The glutes are an important, yet often overlooked, muscle group. The glutes are a set of three posterior hip muscles – gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus from superficial to deep. All three glute muscles act on the hips.
Few of us manage to use our glutes effectively. Most of us spend a majority of our time sitting, which results in tight and shortened hip flexors – the muscles on the front of the hips that act as antagonists to the glutes. When a muscle contracts, the opposing muscle relaxes (reciprocal inhibition) to allow joint movement to occur. Although this is necessary for movement, it results in the body turning a muscle off when the opposing muscle is chronically tight. In Core Performance Women, Mark Verstegen describes it as if a circuit breaker is tripped, cutting off the power to the muscle. Tripping the glutes’ circuit breaker leads to lower back and knee problems. The body is a kinetic chain; immobility in one joint will cause other joints to compensate, leading to dysfunctional movement patterns.
If you can learn to activate and fire your glutes and move through the hips, you will improve your movement patterns and reduce the likelihood of lower back and knee issues. Here are some exercises that will help return the power to your glutes.
1) Glute Bridge: Lie supine on the floor with your knees bent, back of your head flat on the floor (do not hyperextend your neck), and feet hip-width apart and as close to your glutes as is comfortable. Relax your arms by your sides and lift the balls of your feet so you are on you heels. Contract your glutes and lift your hips off the floor until your shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line. Keeping your glutes contracted, lower your hips until your glutes barely touch the floor. Keep your glutes contracted throughout the entire range of motion. Perform three sets of ten repetitions.
2) Mini Band Walk: Place a mini band around your legs just above your knees. Assume a ¼-squat position with your feet hip-width apart and your knees inline with your toes. Maintaining your ¼-squat and foot position, take ten steps forward and ten steps backward. Perform three sets of ten repetitions.
3) Mini Band Lateral Walk: Place a mini band around your legs just above your knees. Assume a ¼-squat position with your feet wider than your hips and your knees inline with your toes . Maintaining your ¼-squat and foot position, take one step to the right then one step to the left. Perform three sets of ten repetitions.
4) Mini Band External Rotation: Place a mini band around your legs just above your knees. Assume a ¼-squat position with your feet wider than your hips and your knees inline with your toes. Keeping both feet flat and planted, dip your right knee inward and then push into the band to return to the starting position. Complete set and repeat on left side. Perform three sets of five to ten repetitions.