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Let’s talk butts.
See, I knew I’d have your full attention now.
A lot of girls love working them glutes. You know what I am talking about: donkey kicks, cable kicks, all of the kicks!
Anyways, I digress.
In all fairness, during most of strength-based and lifting moves such as squats and deadlifts, most of the people I coach tend to use their quads and hammies much more than their booty.
Just to clarify what I mean here, the mighty squat requires a complex coordination of a range of joints, muscles, and ligaments.
This means explosive squats with solid technique are not just happening by default. As complex moves, they require every part of the body involved to be properly activated. If you argue your body squat may not resent from a distracted warm up, lack of proper activation will limit the weight you can put on the bar.
Poor glute control equals to poor technique
Yes, big booties are not just #instainspo. The gluteus maximus (this big fella below) needs to be strengthen regularly in order to perform at its best. Movement dysfunction = compensation.
When you place a movement demand on your body, you are targeting specific muscles to be fired. If your body cannot perform a move using the correct muscles, it’s going to start firing all over the place in order to make the movement happen – when it comes to squats, this may or may not include tilting your back forward as you descend.
Almost everyone who comes to a class has at least one muscle group that isn’t functioning properly. Very often, one of these muscle groups is the glutes.
Many of us can’t even properly fire the glutes without first undergoing some teaching or activation, on one or both sides.
Let me explain why stronger glutes are overall sexier.
The gluteus maximus is a primary mover of hip extension. If your gluteus maximus and hip extension are weak, during the lowering phase of the squat there’s a good chance you’re going to start tipping forward to compensate the lack of extension.
By the way, this is not just Fab going off on a geeky rant. Physical therapist, Dr. Vladamir Janda has proposed the idea of “crossed pelvis syndrome,” which is characterised by weak glutes and abdominal wall with tight hamstrings and hip flexors.
Once again, hip extension comes at play.
Just to rehiterate, people often create compensatory movement by altering the pattern in which muscles worked in synergy to create movement.
“Measuring groups of men with chronic back troubles during squatting types of tasks revealed that they try to accomplish this basic motion and motor pattern of hip extension emphasizing the back extensors and the hamstrings. They appear to have forgotten how to use the gluteal complex.”
If you don’t use it, you lose it
You may think that underactive glutes or “glutes amnesia” is only associated with the desk-bound lifestyle. Even when you train hard four times per week at the rack, you may spend the majority of the day sitting down…which means you are not REALLY using your glutes.
Underactive glutes does not automatically equal injury – however, poor posture and weak muscles will prevent you from performing at you best and improving your PBs. Plus, bad moving patterns with a 20kg bar can be much more dangerous when you start putting plates on it.
Athletes, power lifters and crossfitters alike know the importance of glute activation (aka waking up your glutes).
Activating a muscle simply creates the connection from your brain to your muscle and gets the muscle fired up and ready to do some work (a lot of research has been done on this)
Glute activation should be done before to your workout – think about it as part of a warmup sequence, but it can also be done as an active rest between sets. Great instances are on a “leg day”, when training lower push and pull (including barbell squats and deadlifts) and when using Kettlebells for complex moves such as swings.
How to fire up those cheeks
There are a few schools of thoughts when it comes to the best exercise to fire up your glutes.
When it comes to my own practise, I find that both bridges and lunges do an awesome job – as both are perfect variations to incorporate in a warm-up.
When we think about a lunge, the joint motions of the hip are almost identical to a squat – hip flexion, internal rotation, and adduction when lowering. This allows the glute to work through its stretch-shortening cycle. Of course, the mechanics of lunge and squat differ due to the foot positioning, but knee and ankle are actively working to support the weight of the body.
- Body lunges (front or reverse) can be performed with arms overhead or in a simple walking lunge set, focusing on slow motion and a lot of butt clenching.
The other main contender is the bridge – which you probably see plastered on Instagram booty inspo routines.
The bridge, when done in a controlled environment (which means slow, and really actively focusing on butt squeeze), truly focuses on hip motion and extension – and as we discussed before, weak hips can compromise the outcome of a good, solid squat.
Let me repeat this again: REALLY focus on those bridges. Don’t grab a 20kg bar, put it on your hips and just thrust like there is no tomorrow.
Focus on doing them with the glutes and not letting the hamstrings and lower back take over. Playing around with foot positions and pushing your knees out a bit should help. Make sure your weight is on your heels.
- Single leg bridges are great to spot your weakest gluteus (hello, left cheek!) and banded bridges can give you a whole lotta more control (VIDEO). You can also smash your glutes MobilityWOD style (VIDEO), but overall a good bridge will engage your core, as well as keep your spine straight and gain control.