If you’ve ever been to a physiotherapist before or had any sort of knee, hip or back issue, you’ve probably been told something along the lines of “your glutes are not firing” or “your glutes aren’t strong enough.” But what does this mean? How do you start activating and strengthening the glute muscles? And why are the glutes so important?
The Importance of Your Glute Muscles
Your three glute muscles – gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus – all play a role in the movement and stabilisation of the hip and pelvic region. That is, they help move your hip joint as well as controlling unwanted movement. They are an important muscle group when we are walking and running, balancing on one leg (which we do much more than we realise – take going up stairs for example!), as well as common movements like bending, squatting and lifting.
Your glutes stabilise the pelvis and legs when performing all of these movements – they help take the load off of the back and the knee. This is why the glutes are commonly identified as a causative factor of injury and why they are one of the most targeted muscle groups for exercise.
But I Train Glutes All the Time!!
Just because you’re doing an exercise to target your glute, doesn’t necessarily mean your glute is working during that exercise. The body is an expert in getting stuff done, whether it’s doing it right or compensating in some way. For this reason, you could be doing all the right exercises but training the wrong muscles!
Common reasons the glutes may not be firing during exercises (and what you should look out for when training) are:
- Flat feet – flat or pronated feet will rotate the leg inward, jamming up the hip joint and stretching the glute, making it harder to fire
- Stiff hips – similar to above, stiff hips make it hard to put the body in the correct position to fire the glutes, and often means we are using our hip flexors much more through most movements
- Poor movement patterns – stiffness and/or weakness leads to poor form and technique. With repetition and time, this poor technique and pattern is learned and strengthened by the body and is happening even if you are not exercising – when you squat to pick something up, walk down the street or go up the stairs, your body is responding to how you move and learning patterns of movement
Easy Ways to Test If You Are Training Correctly
- Are you feeling an exercise in your glute area? If the muscle is working, you should be feeling it!
- Can you stand on one leg and hold your pelvis level and steady? This is known as a Trendelenburg sign and is a good indicator of glute stability
- Can you sit back into your hips in a squat or hip hinge? An inability to weight-bear through the heels is a sign that you are ‘anteriorly dominant’ or using the muscles on the front of the body too much
The 6 Best Exercises for Your Glutes
Here are 6 exercises that will help you activate, strengthen and control your glute muscles. They start easy and get progressively harder:
1. Glute bridge
Feet shoulder width apart, knees pushed out. Squeeze the glute muscles and push through the heels of the feet to drive the hips upward, trying to get a straight line from the shoulders to the knees.
Recommended sets: 3 x 10
Progress by: Adding a band around the knees
Watch out for: Using the hamstrings – make sure the feet are close to the glutes
Lying on your side with knees bent 45 degrees in front. Make sure the shoulders, hips and knees are lined up perpendicular to the floor. Lift the top knee, keeping the hips stacked (i.e. not rotating backward)
Recommended sets: 3 x 8
Progress by: Adding a band around the knees
Watch out for: Using the hip flexors, don’t let the hips rotate as you lift the leg
3. Standing Wall Clam
Standing with feet under the hips and a towel/pillow/roller between the knee and the wall. Hinge the hips backward and push the knees outward, then lift the leg closest to the wall and hold for 2 seconds.
Recommended sets: 2 second holds, 2 x 5 holds each leg
Progress by: Increasing hold time, working up to 10 seconds each hold
Watch out for: The knee creeping forward – keep the shin vertical. Also, don’t let the knees collapse inward, keep the knees apart
4. Crab walk
Standing in a hip hinge position with a band around the knees. Sidestep to the left three times and then sidestep to the right three times. Keep tension on the band at all times by driving the knees out
Recommended sets: 5 x 3 steps each direction
Progress by: Placing the band around the ankles – progress further by placing the band around the middle of the feet
Watch out for: The knees creeping forward – keep the shins vertical
5. Single leg deadlift
Standing with feet shoulder width apart, slowly lift one leg off the ground behind you, keeping the knee straight. Hinge at the hips and keep a straight line from the heel to the head. Slowly return to standing.
Recommended sets: 3 x 10 each side
Progress by: Adding weights in each hand
Watch out for: Bending through the back – keep the back and leg straight as you move from the hips. Keep the shin vertical.
Move into a single leg deadlift position and then slowly rotate the shoulder and hips away from the standing leg, keeping the knee facing forward. Return to the start position and then back to standing.
Recommended sets: 3 x 8 each side
Progress by: Increasing the number of reps, holding a weight in the hands
Watch out for: The standing knee rotating with the rest of the body – resist this movement by activating the glute and pushing the knee out.
This article was written by Physiotherapist – Sam Crossland, from our Precision Physio Concord clinic. If you would like more information, or feel you might benefit from a session with one of the Precision Physio team, you can either come into our clinics, or work with us online.
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- Customer Support Centre: 02 8607 4000
- Precision Physio Concord: 02 9736 3950
- Precision Physio St Marys: 02 9623 2220
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To learn more about online consultations, please call us on any of the numbers listed above.