The glutes are one of the largest muscle groups in the body and are vital for both life and sport. This group of muscles consists of three major muscles: the glute maximum, glute medius, and glute minimus. They extend the hip (pulls the thigh behind you), abducts the hip (your lateral movement to the side), and does internal and external rotation of the hip. In short, they’re incredibly important, but they’re often weak and underworked.
Today, we spend so much time sitting that our glutes “turn off” or stop firing as efficiently, effectively, and strongly as they should. Once your glutes stop firing, your hip flexors (the muscles that pull the thigh forward) get tight and can lead to injury. Weak glutes can also cause imbalance in the hip, which can affect the back, knees, hamstrings, and groin. Unfortunately, dysfunctions elsewhere in the body can also create problems in the glutes and hips. For example, dysfunction in the foot can translate into hip and glute dysfunction. NPR even did a story on it called “the dormant butt syndrome” (http://www.npr.org/2016/05/29/479913427/-dormant-butt-syndrome-can-be-a-pain-in-the-knee-hip-and-back).
Some benefits of stronger glutes might provide are :
- A decrease in back pain – your glutes work to stabilize the pelvis and keep integrity of movement in the hip joint. When your glutes are strong, your lower back doesn’t bear the brunt of your motion.
- Increased athletic performance – stronger glutes will improve your speed, agility, and jumping skills, and quick side-to-side movements will be easier. Every time you take a step, “your glute max shores up your pelvis and SI joint for stability. When you run, this is even more important, since the force of impact increases exponentially on each foot strike.”
- Prevention of knee pain – when your pelvis isn’t stable, there is a lot of pressure on your knees and ankles to compensate. When your glutes are strong, it helps prevent this naturally.
The following exercises are designed to help offset dysfunction in the glutes by improving lateral and pelvic stability and control, and by generating power. Perform exercises with good form; once form begins to suffer; rest and reset or recover completely. Begin with 1 set of 5-10 reps and then progress to 2 or 3 sets of 10 reps or more as you get stronger.
ELEVATED SPLIT SQUAT – Whether on the ball or outside on the bench, the elevated split squat is a great glute exercise. Specifically, it works the glute max as you press to standing, and the glute med keeps your pelvis even while your feet are on two different planes:
- Begin by placing the top of your right foot on the bench, with your left leg straight. Bend your left knee, engage your right glute, and lower your pelvis toward the ground. You want your left foot out far enough so that when you lower your hips, your knee stays directly over your ankle.
- Straighten your left leg and rise back up to the starting position. Perform 8-12 and then repeat on the other side.
CLAMSHELL – The clam targets the glute med and helps build hip control. Start by lying on your left side. Bring your knees and hips to a 45-degree angle bend. Position your top pelvis away from your head to bring your waist off the floor. Maintain this neutral position throughout the entire exercise.
- Lift your top knee up, keeping your heels together. Lower back to starting position, ensuring that you’re not moving your pelvis or torso.
- Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute, then switch sides.
HIP BRIDGE – the bridge is one of the best movements to stretch your hips, activate your glutes and give you stronger glutess while also helping to prevent and alleviate low back pain. Basically whatever your goals are, you need to include a bridge variation in your leg workouts because these moves do the opposite of what your body does all day seated at a desk hunched over a computer.
- Lie flat on your back with feet flat, knees bent and arms at your sides. Your feet should be hip-distance apart and positioned close to the glutes.
- Press through the heels and raise the hips up toward the ceiling. Your back, hips and thighs should be in a straight line, at approximately a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Stay at the top position for 2 counts and then return to the starting position.
- Perform 20 reps.
SINGLE-LEG TOUCH – in this one-legged move, the glute max is worked as you stand, and the med gets utilized for stabilization. Your core will need to be working to maintain your balance!
- Begin standing with all your weight on your left foot.
- Keeping your spine long, reach forward, bending your left knee and touching your right fingers to the ground. Keep your abs engaged to keep your torso stable. Your right leg will go behind you to help you balance.
- Press your left heel into the ground as you lift your torso up to return to standing, bringing the right toes to touch next to the left foot. This completes one rep.
STEP-UPS – this is a great leg strengthener and a good strength exercise since it mimics a real-life movement, making it more functional than other lower-body strength exercises. The step-up has several variations, below is the basic move.
- Place your right foot on a bench, step or sturdy chair.
- Push off your right foot and step up onto the bench with both feet. Step down with the left foot, keeping the right foot on the bench.
- Perform 12 reps on each side.
- An option: hold a dumbbell in each hand and down by your sides.
Sources: ACE Fitness & LIvestrong and TP co-workers