If you spend an hour with me as your trainer, regardless if it’s in a one on one personal training setting or in a large group, there is one word you will hear repeated again and again: glutes. Squeeze your glutes. Engage your glutes. Contract your glutes. Stabilize with your glutes. Glutes, glutes, glutes. They are that important.
The glutes are involved in almost every activity we perform throughout the day. The glutes help to generate force and propel you forward as you walk or run. The glutes contract to help you walk up the stairs or jump over a fence. Even if you don’t care about having round and firm glutes that look great, you still want to tune in and learn how to train these muscles to function at their best for longevity and health.
Training for muscle hypertrophy?
You better TRAIN YOUR GLUTES as they’re a major piece in a well-balanced physique, regardless of if you’re male or female. Large glutes make the waist look smaller, leading to a more pleasing and aesthetic looking physique.
Are you a powerlifter or Olympic lifter needing strength and explosiveness?
The glutes may very well be the most important muscle as it is a huge muscle that generates large amounts of force and also stabilizes the pelvis, increasing the efficiency of your lifts and decreasing the likelihood of injury. TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.
Are you an athlete?
If so read the paragraph above again for good measure. Power, speed, and explosion is the name of the game for athletes, so, you guessed it, TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.
Do you have back pain, hip pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, etc?
Many times strengthening the glutes and re-patterning them will reduce tension on other muscles and joints, improve your posture and movement mechanics, and ultimately lead to less back pain and better overall functionality. TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.
Regardless of who you are or what situation you’re in, you need to train your glutes and ensure that you’re training them properly. This means training them with various rep ranges and weights, in several positions and muscle lengths, and having a good understanding of their function and a quality mind-muscle connection (how well you can “feel” a muscle working in various positions). Add those all up and you’ve got a great recipe for a rocking set of glutes that are nice to look at, perform well, and keep you standing upright, healthy, and pain-free.
First things first, let’s talk about the function of the glutes, because without understanding this trying to isolate, strengthen and/or grow your glutes is going to be a futile effort.
The glutes are one of the strongest muscles groups in the entire body and serve multiple purposes. In addition to assisting with stabilization of the pelvis, the glutes also perform hip abduction, external rotation, and extension.
Abduction of the hip is moving the leg, specifically the upper leg, away from the mid-line of the body. When you drive your knees wide at the bottom of a squat, or side step/shuffle, you are performing hip abduction. It’s important to note, that while hip abduction and rotation can seem similar, like in the bottom of a squat, they are not the same thing.
External rotation of the hip is the act of rotating the upper leg away from the body’s mid-line. When thinking about external rotation, imagine your thigh/upper leg has a laser pointer shooting straight out from the thigh. When relaxed that laser pointer will point at a target right in front of you. When externally rotated, like in the bottom of a squat, those lasers will point slightly outward at an angle. This is the difference between abduction and external rotation: when the hips abduct, the thigh, and conversely, the knee, are still pointed directly in front of you. In external rotation, this isn’t the case as the thighs and knees will rotate and point outward.
Hip extension is moving the upper leg behind the hips and torso. This is one of the most important, and difficult, functions of the hip as many people tend to have poor motor control and/or bracing techniques, leading to movement from lower back, rather than the hips. When you walk or run, you are extending your hip, further reinforcing the importance of strong and healthy glutes.
Hip abduction, external rotation, and extension are the primary functions of the glutes, and should make up the bulk of your glute training. A truly strong and healthy muscle is able to contract through its full range of motion, which means we must train that muscle through in various positions and ranges of motion (ROM). This calls for us to develop and master a strong mind-muscle connection that allows us to load, contract, and use our glutes basically any chance we get.
There are two main components of being able to load your glutes and hips properly. The first is the hip position and control of that position. A muscle functions and develops its best when working from a neutral position. For the glutes, this means keeping the hips as close to neutral as possible and avoiding excessive tilting in either direction.
Just as important, if not more so, is the control and stability of the pelvic position. If the pelvis isn’t properly stabilized, not only will you leak force production, reducing power, output and ultimately, growth, but you will greatly increase your risk of injury. When thinking about alignment and stability of the pelvis, especially during movement, it helps to think about your pelvis a cup full of water. The idea is to keep your cup (pelvis) neutral so you don’t leak or spill water, which is the equivalent of losing stability, leaking force production, and risking injury.
Secondary to hip position and control of the pelvis, is learning how to properly flex and load your hips. Most people understand how to contract their glutes, they simply squeeze them. Learning how to load your glutes is the key to fully developing strong, healthy, and nice looking glutes.
Loading your glutes comes down to the flexing of your hips. Hip flexion is the act of folding your torso and bringing the lower half of your stomach and upper half of your thighs together. If you were to place hands, palms up, into the front of your pelvis and fold around them, you would be flexing your hips. When squatting and deadlifting you are flexing your hips at the bottom of each movement. Doing this properly allows the glutes to stretch and contract to their fullest, increasing the effectiveness and safety of the movements in which hip flexion is performed.
Many coaches and fitness enthusiasts use the cue “weight on your heels”, and while this can help some people, in many cases this actually interferes with their ability to flex their hips. Instead of flexing the hips, people tend to focus on shifting their weight into their heels, many times lifting the toes to accentuate the feeling. This is not only ineffective for glute training, it also greatly reduces stability and increases risk of injury.
Instead of worrying about your weight being on your heels, try to imagine shifting your hips as far behind your heels as you possibly can while maintain a neutral spine (no arching or rounding of lower back/shoulders). This will allow you to keep your feet planted, improving stability, safety, and power, as well as help to engage and isolate the glute muscles during movements like squats, deadlifts and lunges.
Another cue or idea I like to give my clients (when actively trying to target the glutes) is to keep the shins vertical, and control or restrict forward translation (movement) of the knees. Vertical shin position helps with force production and engagement of the glutes, and restriction of forward knee movement reduces involvement from the quads and emphasizes use of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). Learning how to reduce usage of the quads, and subsequent movement of the knees, is a huge factor in being able to isolate and target the glute muscles.
By now you must realize how important the glute muscles are to your overall health, regardless of what your goals are. Everything from sitting and standing, to walking and running, involves the use of the glutes. Learning how to isolate and use your glute muscles is key to being able to engage them to generate force, improve stability, and decrease the risk of pain and injury. Whether you are looking to build round, firm glutes that draw the eye, powerful glutes that can lift thousands of pounds, or simply want to improve your posture, and reduce pain/dysfunction, training your glutes (properly) is arguably the most important thing you can do.
Take the information that you’ve learned here and apply it going forward in your training. Doing so will make each and every workout more effective. And, for more information on the glutes, like the best ways to activate them and exercises to grow them, follow me on Instagram @adamchosenson or AchieveFit LLC on Facebook. Happy glute gains!
P.S. Keep in mind, many of the cues used in this article are designed to specifically target or increase output from the glutes and won’t transfer over to each movement. For instance, if you are squatting for maximum power and depth it’s unlikely that you will be able to keep your shins vertical and knees from shifting forward and that’s ok. The cues in this article are here to help you shift your intention on certain exercises (including squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc) to make them more glute focused.