Great glutes are about more than looking good in your favorite pair of jeans. Whether you want to show off a shapely rear end or persuade a saggy bottom out of hiding, training your glutes can have a significant impact on your health and overall fitness.
It seems a good majority of women out there (some men too) are in constant pursuit of growing their rear. Between the butt and the abs, there are thousands of programs designed to target these two regions of the body. However, there’s a BIG problem that nearly everyone will face or is currently facing:
Your butt isn’t responding to your faithful training and endless number of thrusts, squats, lunges, and deadlifts and you are discouraged and frustrated.
Meet Your Glutes
You were born with glutes that were made to function, whether or not they are destined for J-Lo greatness is beside the point. One of the main reasons lies in whether you are positioning yourself properly to USE the butt. The body uses muscles based on movement and posture.
A common problem I see and hear (and the inspiration for the title) is that someone’s glutes feel dead, are unresponsive to growth, and/or in pain. Simply put the glutes were never properly introduced to exercise forcing the butt to be in a chronic state of inhibition (a.k.a. Sleepy Butt Syndrome).
Typically, the quads are overdeveloped, and the hamstrings are underdeveloped which might cause you to never ‘feel’ the soreness or activation in the glutes and this is a problem. What’s even a bigger problem is that the glutes are rarely ever trained correctly.
Believe it or not, the glute muscles (3 in total) make up one of the largest muscle groups in the human body.
These powerful muscles play an important role in supporting you when you stand, walk, run and step.
The gluteus maximus (biggest and most dominant of the three) originates on the top part of the pelvic bone and the outer edge of the posterior sacrum (base of the spine), the tailbone. The large muscle belly crosses over the back part of the hip and attaches to the back part of the upper thighbone.
The muscle also connects to the iliotibial band (a large band of fascia that runs along the side of the thigh).
The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus (the smaller two), also known as the abductors, are essential to the gluteus maximus in helping your body to function properly. The gluteus medius is a thick fan shaped muscle lying over the smaller gluteus minimus and underneath the gluteus maximus. The gluteus minimus is very similar in positioning as the medius just smaller in size and the function is slightly different.
GOOD GLUTES = GOOD POSTURE
There is no question that strong abdominals are crucial for an active lifestyle and optimal physical performance. We’ve been told over and over again that if the abs are weak, posture is jeopardized.
Weakness in the front of the body and the back can create excessive lower back curvature that can reduce the shock absorbing qualities of the spine.
That shock absorption of the spine is a necessity for longevity of the entire body including the spine. While many individuals have benefited from core training to improve posture, the number of individuals suffering from pain associated from poor posture continues to increase. This trend has prompted the fitness and medical community to look for other causes, and one is improper functioning of the glutes.
Like I said a few paragraphs ago, the many functions of the gluteal muscles include stabilization of the pelvis during standing, walking, and running.
Today, the result of excessive sitting is weakness and chronic tightness in the glutes, and of course, poor posture.
When the glutes are functioning properly, everything ‘should’ balance out but this isn’t always the case. Think of your car being out of alignment. Over time if not addressed uneven wear on your tires will happen and possibly something on the vehicle would break.
Think of your posture and glutes the same way. Even the slightest bit out of alignment will cause damage down the road in some shape or form.
A DEEPER LOOK AT THE GLUTES
The Gluteus Maximus
The gluteus maximus muscle helps maintain your balance as you walk or run. As your leg comes forward and your heel hits the ground, this muscle tightens to slow down the forward movement of your leg and keep you balanced. When you run, this muscle tightens on the leg you are standing on to control the forward momentum of your trunk.
Although the quadriceps muscles on the front of your thighs primarily move your legs forward as you walk or run, the gluteus maximus muscle tightens to help propel your body forward on hills or uneven surfaces. This muscle also lifts you from a squatted position and helps you climb stairs.
The Gluteus Medius
Pelvic stabilization is one of the most important roles of the gluteus medius. As you lift your leg to take a step, this muscle tightens on the stationary side to prevent your pelvis from dropping down when you pick your foot up. The gluteus medius originates on the top of the pelvis (iliac crest), runs from the front to the back of the pelvis, and then inserts into the femur (thigh bone).
In addition to stabilizing the pelvis, this muscle assists with externally rotating and bringing the leg bone out to the side (abducting). It also controls how far the pelvis sways from side to side when walking. These actions are particularly important for maintaining the integrity of hip function.
The Gluteus Minimus
This muscle is the smallest of the three gluteal muscles and is located a little bit in front of the gluteus medius. The main function of the gluteus minimus is to promote hip abduction and rotation of the thigh. It also helps in stabilizing the pelvis when the opposite leg is raised above the ground. A secondary function of this muscle is to promote extension of the hips.
BAD GLUTES = BAD MOVEMENT
If you’re one of the (un)lucky individuals that sits behind a desk a majority of the day there’s a good change you suffer or have suffered from lower back pain. It’s also been reported over and over again that nearly 8 out of 10 adults will experience some sort of back pain at some point during their lifetime.
Many people believe that lower-back pain is caused by a problem with their lower back. Seems obvious enough but hold your glutes for a second…
This might seem like a logical conclusion given that movements of daily life, sports and most weight-bearing exercise programs require the spine to move forward, backward, side to side and in rotation. When you lean forward, for example, the spine rounds/flexes. When walking and running, it moves from side to side as you transfer weight from one foot to the other. When playing golf, tennis or baseball, the spine must rotate to achieve the desired motion. And the list of movement goes on and on and never stops.
Basic human anatomy and physiology states that all the movements of the spine require other parts of the body to work as well. When bending forward to pick a child up from the ground, for example, the ankles, knees and hips should also bend to help lower the torso. Rotational movements of the spine should be accompanied by rotational movements in the legs and hips so the force created by swinging a tennis racket or golf club is evenly spread throughout the entire body.
When actions of the spine are restricted or limited, the rest of the body has to take up the slack and may become overworked and injured. And the same is said for the glutes. If the actions of the glutes are restricted or limited, the rest of the body, including the spine, has to take up the slack and may become overworked and injured.
When the glutes are inhibited, a domino effect occurs in the body. Without the glutes, the mighty psoas muscle (which links the lumbar spine to the legs) jumps in to act as the stabilizer of the body’s core. Unfortunately, an overactive psoas can cause a multitude of dysfunctions, especially by compressing the lower back, which results in one of the more common causes of back pain.
Furthermore, weak glutes also cause the hamstring and quadriceps muscles to overcompensate, which can lead to strains in the hips, glutes, and back. In addition to that, you’re also more likely to over-pronate your feet, which can cause plantar fasciitis, Achilles’ tendinitis and shin splints. Inhibited gluteal muscles can also lead to tight iliotibial bands, also known as ITB syndrome, and knee pain.
BUILDING A BETTER BOOTY
So, you’ve been seeing words like inhibition, dormancy, alignment, activation and I know you’re probably saying something like, “What the heck does this have to do with working my glutes?”
Well, you’ve asked the right question because this is the biggest problem with glute training and it’s the most important element that is commonly neglected by many.
In order to combat the damage that has been done to the glutes through sitting, poor training techniques, or injury, you have to do the opposite of what you’re doing right now.
You have to wake up the glutes from their slumber and get them to do what they are designed to do. This is the secret behind glute development and this is what will give you the results you want. You have to do these 5 movements in order and as often as you can to begin the process of getting your glutes back on the path towards building a better booty and improving performance.
THE 5-MINUTE GLUTE ACTIVATION WORKOUT
The movements that you are about to read about are the bare minimum of what you need to do to begin the restoration process of your glutes. You will do this quick and simple routine daily if possible.
The more you do this routine you’ll see greater results faster than ever before. When going through this 5-exercise circuit, you do not need to be ‘warmed up’ as you can do this routine at any point of the day. Consider this therapy rather than a workout.
If you are in the gym and planning on training your lower body, then it’s absolutely mandatory that you do this routine before you start your workout. By doing this routine before you begin exercising, your glutes will be firing properly and will be better prepared for the movements that you have planned.
HALF KNEEL HIP STRETCH
Perform a 15 second hold per side – Repeat 2x per side
From a kneeling position, bring the right foot forward making sure that the right knee is directly over the right ankle and the right hip is bent to about 90 degrees. Place both hands gently on the right thigh to help maintain a straight, tall spine.
Pull your shoulder blades down and back without arching your back. Engage your abdominal/core muscles to brace your spine. Keep your pelvis stable. Lean forward into your right hip while keeping your left knee pressed into the ground. Do not allow your pelvis to tip forward or your back to arch.
To increase this stretch, squeeze and contract the glute muscles of your left hip. To increase the intensity of the stretch raise the left arm straight in the air and tilt slightly to the right side and you lean forward into the right hip.
PRONE GLUTE ACTIVATION SQUEEZE
Perform a 5 second hold – Repeat 5x
Begin on your stomach with arms reached overhead and your legs extended with feet pointed. Altogether contract and squeeze your glutes while driving your hips into the floor. After squeezing for the set amount of time, relax completely before beginning the next repetition. This should feel like a very intense contraction or squeezing of the glute muscles.
FRONT PLANK MARCH
Perform 1 set of 20 alternating repetitions (10 per side)
Place the forearms on the ground with the elbows aligned below the shoulders, and arms parallel to the body at about shoulder-width distance. Ground the toes into the floor and squeeze the glutes to stabilize the body. Neutralize the neck and spine by looking at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond the hands. Your head should be in line with your back. Once in position, slowly lift one leg off the ground 6” upward toward the ceiling, squeeze and contract the same side glute then release and return back to the starting position before switching legs.
SIDE ELBOW PLANK W/ HIP ABDUCTION
Perform 1 set of 10 repetitions per side
Begin with your body in a traditional side plank position with the supporting elbow under the shoulder and the legs aligned one on top of the other. While maintaining a side plank, slowly lift and lower (abduct and adduct) the top leg up and down while keeping a neutral alignment between the shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles.
If you are unable to perform this exercise from a full side plank position you can modify the activity by bending the bottom leg to 45 degrees and using the top hand to provide support as needed prior to progressing to the straight leg version.
SINGLE LEG SQUAT
Perform 1 set of 10 repetitions per side
Stand on one leg with your other knee bent. Slowly lower your body down in a vertical fashion as far as possible keeping good control. Keep your knee of the standing leg in line with your toes as you lower. Maintain an upright body and allow the arms to help counterbalance the shift in your center of gravity. If you need to, stand next to a column or pole for assistance. Try to progress to doing this without a balance aid.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Most people think they can strengthen their glutes and grow their booty by ONLY doing exercises that target the glutes.
The problem is that most people have inhibited glute muscles that are not firing properly due to a lack of mobility in other areas.
The Laws of Reciprocal Inhibition states the following:
“Joints are controlled by two opposing sets of muscles, extensors & flexors, which must work in synchrony for smooth movement.”
This basically means that you have to restore the opposing muscle groups to their full length before you’ll be able to fully contract and fire your glutes.
There’s a lot more to it than just “strengthening” your glutes.
If you mess this up it can lead to all kinds of problems like patellar syndrome, IT band syndrome, shin splints, feet & gait issues, and tight lats that pull on your scapula and can mess up your posture.
If you are looking for more tools to help optimize your glutes, you must include this quick hip stretching and functional mobility routine.
By having healthy, functioning hip flexors you will help reinforce neutral pelvic alignment as well as stabilize and support the glutes, your lower spine, pelvic region and abdominals.