Glute Activation

You’ve maybe heard speak of glute activation, inactive or lazy glutes, and firing up the glutes – but what the heck does it all mean? 

Inactive/ Lazy Muscles

Most of us – due to our daily jobs – lead inactive lifestyles, and are sitting down pretty much most of the day. This is pretty much the norm these days for many of us, but it does lead to the muscles in our butts being forgotten. Essentially even when we stand up and move, our nervous system doesn’t trigger these muscles as effectively as it should. The muscles then become weak and tight, and this can have a number of side effects…

If our glutes aren’t working effectively, then other muscles (for example, quads and hamstrings in the upper leg) can become tight and overloaded.

For the runners and weightlifters amongst us, weak glutes will result in a lack of power to our movements. Our speed, endurance and the weight we can lift will be impacted. Other muscles will also be overworking to compensate – potentially leading to injury.

If you’re specifically hoping to shape up your butt, the inactive muscles won’t respond as they should. Again, other muscles will take over during exercise, and you won’t be seeing the results you’d expect.

Even if you don’t run or weight-lift, having inactive muscles can still impact you. The glute muscles support everyday movements such as walking, taking the stairs, and hip rotation. They are also connected to several other muscles in the body (leg, back, hip and pelvis). Hence, you may experience lower back pain, hip pain, and even knee and ankle pain as a result of these muscles being inactive. 

Firing up

When anyone says the glute muscles aren’t firing, what they mean is other muscles are taking the strain. That’s not to mean the glute muscles are just sitting there doing nothing. They simply aren’t contributing to our movements as they should. They are weaker than the other muscles that they should be supporting/ working with.

How do we fix this? This is where activation comes in. This refers to actually isolating the muscles via specific exercises, and leaving them no choice but to work. This is firing the muscles up.

There are a number of exercises that can achieve this. I’ve found that not every exercise will work for every individual – so have a play and see which ones work best for you. How do you know if the exercise is effective? You will feel the burn – if you feel the burn anywhere else, other muscles are taking the strain, making the exercise is counterproductive.

I’d recommend warming up with your activation movements before each lower body workout (i.e – any workout that will involve working your lower body muscles – CV or resistance). Also cool down with targeted lower body stretches. This will ensure the muscles are engaged, and benefiting from the workout. It doesn’t automatically mean they are 100% firing and working as they should. This will take time.

Exercises

There are numerous resources online suggesting effective movements to activate and strengthen. Below are a few select ones I’ve found really hit right muscles.

Bridge

  1. Lay on your back with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees bent.
  2. Push up with your hips as high as you can, contracting your butt at the top.
  3. Pause at the top for 5 seconds, lower your body back down to the starting position and repeat.

 

Single Leg Bridge

  1. Lay on your back with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees bent.
  2. Straighten one leg, leaving one bent with the foot on the floor.
  3. Push up with your hips as high as you can using the single leg, contracting your butt at the top.
  4. Pause at the top for 5 seconds, lower your body back down to the starting position and repeat.

 

Body weight squat

  1. Stand with your head facing forward.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. If using body weight, either place your hands on hips, or hold in front of you.
  4. Begin to sit back, pushing your glutes back as if sitting in a chair. Allow your upper body to bends forward a bit, closing the gap between your legs and hips.
  5. Ensure your back does not round.
  6. Move downwards so your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, with your knees over your ankles.
  7. Keep your weight pressed back into your heals.
  8. Keep your abs tight, and push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.

 

Clam Shells

  1. Lie on your side, with legs on top of the other, and knees bent at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Rest your head on your lower arm.
  3. 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.
  4. Pause, and then return your upper leg to the starting position on the ground. Do 20 reps on each side.

 

Lying leg raise

  1. Lay on your side, with your body in a straight line and support your head with your elbow.
  2. Raise the upper leg so it is directly above the lower leg. Raise as far as possible.
  3. Keep the body stable.
  4. Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly return to starting position.
  5. Repeat for the other side.

 

Donkey kick

  1. Position yourself on all fours (a mat maybe needed).
  2. Position your hands underneath your shoulders and place your knees under your hips.
  3. Keep one knee bent at 90 degrees and lift it until it is level with the hip.
  4. Lower the knee and repeat.
  5. Once all reps are complete, repeat with the other leg.

 

Fire Hydrant

  1. Position yourself on all fours (a mat maybe needed).
  2. Position your hands underneath your shoulders and place your knees under your hips.
  3. Lift one leg outwards, keeping your knee at 90 degrees. …
  4. Lower your leg and repeat.
  5. Once all reps are complete, repeat with the other leg.

 

Plank with leg lift

  1. Position yourself in the plank position.
  2. keep your body straight from head to heels.
  3. Lift one leg upwards as far as possible, keeping it straight. 
  4. Hold at the top for 5 seconds.
  5. Lower your leg and repeat.
  6. Once all reps are complete, repeat with the other leg.

 

Curtsy lunge

  1. Stand with your head facing forward.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. If using body weight, either place your hands on hips, or hold in front of you.
  4. Step one foot behind and outside the other foot, lowering your hips until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. Try not to let your knee touch the floor.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

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