Glutes are the largest muscle in the body. They are constantly working, enabling us to walk, run, jump and even simply stand. As our lives become more and more sedentary, we’re spending more and more time sitting down, which can lead to weak, underactive glutes… and unfortunately, a weak butt can lead to injuries. In this blog, we’ll explore why you should train these muscles regularly, share some great exercises and give you some key tips to keep in mind when working out your glutes.
The anatomy of the glutes deserves its own blog, but to sum it up very briefly, here’s what you need to know. There are three main muscles that make up your glutes:
The squat is one of the fundamental human movements that we all use everyday. Squatting improves fitness, power, muscle tone and sports performance, but also strength and mobility for daily life tasks.
Learning to squat well can be the deciding factor between getting injured or not – whether that be tomorrow, lifting a heavy box off the floor or years down the line, perhaps in our 70s as we age and are more prone to injury. Learning to squat well can reduce that risk of injury.
The squat is a movement that uses nearly every muscle in the body. To keep it simple, the main muscles worked are: quads, glutes, adductors and soleus (calf muscle). Secondary, stabilising muscles are: erector spinae, abs, obliques, hamstrings and gastrocnemius (calf muscle).
If you haven’t squatted before, start with bodyweight squats focusing on engaging the right muscles and improving mobility, specifically in the hips and ankles. Follow on with goblet squats and gradually, progressively increase the weight used. Remember that with any new exercise, you should start with a higher rep range (12 to 15) and light weights.
If you already squat regularly, squat variations to consider are front squat, back squat, jump squat, box jump, split squats and pistols.
With any compound movement, it’s really important to make sure that you are fully warmed up beforehand. Before squats, we recommend doing some glute activation exercises, such as banded side steps, quadruped kickbacks, glute bridges and clams.
The deadlift is another compound movement that uses muscles in the back, glutes, legs and abs. It is one of the few exercises that targets both the lower and upper body. When performed correctly, the deadlift can be used to reduce the risk of injury to lower back.
Learning to hip hinge or deadlift properly can help reduce your risk of injury to your lower back by strengthening your glutes, abs and back. It will also help when you next go to lift something heavy from the floor. The deadlift will teach you how to lift using your hips, core and not your spine!
Even a beginner should definitely deadlift, as it’s a great tool for body awareness. Start simple with a bodyweight hip hinge. Nail that first, then move on to light dumbbell romanian deadlifts.
If you’re already deadlifting, maybe look into single leg deadlifts and single leg romainian deadlifts.
Lunges are a great exercise for hip stability and glute strength. They are teach us pelvic stability, core strength and balance. If you’re new to exercise, good variants include reverse lunges, forward lunges, side lunges and curtsey lunges. Some more advanced versions that we like are: reverse lunges with cable row (for posterior sling activation), step ups into reverse lunge (to work the posterior chain) and split lunges with a high wood chop (to build core rotation strength)
Isolate the glute and make it stronger with this exercise. Hip thrusts, again, can be introduced progressively from bodyweight to heavier, step by step. The key to hip thrusts is to drive from the hips. Remember to squeeze your glutes and engage your core at the top.
5. Sport-specific exercises
If you are interested in a specific sport, the best thing you can do is focus on glute exercises that are specific to your sport to get that transfer of exercises to function. We’ve included cycling and running below – for advice relating to other sports, chat to a Grow trainer!
Since cycling is a lower-body dominated exercise, it’s natural to assume that this would be great for your glute muscles. To some extent, you would be right – the pedal stroke involves a lot of hip extension and flexion, which recruits your glutes. However, the highly repetitive motion doesn’t involve much abduction (moving away from the midline of the body), adduction (moving towards the midline of the body) or any rotation (turning the leg inwards or outwards).
When the muscles that rotate your hips are weak, you might find your knees collapsing towards your bike frame instead of maintaining a more vertical track. This can cause medial knee pain, which can be addressed by strengthening your stabilising glute muscles and working on activating your glutes properly before getting on the saddle.
If you work at a desk, your glutes will be snoozing for a large part of the day. Hopping on a bike and asking these powerful muscles to wake up enough to power your pedal stroke is quite the demand – if they’re not properly activated, then your hamstrings may overwork, your back can become tired and your knees may become sore – all because your powerhouse isn’t awake enough to support your joints. Strengthening your glutes and making sure that they’re able to fire up properly can help to prevent lumbar pain, knee pain and problems with hip mobility – all of which will help you to become a stronger cyclist.
To explain why strong glutes are so important for runners, here’s a view ways in which, biomechanically, walking is very different to running:
So, what does this all mean for your glutes? The higher impact forces exerted on your body through ground reaction forces, swing leg acceleration/deceleration, hip extension and trunk stabilisation require the glutes to be functioning optimally. Primarily, we need the glutes to stabilise the pelvis, keeping the hip, knee and ankle in alignment. We also need them to drive the running gait cycle, rather than follow. If the glutes are weak, the body will rely on weaker muscles groups such as the hamstrings to extend the hip or the ITB (fascia connecting hip flexor to knee cap) to control the knee. This could lead to a painfully tight ITB or hamstring tendinopathy.
When our glutes have no reason to fire, such as when we sit at our desks for hours at a time, the glutes can go into hibernation mode. Spending some time on a few basic ‘activation’ exercises can help to kick them into gear ready for your run or workout.
The glutes are potentially the most important muscle in our body. Use them correctly for better posture, increased intensity during exercise and greater strength gains! Contact Grow for 1-to-1 personal training for tailored, specific help to achieve YOUR goals. Drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in for a free initial consultation today and kick start your training with us.