I wanted to touch on a phenomenon that we commonly see in trainees of all levels and abilities, both at Full Range, and beyond: inactive or under-active glutes.
The muscles we normally refer to as “the glutes” are actually made up of three main muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus have similar functions. With the knee extended, they abduct the thigh. With the hips flexed, they internally rotate the thigh and with the hips extended they externally rotate the thigh. The gluteus maximus muscle is responsible for extension of the hip and thigh. Together, these three muscles play a major role in all forms of hip extension, hip rotation, and stability of the trunk and spine.
If our glutes are inactive, our body is generally forced to compensate with nearby (but weaker) muscle groups. For one example, our lack of stabilization when standing erect will be compensated by excessive load being put on the smaller muscles of the lower back. A good example of this can be seen when we don’t fully extend our hips and knees on a Kettlebell Swing, and our backs start to get tired almost immediately.
In another example, a lack of proper glute function in the Squat will lead to an excessive forward lean of the torso, or (even worse), flexion of the lumbar spine in the bottom position. This not only puts our hips in a disadvantageous position for driving weight upwards, but also puts more work on the quads and knees, which can lead to more overuse injuries over time.
What causes glute inhibition? For most folks, it is a symptom of spending extended periods in a seated position. While we are seated, our glutes are in a stretched, relaxed position. Meanwhile, our hip flexors, which are found on the front of the hip, are in a shortened state. Multiply this by countless hours at a desk or sitting on the couch, and we find ourselves with the unfortunate situation of tight hips and weak glutes.
In order to rectify this, we must try to get these muscles firing properly in an unloaded position, before we start to add weight to the situation. Here are a couple of our favorite glute-activation exercises that you can work into your warm-up:
These are great for everyone. Getting the medial glutes firing through a controlled contraction is huge for maintaining a good “knee’s out” position in the Squat. If you experience excessive tightness in the abductors after squatting or pulling days, try working these into your warm-up and seeing if it doesn’t help. We recommend 1-2 sets to near failure, being mindful not to rotate through the torso to compensate.
Video credit: Dr. Quinn Henoch, JTSStrength.com
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
This is a great, bang-for-your-buck movement. Not only are we opening up the hip flexors (which are tight for most people), but we are also practicing good glute activation while in a fully-extended hip position. Be careful not to hyper extend, but rather keep a tight, neutral core as you flex your butt on the side with the knee planted. This can also be done dynamically as a walking lunge or “Samson Stretch,” as we usually call it.
(Video, again: Dr. Quinn Henoch, JTSStrength.com)
Donkey Kick/Hip Circles
Most of you will recognize these from our group class warm-ups. Again, focusing on tight, good posture through the core and shoulders will allow these movements to isolate the function of the hip in very basic movement patterns. Look to hold the top position of the Donkey Kick for 2-3 seconds on each rep, trying to push the bottom of the foot up toward the ceiling. For the Hip Circles, keep the knee bent at 90 degrees, and aim to make the biggest, smoothest circle possible, for 8-10 in each direction.
As always, consult one of your coaches with any questions regarding how to best address your personal mobility/activation issues. Remember, your glutes are the biggest, strongest muscle group in your body, so make sure they are doing the work they should be doing!