The ‘glutes’ are one of the most important muscle groups in the body due to their size, positioning and connections. The three main glute muscles are the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. Behind the gluteus maximus we have another muscle called the piriformis, which assists in hip rotation.
When we pick up a niggle or an injury we often hear our physio say that our glutes are ‘lazy’ or ‘not firing’. So why do our glutes stop firing? Our primary use for our glutes is to sit down and we do a lot of this in our daily lives – in work, when we travel, socialise and even chilling out.
If our glutes are not firing, this can lead to compensating through other muscle groups when we run. Many injuries can be traced back to our glutes not firing and so if we can get this group of muscles activated and firing then we are more likely to avoid injuries.
‘Glute activation’ seems to be the new buzz phrase within the world of running at the moment. So what is glute activation? Glute activation is a series of exercises to warm up the area and also strengthen it. I was introduced to glute activation by physio Phil Glasgow (who worked in the Sports Institute Northern Ireland) around 10 years ago. Before this I was very injury prone, especially with lower leg niggles and injuries.
Glute activation has now become part of my daily routine and has helped my running mechanics, efficiency and stability. It has been especially important for me as there are 35 barriers to negotiate in the 3000m Steeplechase – 28 ordinary barriers and 7 water jumps; so that’s a lot of impacts.
Before every run and gym session I will do a short glute activation circuit. This set of exercises, described below, is a great starting point for every runner/sportsperson:
Lie face up on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, keep your arms at your side with your palms down. Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze those glutes hard and keep your abs drawn in so you don’t overextend your back during the exercise. Hold your bridged position for a couple of seconds before easing back down. Progression – single leg.
Lie on your side, with legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Rest your head on your lower arm, and use your top arm to steady your frame. Be sure that your hipbones are stacked on top of one another, as there is a tendency for the top hip to rock backward. Engage your abdominals by pulling your belly button in, as this will help to stabilise your spine and pelvis. Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Don’t move your lower leg off the floor. Pause, and then return your upper leg to the starting position on the ground. Do 20 reps on each side.
Monster Walk (with mini-band)
Choose a band with moderate resistance place the band around the ankles. Adjust difficulty by moving band up or down the leg with lower being more difficult. The back should remain straight and body should remain facing forward. Limit twisting, knees should be bent at about 45 degrees and not allowed to buckle inwards slowly walk sideways while keeping constant tension on the band, go one way and then back in the other direction.
Same as the monster walk but not in the squat position. Instead of a sideways walk, walk forward and then backwards Progression – walk using a half moon motion, like you’re drawing a half moon on the floor with each leg.
The Myrtl Circuit
Once or twice a week I will do the Myrtl circuit. This can be more challenging and will also bring in more hip strengthening and mobilisation into the workout. Check out this great demo video on the Runners World website:
Want more of a Challenge?
We all need to progress exercises for as we get stronger our bodies need to be challenged more. I have been using glute activation for many years now and so I am always looking for ways to progress my training. Here is my latest hip/glute workout regime:
Single leg balance on an Airex Balance Pad – 3 positions; 5/45/90 degree knee bends; hold each for 10seconds; 2 sets – first set eyes open, second set eyes closed.
Single leg hip hitch – stand sideways on a step with the outside foot/leg hovering off the edge; hitch the hip up and down; repeat 10-20 times on each side.
Clams – as mentioned above; advanced, add in a mini-band.
Clams with feet elevated – hold the clam position lifting the feet off the ground; perform the clam keeping feet held up.
Straight leg lifts – lying on your side as in the clam exercise with straight legs, lift the upper leg to the sky with toes turned up to the sky (hip abduction). Make sure not to hitch the hip.
Straight leg circles – lying on you side as in the leg lift exercise, position your upper leg slightly in front of your body and perform tiny circles in a clockwise direction and then anticlockwise.
Single leg RDLs (dead lifts) – standing on one leg lean forward and lean back with the leg off the ground, make sure hips are level.
Single leg squats – Squat position with one leg off the floor. I find it easier to perform these on a raised platform or box.
Many of these exercises can be progressed by adding weight such as kettle bells or bars. One of my favourite weighted exercises would be ‘hip thrusts’. You can start these with body weight and work up gradually. It’s always best to be supervised when you start to add weights to the programme.
You should consult your physician or other healthcare professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.
Before performing any of the suggested exercises, make sure that you are not carrying any niggles or injuries, if you are please seek advice from your physio first.
All of the exercises discussed are from my own training plan and are suggestions for educational purposes.
Exercise is not without its risks and this or any other exercise program may result in injury.