It's All About The Glutes
To activate these super-muscles, add these elements to your workout routine.
Strong glutes, says New York City-based Equinox group fitness manager Danielle Hopkins, "separate athletes from average performers.”
That might be why you hear trainers and instructors preaching the powers of “firing up” or “activating” those glutes: Engage your backside muscles, and you’ll be able unleash your body’s full potential.
First, you have to know what glute activation is. In short, it’s utilizing the three muscles that make up your butt: the gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius, says Hopkins. The problem is, not everyone does this. “While they’re one of the largest and most powerful muscle groups, the glutes also tend to be weak and underutilized—like sleeping giants.”
One of the biggest barriers to strong glutes? Tight hips—which can be caused by too much sitting, says Hopkins. “Without mobile hips you will never be able to maximize glute activation.” Blame position and posture, too, says Matthew N. Berenc, CSCS, director at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in Beverly Hills. If your body isn’t aligned correctly, it will respond by preserving itself, activating other muscles besides your backside, he explains.
But there’s a bit of a myth behind the idea that these muscles can be switched “on” and “off”, says Berenc. “The better way to think about glute activation is as a dimmer switch.”
And considering your glutes play a critical role in how well you accelerate, change direction, and jump, you want that switch to be at its brightest. “The stronger the glutes, the greater the force you can apply to push off the ground. This translates into faster, more powerful, agile athletes,” says Hopkins. A powerful backside can also help with everyday activities: You’ll be able to move a lot more weight and do a lot more with your body, says Berenc. No to mention the injury-prevention payoff, since your glutes—a huge connecting point between your upper and lower body—can take on the stress of activities that can harm your back and knees, he says.
Says Berenc: “You want to train your glutes to be reactive; to express strength and power without you even thinking about it.” Here’s how it’s done.
Roll it out
Loosen up overactive or tight areas that could inhibit mobility and flexibility, suggests Hopkins. Start with your hip flexors, your quads, and your calves.
Work in some hip-openers
Half kneeling hip flexor stretch
Place one foot flat on the ground and your opposite knee on a soft pad or mat. Rest the hand of your front leg on your knee. While maintaining a tall posture, tighten your stomach, and contract the glute of your back leg (the leg with the knee on the floor). Maintaining this position, shift your entire body slightly forward taking care not to arch into the back. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds on one side before repeating with the other leg.
Lay on your back on a couch with your legs hanging over it. Pull one leg into your chest and allow the other leg to hang. Hold this position and switch sides.
Perfect your bridges
Lying on your back with your knees bent and heels on the floor, drive your hips off of floor extending through them and keeping knees, ankles, and hips in line. You can do this with one leg extended or load the hip extension with weight across your lap, says Berenc. This puts more stress on the glutes.
“There is quite a bit of evidence that suggests that for longer duration, lower intensity exercises like distance running, the body is actually trained to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode," says Hopkins. “This means that since the glutes are one of the largest muscles in the body, we’re trained to spare them and not fire them until absolutely necessary.” For this reason, runners can benefit hugely from adding sprints into their training regimen, she says. “The glutes play a large role in creating speed and making us run faster,” adds Berenc. “By running sprints, we’re using the glutes in one of the most athletic activities.”
Deepen your squat
Partial squats really only work the quads—essentially eliminating the glutes from the exercise, says Hopkins. Increase your depth, though (going to and past 90 degrees), and you’ll firm up your backside.
Incorporate resistance bands
With resistance from a band, the glutes are forced to fire and overcome the knees’ urge to rotate, says Berenc. “Resistance bands also help create awareness around how the glutes help to control our knee.” Try side-to-side stepping, duck walks (squatting then walking slowly), or clams (lie on your side with your knees stacked on eachother, bent at 45 degrees, and keeping your heels together slowly open and close your upper knee up and down).
“Deadlifts require the glutes to produce a lot of force,” says Berenc. “They are referred to as a hip dominant movement, which means all the stress is aimed at your backside.”
Position yourself over a kettlebell (the handle should be in line with your shoelaces) or just behind a barbell (the bar should be touching your shins). Push your hips back like you're trying to touch a wall behind you, allowing your knees to bend as needed and keeping length in the spine. Once your hands are to the bell or the bar, grip hard, take a good deep breath in and drive your feet through the floor to stand tall while keeping your back flat (no rounding). At the top, squeeze your glutes and abs as hard as you can, like a standing plank. Reverse the process by initiating the movement with the hips.