The glutes aka Gluteus Maximus aka "the butt muscles" as well as the other glute muscles are very important for low back and lower extremity health and performance. Often times, athletes and clients have a difficult time using their glutes or feeling an exercise in this particular area.
Here are 3 Tips on How to Improve Glute Activation
1. Find the Outside of Your Heel
This was a cue that I learned from Tony Bonvechio with squatting. It is a great cue for teaching an athlete or client to keep their knees from caving in when squatting without saying “drive your knees out.” It can be a more effective cue to put the lower body in a better position.
With that being said, the major muscles that put the lower body in a better position are the glutes. By using the cue “find the outside of your heel when squatting” it improves activation of the glutes and the muscles that externally rotate the hips and lower legs.
If someone has difficulty with this verbal cue, you can place your hands on the outside of their heels and instruct them to push into your hands with their heels to improve their glute activation.
2. Frog Pumps
This is a great exercise that is a variation from the typical bridge movement. I first saw this from Bret Contreras.
By placing the lower body in a feet together, hips externally rotated position, it puts the glutes in an advantageous position to work since they abduct and externally rotate the hips.
Then instruct the person to keep their feet together and lift their hips up like a normal bridge variation. This can be a great way to teach someone how to activate their glutes.
If that doesn’t work, try placing a band around their knees while doing a frog pump and that can also improve glute activation as well.
3. Exercise Selection
There are various strengthening exercises that can favor glute activation. Anecdotally, with me, I find that doing Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges or Landmine Single Leg Deadlifts(SLDL) are great for working the glutes.
Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges
Landmine Single Leg Deadlifts
For the Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges, it increases the range of motion, specifically hip flexion, for the exercise. The glutes work to extend the hip for terminal hip extension, but they are also active in a deep hip flexion position. When you are in the bottom position of the reverse lunge, the glutes work to bring you out of that deep hip flexion position.
For the Landmine SLDL, the glutes work to extend the hip to bring you back up to a standing position, but also work to control rotation in the frontal plane. When performing single leg work, the trunk has a propensity to want to rotate. The glutes work to maintain a neutral spine when on one leg.
So, if you or your athletes/clients have difficulty activating their glutes, try having them incorporate frog pumps, landmine SLDL/front foot elevated reverse lunges, or “finding the outside of their heels” when squatting.
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