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How To Strengthen Your Glutes To Prevent Injury & Improve Performance

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 09 April 2014
Hits: 28376

INJURY FREE AND STRONG IS ALL ABOUT THE RIGHT MUSCLES WORKING TOGETHER:

We all need to know how to strengthen our butt muscles. For almost every lower limb injury and almost every lower back problem will be related to weak glutes! For such massive muscles, they are also very lazy and dysfunctional creating a multitude of problems if their weakness is left unaddressed. So does that mean we need to spend heaps of time isolating our glutes with all types of weird body building or pilates exercises? No. But unfortunately this is what happens in most gyms, and to some extent in the rehab world, because people look a muscles as opposed to movement. If you have not read our article Why Isolated Training Fails & Movement Skill Training Succeeds please read this as it will help to put the rest of this article together for you. Even though at times we might train individual muscles in the gym, in reality, for any kind of daily life movement it is the way the muscles work together, rather than in isolation, that makes the difference. And if there are broken or weak links, as a result of unbalanced training, injury or poor technique, the rest of the muscles will be affected and will work poorly. (See our article on Piriformis Syndrome for an example of this). And the most common area we find people are weak, besides the abdominal muscles and inner unit stabilizers, is the Glutes, Hamstrings and Back Extensors which is also known as the Posterior Chain.

 

The posterior chain (PC) muscles provide the major torque-producing capacity of the body during the activity of walking and running. From hip extension in walking, to powerful hip extension in sprinting, the Posterior Chain are the key muscles in use. Single leg stance is where we need our glutes the most, and we do this all day whenever we walk. It makes sense to have a strong butt for this reason and the picture above can only be done with a strong PC. A strong PC will help any athlete to produce the explosive movement that is so necessary in competition: have a look at the lower back, gluteal and hamstring musculature of elite level sprinters. The PC, along with the abdominal muscles, also provides core stability for the low back.  An emphasis on Posterior Chain exercises in strength programs will help to address some of the typical muscle imbalances that people tend to have.

Many of the clients we see are “quadriceps dominant’, because of poor posture from sitting too much and bad training techniques. In the gym this can be caused by an excessive reliance on squat-type exercises, which build up the front of thigh muscles too much in relation to the glute and hamstrings. Step-ups and leg press work will have the same effect. (By the way the Leg Press, Leg Extension and Leg Curl are possibly the worst type of exercises you can ever do for your legs and your stabilizer muscles, as they teach the brain to no longer use stabilizers as the machines do it for you! I don't know anyone who wants an exercise to give them a weak core or weak abs! Anyway as a consequence, the person who becomes quadriceps dominant over hamstrings is likely to develop many injuries in other areas of the body. Ranging from simple problems as strained hamstrings to as complex as chronic (herniated disc) back pain, or ACL Tear or rupture. Now you can see why we place such high importance on glute and hamstring exercises. Always remember this equation:

Weak Glutes = Tight Hips = Poor Movement = Injury!

A great book to read on many of the things discussed in this article is called "The Vital Glutes" by John Gibbons. A very easy book to read and he simplifies what can be a very confusing and complex topic with great illustrations and pictures to help show you exactly what I am talking about in this article. I wish more people were given information and books to read like this as it would greatly help spread the word about the correct way to train.

As this article includes a stack of information I have provided you with a FREE checklist you can download that has links to all the relevant information. Click the image below to download your free PDF checklist.

If You Have A Knee Problem Or Low Back Problem You Also Have A Gluteal Dysfunction

While that heading sounds a bit generalized, in my 11 plus years of working as a Trainer in Melbourne specializing in rehabilitation and working with hundreds of different injuries, I have found in 98% of cases this to be true! The reason is due to posture, the way the muscles are designed, and the fact that most people do not understand how to train correctly to prevent the weakness from forming. Recently we have been working closely with several severely disabled clients who cannot walk and the atrophy (muscle waste) to their butt is immense. Walking we take for granted but trust me if you lose your strength in your butt to this extent it is very hard to get it back. Click here to read the full article.

I myself had several knee and ankle problems before I became a trainer. I even developed osteitis pubis when I first started as a Personal Trainer because I did not understand what I know now. It took me over 18 months and a stack of learning to finally come find a solution to my problem. And after that day is when I fully realized my potential as an athlete, setting all of my personal best times across many different disciplines and distances for running, cycling and triathlon. I was a much better athlete at the age of 35 than I ever was in my 20's. And I was never injured. I think I tore my hamstrings about 15 times in 5 years in my 20's! I have not torn a hamstring once since adopting the training methods and programs that I am going to share with you in this article. This is the same process I have used successfully now for a long time with many of the people we see for ACL tears, bulging discs and back pain, piriformis syndrome and knee pain which is why we created several instant video and special report downloads that you can get by clicking here or on the images below. In these packs I show you over 15 different ways to strengthen your glutes and posterior chain and provide many of the programs that I have developed successfully over the past 13 years.

If you have any of these problems right now also check the bottom of the page here as I have given you links to our most popular articles complete with videos and instructions for you to refer too and ideas on how to structure your program.

 

Strong Glutes Equals Sporting Dominance

Almost every sport requires explosive speed, power, agility and change of direction with many movements performed standing or jumping off one leg! Even sports like distance running and cycling that don't require jumping or change of direction still require immense glute control and strength! Read our article on running injuries here to see how important glutes are to a runner. Great hill climbers in cycling rely on the glutes for the power to get up the climbs and create distance between their rivals.

But most notably the ball sports of football, basketball, netball, soccer and even tennis need a strength and conditioning program to continually improve the strength endurance and power of the butt muscles to firstly prevent injury but secondly improve performance. All athletes who spend time in the gym and are great at what they do will have programs that include stability, strength and power work standing on single leg. Why? Because in a single leg stance the hip must be stabilized by the abdominal muscles and the glutes in order to maintain optimal alignment of the leg. If this is not done correctly the chance of ACL injuries is extremely high!

Apart from injury our ability to produce speed and power is driven not by the quads, but the posterior chain! By designing and implementing programs to improve this you can see your sporting performance improve significantly and have that confidence to try more advanced skills and techniques to get the edge over your competitors. If you are into sports and would like to know more about how we design programs go to Sporting Performance Training. Or get a copy of our 101 Training Programs PDF book that includes advanced methods and programs used by professional athletes to enhance strength and power.

Below is 2 examples of using glutes for sporting performance.

Where To Start?

A good thing to do is perform some simple tests. Possibly the easiest test to do is in the video below and we use this often for clients with severe hip or back pain in our initial assessment. It is so easy and very simple that there is no risk of pain or injury. Watch the video to see how to do it and what to look for.

If you found that test to easy which many people do you can move to more progressive tests. Possibly the best starting point is to use ‘the Bridge’ or "The Clam" exercise pictured below. Both of these exercises target the glutes, again without creating any unnecessary pain or compensation. Recently we have been using an exercise called "The Donkey Clam" which was created by Rehab Trainer, one of the leaders in rehabilitation program design and where I source a lot of my information and ideas from. This is very effective and a great exercise to add to your toolkit, especially for those who find the clam does little for their glutes and seems to only fire up the ITB and TFL. The hip extension is a great assessment to use.


It is common for the gluteal muscles to become lengthened (chronically stretched), reducing the tension in the range around hip extension. The bridge or hip extension (pics 1 & 3) exercises targets your butt muscles very well in this position.

How to do it

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet and knees hip-width apart
  2. Squeeze the gluteal muscles and lift hips until you have a straight line running through knees and hips to the mid-back. Leave the shoulder blades on the floor
  3. Hold the position, focusing on using the gluteal muscles, for 10 seconds in total.
  4. Place the hips back down, maintaining neutral spine build up the length of hold gradually to 30 secs, and three repeats (sets)

Technique points

It is important to perform this exercise as a holding position because this mimics the stabilizing role of the gluteal muscles more closely. Building up the length of time you can position will improve strength-endurance of the gluteals in the inner range position. Be sure to keep breathing throughout. Check where you feel the contraction. If you feel it strongly in the hamstrings or lower back, the gluteals are not doing their share of the work. Focus on squeezing your butt harder to ensure most of the support is coming from them. If you start to feel the exercise moving out of the gluteals into the hamstrings, and maybe even cramping the hamstrings, it’s time to rest, as this is a sign that your butt is fatigued. Do not push the hips up too far as this arches the lower back too much, so always make sure you keep your bellybutton drawn towards the spine to prevent this from happening. Lastly ensure that your knees and feet remain steady in alignment, hip width apart! A great progression of the hip extension and preparing you to integrate to standing is featured in the 2 videos below

You MUST Evolve To A Standing Position

Once you can maintain the bridge position with perfect alignment and using only the gluteals for three sets of 30 seconds, it is critical for you to evolve to a standing position. Again this is where many rehab programs fail and why we see so many dysfunctional movement patterns with people who do too many Pilates classes or the abs and butts class at the local gym. To know how to strengthen your glutes correctly it must be learned in the standing position as this is where most injuries will occur. I have rarely met a person injured in a lying or seated position, but I have met hundreds injured in a standing up position. It is important to understand just how many muscles are involved in a standing position and how you can be great on the floor but absolutely terrible standing up. The position of the pelvis which is affected by abdominal muscles and gravity trying to compress it and pull it in each and every direction cannot be ignored.

Secondly the importance of foot stability working in conjunction with the hips is critical. Often it is the weak feet that create the problems at the glutes so you have to have exercises that train these together to ensure you can achieve stability and strength to your potential. Foot stability is a very complex topic in it's own right so make sure you read our article - Exercise Solutions For Weak Feet to see more about this.

Lastly coordination and motor control that require multiple joints moving in perfect sequence sometimes at high speed movements as seen in sports will demand that your glutes fire exactly as they should. Any faulty movement patterns with lunges, squats and bending where your glutes are not working as intended will cause trouble. And just to top it all off, the glutes are classified as a Phasic muscle, meaning they have a tendency to become long and weak!

Our key movements to learn in the standing position is without doubt Squats, Lunges and Deadlifts. The one we regard as the King Of Glute Exercises which is also easy to control and monitor, yet still require skills of stability, balance and coordination is the - The Single Leg Squat or The Single Leg Deadlift”.

Make sure you read our in depth article on The Single Leg Squat to see how to use this as an assessment tool and various ways to enhance the exercise.

Below I have provided you with videos below of the traditional deadlift showing how glutes strength relates to real life movement and the single leg deadlift to see how to do it right every time.

Instructions For Single Leg Deadlift

  1. Standing with one foot on a swiss ball or a bench, feet a comfortable distance apart, with body weight or holding dumbbells beside you.
  2. Draw your belly button inwards, bend forward from the hips; go as far as you comfortably can keep a natural arch in your low back.
  3. Return to the top.

There is a plenty more exercises we would use to encourage glute activation and Posterior Chain development, these are just some of the easiest ones to use straight away. The most important thing to understand is that in order to Strengthen Your Glutes correctly you need a good plan of evolving from good movement patterns in isolated movements to the more complex movements standing up. If you spend the time to do it right it will pay off and you will improve performance, prevent unwanted injury and be able to do almost any movement in daily life without any trouble.

Progressing To More Complex Skills That Demand High Glute Control

Once you have mastered the art of single leg stability and strength you MUST evolve to learning how to do this at speed. This is non negotiable if you play sports.

Single leg hopping and cutting or change of direction drills really test your glute function to it's absolute limit. Any weakness or problems seen at the stability and strength stage will be exacerbated here and it is easy to see how serious injuries can quickly evolve due to a weakness in your butt. Below is some video examples of how we test glute function on single leg hopping and also a cutting drill. These are both tests used to clear athletes in our return to sport program following ACL knee injures.

What If You Are Not Injured And Just Want A Toned Athletic Butt?

Well the same exercises we use for rehab are also the same ones that will give you that sexy butt. You cannot skip steps or cut corners or you will develop an injury! The key is to keep progressing your training with harder methods, exercises, volume, intensity and time under tension. All of these factors force change. Just doing the same exercises as 3 sets of 10 will be great at the start but will lead to a plateau later on. For more ideas get our 101 Training Programs PDF Book by clicking here. You will find endless ways to create a butt to die for. Just remember that you will also need to work heavily on your nutrition to get the sexy appearance. Exercise on it's own is not enough.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and can take away some things to add into your training straight away. The importance of working on your butt cannot be underestimated. With almost every lower limb injury associated with a glute weakness or dysfunction you can see why it is so important. And to achieve your sporting goals or simply just look good you need to devote a lot of time to working on this area. Remember to always progress to standing integrated exercises and cease using isolated body building exercises that will only serve to create more harm than good. Below I have provided you with some resources on some of the topics we touched on so  you can refer to what relates to your reason for reading this article. And if you live in the Melbourne area and would like to arrange a FREE Postural and Movement assessment fill in the consult form below I will get back to you within 24 hours to arrange a time.

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