I feel like every person I’ve met has been told that they have “lazy glutes” (from too much sitting) and that they should do glute activation exercises, especially before a run.
Personally, I learnt the value of glutei activation when I did a lower body class on a Friday then ran a PB at my half marathon the next day with very sore glutes. I figured that lower body class actually “switched on” my glutes and reminded them they needed to contribute which made my running more efficient!
So I reached out to Modestas, Sports Therapist and current MSC Osteopathy Student, to share the lowdown on glutes, glutei activation and some effective exercises you can incorporate into your routine.
Gluteal activation has become a very important aspect of training and rehabilitation in recent years. There are many studies suggesting that encouraging gluteal activation and building up the gluteal strength can help to improve sports performance and help to manage certain pathologies such as lower back pain, hip pain and knee pain.
More From Modestas:
- Foot Pain When Running Caused By Plantar Fasciitis?
- Dealing With Shin Splints – Symptoms & Treatment
- Ankle Strengthening For Runners
- Managing Knee Pain When Running & Cycling
It does not mean that glute activation is the cure for everything. Whether or not the gluteal activation and strengthening exercises are for you, largely depends on your goals and any injuries you are trying to manage.
So, what is a gluteal activation and how does it work? Or what are glutei muscle group in general?
Anatomy of Your Gluteal Muscles
The gluteal muscles are located at the back of your hip, basically, it is your bottom. They are made up of three major muscles, the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius and gluteus maximus. All of the muscles have a slightly different function.
Gluteus medius and minimus are the primary abductors of the hip, which basically means moving your leg outwards, however, when your hip is flexed to 90 degrees, they also become an assistant in internal rotation of the hip.
Gluteus maximus is the extensor of your hip, meaning it brings your leg back. It is believed that it is the most powerful muscle in the body. If this muscle group does not work properly, the structures around it must overcompensate, hence, resulting in pains and aches or overuse related injuries in the long run.
BadAss 30min Lower Body Workout:
Here’s a 30 minute glute workout you can do at home. No equipment is needed, and it’s suitable for all levels.
It’s a perfect glute workout for runners, cyclists and for general strength and fitness. Follow along this live workout recorded on Instagram.
Hit the arrow in the bottom right corner for full screen on phone.
Why Glute Activation Is Important
When the gluteus maximus is activated at the right time and has sufficient strength, it works as the main muscle to propel you forward when you walk or run.
Also, it can have a significant impact on your cycling. Take a moment to think about it, every time we walk and cycle we flex and extend at the hip. Because gluteus maximus is the primary and most powerful hip extensor, these movements should be initiated by that muscle and supported by your legs and not vice versa.
Moreover, when you are hitting the gym and doing squats, lunges and deadlifts and feel DOMS in your legs and lower back, but not much at your bottom, it is very likely that you have a ‘lazy ass’ meaning that your glutes are not involved where it should be them doing majority of the work.
Glute Activation, Back Pain & Knee Pain
When it comes to injury management the glutei muscles plays a vital role too. When you have your gluteus minimus, medius and maximus working well together, it reduces the level of strain in the surrounding area.
This includes reducing strain from your sacroiliac joint (SIJ), which is the joint joining your pelvis and your spine and they reduce the pressure going through your pelvis and knees as gluteus maximus is a powerful shock absorber.
In addition, glutes that work well reduces the strain placed on your quads, hamstrings and quadratus lumborum (QL) which are muscles located at the front and back of your thigh and on either side of your lower back respectively, hence, reducing the risk for developing overuse related injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, pes anserine bursitis, ITB syndrome, various tendinopathies of the muscle groups mentioned and lower back pain.
What Does Glute Activation Feel Like
So, how do ensure that your glutes are engaged and firing properly? It can be quite a tricky process. It will all depend on your individual body and how it has been working to this point.
At first it might be a weird feeling if you are not used to having your glutei working and even simple exercises might be quite a challenge. But most importantly, after consistently completing the exercises, tasks such as walking will feel different because you will have your bum taking over and giving you that extra support.
It will make you feel weird, but also stronger and having more control over your hips almost immediately. From there it will all depend on consistency and persistence. The more times you will engage and work on your glutes correctly, the more active and stronger it will become.
So, the idea of the exercises is to ensure that glutei engagement becomes something natural and involuntary, meaning you do not have to think about it, it just happens, like breathing, every time you take a step, pedal or standing up after picking something off of the floor.
Exercises For Glute Activation
Below you will find three very simple but effective exercises to work on your glute engagement. These exercises can be used as a part of your rehabilitation program, after consulting the professional who is looking after you, and as a part of your warm up before more complex activities such as squatting, lunging, deadlifting and getting involved into sports requiring running, changing in direction, jumping and pedalling.
Exercise 1 – Hip Extension in Prone:
Lie on your front. Before lifting the leg up ensure that you consciously squeeze the glute of the leg that you are about to lift up. You should be able to feel your bum tight and squeezed.
Then lift the leg up maintaining the engagement of the glutes and hold for 3 seconds. Remember that it does not matter how high you lift your leg, what counts is that you feel the glute engagement and that your leg is off the floor.
Moreover, lifting your leg up too high causes overarching of your lower back, so if you already suffer from lower back pain, it is likely that it can aggravate it. Return the leg down to the ground and repeat on the other side.
Exercise 2 – Hip Abduction In Side Lying:
Lie on your side. Squeeze your glutes and only then lift your leg up. Hold for three seconds.
Ensure that you actually feel the squeeze in your glutes. It will feel different to the previous exercise as this one is focusing on glute mid and min so you should be feeling engagement higher up in the hip and more to the outside of the hip.
You will also feel some tension in the outside of your upper thigh, however, it is normal as it will be your tensor fascia latae which is engaging. These muscle groups are working very closely to one another, so as long as you feel your glutes engaging too, try and emphasise that squeeze.
Exercise 3 – Good Mornings:
Stand tall and slowly bend forward from your hips keeping minimal bend in your knees. When you start feeling a gentle stretch in your hamstring stand back up again keeping your back straight and squeezing your glutes through the movement and at the end of it.
Again all of this might feel awkward and unusual, but with practice and consistency it will become normal.
My cycling and running form have both improved as a result and coupled with a focus on recovery, including foam rolling, my training schedule is building back up nicely!
Any other areas of weakness you’d love some advice on?