Having trouble "Activating" your glutes??
This terminology has gained a-lot of traction over the past decade within the health & fitness industry. We often hear this complaint from our clients. "I just cant activate my glutes" or " My glutes wont fire". And to be honest, early in my career I probably told this to my clients also.
Today I am going to debunk this myth and explain how the gluteal muscles (aka glutes) actually function and how to correctly train the gluteals.
Firstly let's look at the gluteal muscles and their function.
The gluteals (often referred to as the 'glutes') are comprised of three muscles:
Gluteus Maximus (biggest & strongest)
Gluteus Medius (smaller & less strength produced)
Gluteus Minimus, (smallest of the lot, who would of thought?)
What is the function of the gluteals :
The gluteals have two functions:
Primarily their function is as a torque producer, meaning if you need to outrun a tiger or lift a car off someone, the gluteals are the primary muscle you 'should' be using to do this. (I.e. No lifting that car or getting away from that tiger if your glutes are weak & cannot produce lots of force).
Secondly the gluteals have a postural stabilising function, meaning, that when you are standing tall, the gluteals are active at a lower lever to keep you standing up tall. EMG studies show this occurs at a higher level in the gluteus minimus rather than gluteas maximus (this is the big muscle made famous by the kardashians). Click here to learn more about the Kardashians or ask my wife.
Now that we know what the Gluteals Muscles are and what they are required for we can discuss their activation.
Knowing that the gluteals primary function is as a force producer, (mostly to extend 'straighten' the hip) it makes clear sense that they should be strong, to increase their strength we need to train them. Which brings me to my second point. How to train them, & do we need to activate them.
The answer to this questions is NO!! (Well not consciously), they have to activate to work.
Why? Just like all the power producing muscles in our body, to strengthen them all we have to do is perform an exercise that requires the use of these muscles and then incorporate the principal of progressive overload & they will respond by getting stronger. No one ever gets exercises in our clinic to "activate" their glutes. My advice to you if you are doing these "glute activation" exercises, is, find a better use of your time. And if you are trying to strengthen your glutes for whatever reason (great for lots of reasons, including running away from fast wild animals that live in countries that we cant currently access due to international border restrictions), and you feel that your not progressing, its most likely that your exercises are not difficult enough.
We do see some clients that do not recruit their gluteals evenly and struggle to strengthen both sides to the same amount even with great exercises. What we often find in these circumstances is that due to biomechanical changes (often these have occurred due to previous injuries or anatomical abnormalities), the client does not distribute their weight evenly and therefore more load is placed through one side than the other. For example, you rolled your left ankle when you were 16, your body compensated by putting more weight on your right side (because it didn't hurt so much) and unfortunately you didn't fully rehabilitate it back to evenly distributing your weight. Thank fully our clinic adopts force plate technology were we can identify this. Learn more here .
Essentially, if you are performing a low level task, like sitting or standing, (for most of us these are low level tasks, for some people these are very hard tasks) your glutes don't need to be working very hard and therefore "active. If you want your glutes to be 'active', perform your strength exercise with correct technique (hip hinge) and increase the load & it will have no choice but to "activate".
Glutes Activating too much?
Now on the contrary to this, It is quite common for clients presenting to our clinic to be activating their gluteals too much. This can contribute to lower back, buttock, hip & groin pain. I will discuss this in my next blog with tips on how to stop doing it.