The TRUTH about GLUTES and GLUTE ACTIVATION
Julia Kirkpatrick, MS,CSCS
Banded monster walks.
Stability wall squats.
What do these exercises all have in common?
They give that booty a PUMP!
Before we delve into glute activation – what muscles make up your glutes and what do they do?
The ‘glutes’ are made up of three muscle groups:
Location: This is the largest gluteal muscle and makes up the bulk of your booty!
Primary functions: Hip extension and hip external rotation
Example in action: The gluteus maximus helps propel a sprinter out of the blocks and helps an athlete jump during any sporting movement
Location: This muscle is oriented laterally on your booty and is mostly covered by the gluteus maximus
Primary Functions: Aids in stabilization of your pelvis, hip rotation, and hip abduction (moving your hip outwards)
Example in action: The gluteus medius helps to resist inward knee caving during a squat
Location: This muscle is the smallest of the gluteal muscles and the deepest of the three (underneath the gluteus medius)
Primary Functions: Hip joint stability
Example in action: The gluteus minimus aids in hip stabilization during walking
When thinking about sports performance, it makes sense that you should give your glutes some extra TLC!
After all, the glutes play a central role in sporting movements as they relate to sporting movements, like sprinting and jumping!6
Furthermore, weak glutes have been associated with several lower extremity dysfunctions and increased risk of injury such as: ACL tears, patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, and knee collapse2,3,8,9.
So back to our glute exercises:
Banded monster walks.
Stability wall squats.
Glute action for DAYS. So, then it probably should go something like this, right?
Glute activation warmup (ex: clamshells, banded walks)
Increases the activation of gluteal muscle fibers
Increases force production
Improved sports performance (such as jump height and faster sprinting)
This sequence of events seems logical……
But, here’s the secret: research has demonstrated that glute activation exercises are NOT likely to enhance your performance!1,2,5
Doing a special glute activation warmup before your sprints, squats, or sport practice is NOT likely to help and, in some cases, it may do more harm than good1.
Greater activation does NOT necessarily mean better outcomes.
But my coach/ PT/ AT/ doctor said my glutes are weak….so what should I do?
Instead, it is likely more beneficial to warm up the specific movement or skill that you need to perform that day whether it’s sprints or squats by performing more repetitions at a submaximal intensity to properly warm up the musculature1.
For instance, rather than doing glute bridges or clam shells to “activate” your glutes, your “activation” should look more something like this:
If you need to perform back squats for 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 135 pounds for your working weight your warmup progression might looks something like this:
- 10 body weight squats
- 1 set of 5 at 65 pounds
- 1 set of 5 at 95 pounds
- 1 set of 5 at 115 pounds
- First set of squats at 135 pounds
Now, it may be beneficial to strategically incorporate specific glute exercises to improve movement quality (again, NOT performance).
An example of this might be using a band around an athlete’s knees to provide a tactical cue that reinforces a safe knee position.
However, it is likely an athlete will be able to achieve a similar movement pattern with a coach using verbal cues to reinforce positioning and enhance movement quality.
Another possible way to “warm up” the back squat is by supersetting it with the goblet squat. By performing a goblet squat right before a back squat set, an athlete is able to practice the squat movement pattern with a less technical variant prior to the more technical one at a higher intensity.
Remember, progression is the name of the game when it comes to adaptation and improved sport performance.
So if your athlete can back squat her body weight… a goblet squat alone will not be enough stimulus for her body to build strength. But it is just enough to help her enhance her movement quality when performing movements that will improve sport performance.
Meanwhile, having an athlete perform glute kickbacks or banded walkouts will not only be too small of a stimulus to activate her glutes and improve sport performance….. but they also won’t help engrain any type of improved movement pattern.
So what’s the bottom line about GLUTE ACTIVATION?
While it may seem like a bummer (pun fully intended) – a booty pump can be fun – the good news is that you don’t have to use precious time to add a special warmup for your booty; a regular warmup utilizing incorporating the specific movements you’ll be doing the day will suffice just fine!
- Barry, L., Kenny, I., & Comyns, T. (2016). Performance Effects of Repetition Specific Gluteal Activation Protocols on Acceleration in Male Rugby Union Players. Journal of Human Kinetics, 54, 33–42. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2016-0033
- Harrison, A. J., & McCabe, C. (2017). The effect of a gluteal activation protocol on sprint and drop jump performance. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, (3). https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06025-4
- Krause, D. A., Jacobs, R. S., Pilger, K. E., Sather, B. R., Sibunka, S. P., & Hollman, J. H. (2009). Electromyographic Analysis of the Gluteus Medius in Five Weight-Bearing Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Champaign, 23(9), 2689–2694.
- Marieb, E. (2001). Human Anatomy & Physiology Fifth Edition. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
- Parr, M., Price, P. D., & Cleather, D. J. (2017). Effect of a gluteal activation warm-up on explosive exercise performance. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine; London, 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000245
- Pinfold, S. C., Harnett, M. C., & Cochrane, D. J. (2018). The acute effect of lower-limb warm-up on muscle performance. Research in Sports Medicine, 26(4), 490–499. https://doi.org/10.1080/15438627.2018.1492390
- Presswood, L., Cronin, J., Keogh, J. W. L., & Whatman, C. (2008). Gluteus Medius: Applied Anatomy, Dysfunction, Assessment, and Progressive Strengthening: Strength and Conditioning Journal, 30(5), 41–53. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0b013e318187f19a
- Reiman, M. P., Bolgla, L. A., & Loudon, J. K. (2012). A literature review of studies evaluating gluteus maximus and gluteus medius activation during rehabilitation exercises. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 28(4), 257–268. https://doi.org/10.3109/09593985.2011.604981
- Semciw, A., Neate, R., & Pizzari, T. (2016). Running related gluteus medius function in health and injury: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 30, 98–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2016.06.005