.
Start in alignment on all fours. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and, keeping your knee bent lift your leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Hold for a second then return to starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
Start in alignment on all fours. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, then extend your right arm and left leg at the same time until they are parallel with the ground. Return to your starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
To advance: After extending your arm and leg, round your back up slightly and bring your elbow to touch your opposite knee. Complete all the repetitions on one side, then the other.
Single Leg Hip Extension
Start in alignment on all fours, then lower to your forearms and extend one leg behind you. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes then lift the leg slowly. Hold for a second at the top, then lower to about several inches above the ground. Do 15 repetitions on one leg, then complete on the other side. Do two sets.
Glute Strengthening Exercises
Do a few of these strengthening exercises two or three times a week. They can be added to your regular lower body workout. Again, it is very important to focus your mental and physical effort on squeezing your glutes as you do each exercise. It really will make a difference.
Reverse Hip Extension
Lie over a ball or a bench so that you are bent at the hips. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and lift both legs. Don’t hyperextend your back, just lift until your legs are in alignment with your upper body. Slowly lower your legs. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
One Leg Deadlift
Shift your weight onto your right leg. Engage your core and bend over at the hips, allowing your left leg to lift behind you. You can hold onto something for balance if necessary. Squeeze the glutes in your right leg as you return to a standing position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
To advance, hold a weight or kettlebell in your hands.
Start by standing straight. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, then step into a side lunge. Keep both feet pointing forward and sit back into your hips. Return to your starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
Slider Back Lunge
Stand on a pair of sliders (paper plates work too). Engage your core. Slide your right leg back into a reverse lunge. Squeeze your glutes and slide your leg back to starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
Step Up/Side Step Up
Select a step or bench based on your height. When you place your foot on the bench your knee should form about a 90 degree angle. Step up with your right foot. Engage your core. Squeeze the glutes on your right side. Lift yourself up without pushing off of the left foot. Tap your left foot, then lower yourself to starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
For the side step up, place your right foot on the step. Engage your core and the glutes on your right side. Lift up without pushing off your left foot. Pause at the top for a second, then lower to your starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
Remember, you don’t have to do all of these exercises at each workout. Pick a few of the glute activators and two or three of the glute strengtheners, trying to vary them at each workout for a well rounded training plan (and butt!).
Do you take time to fire up your glutes before your workout? Do you have a favorite glute exercise?
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