posture

Fire up those Glutes! Glute Activation for Health and Performance.

I’m sure at one time or another you have all heard the term ‘Glute Activation’ thrown around. But really, what does that mean, and how does it apply training and athletic performance?

Just a brief background on two of those Gluteal muscles:

Gluteus Maximus, is a prime mover during hip extension (think jumping, sprinting, bounding), and plays an important role in providing stability to the lumbo-pelvic region.

Gluteus Medius, anatomically acts as an abductor of the femur but in a more functional manner provides stability to the hip and knee during single leg stance, and can play a role in lateral movement, whilst also stabilising the lumbo-pelvic region.

GLUTES!

GLUTES!

 

So what does this jargon mean?

It means that strong glutes have the potential to improve sport performance by making us faster, jump higher, and change direction quicker.

Just steering away from the sport performance side of things a little, it also means that they can provide stability to the hip, reducing load through the lumbar spine, which has the potential to improve or reduce the risk of developing lower back pain.

Now this is all well and good, but we have a bit of an issue.

Glute Amnesia (You can thank the great Mike Boyle for the term).

What is glute amnesia? Well it’s a term coined to describe the inhibited and atrophied glutes that 90% (approximate estimation...) of the population exhibit. Their Gluteal muscles have literally forgotten how to work! This is most likely a result of the increases in sedentary behaviour (sitting) that our modern lifestyle promotes. Sitting leaves the glutes in a lengthened, stretched out position. Spending a lot of time in this position results in them receiving a reduced neural stimulus, which leads to neural inhibition (they 'forget' how to work!)

And as an additional side effect of our sedentary behavior, is that not only have they forgotten how to work - they don't get the opportunity to work, which leads to both weakness and muscular atrophy!

This can lead to reduced athletic performance, greater risk of soft tissue injury through the development of compensation patterns, and low back pain.

So what can we do about it? We need to learn to activate and use those glutes!

How do we fire up the Glutes?

The introduction of glute activation exercises is a good start. A simple circuit of the following 3 exercise in your warm ups can go a long way to improving glute activation. This means they will be working more effectively during your workout, improving their strength development and potential for muscular hypertrophy.

Prone hip extension

Now the key here is to really focus on ‘feeling’ glute max produce the movement, while limiting the load on the hamstrings. If you feel the hamstrings working more than the glutes, give it a go with the knee bent to 90 degrees which will take the hamstring out of the equation.

 

Glute Bridge

Similar again, we really want the glutes to drive this movement, with no real feeling in the hamstrings. This can be done by squeezing your butt as hard as you can – imagine your cracking a walnut!

To make sure the hamstrings are staying quiet, you can physically touch the muscle belly of the hamstring during the movement. If it feels soft it means glutes are the main drivers of the movement.

 

X-band Walk

 

This is a great way to fire up gluteus medius. A key is to make sure is that you are feeling it in the glutes. If you feel fatigue in front of the hip, its most likely TFL driving the movement. This can be changed by stepping laterally and backwards slightly, to get a bit more hip extension involved in the movement. You want to feel the burn just posterior of the hip joint.

 

So a potential Glute Activation Circuit may look something like this

Exercise 1A: Prone Hip Extension x12/side
Exercise 1B: Glute Bridge x12
Exercise 1C: X-Band Walk x12/side

Repeat 3 times.

Hope this has provided a bit of info on the importance of the glutes, and a good way to warm them up!

If you are unsure where to start, contact me below!

 

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The Stability Ball Conundrum - Are They Actually Benefiting Us At All?

The definition of stupidity

The definition of stupidity

At some point over the last few years, unstable surface training received a significant increase in popularity.  Suddenly you cant walk two steps into a gym without stumbling into an inflatable exercise ball, BOSU ball, or weird squishy disc.

They are often considered a ‘functional exercise’ tool, whatever that means. But what a lot of people may not realise is that they started out as a rehabilitation based training tool, mainly to rehab various degrees of ankle sprains (which has shown to work, I might add).

Their gradual movement into the commercial gym setting was likely a result of the success they saw in this rehabilitation setting, and are now spouted as a sure fire way to increase balance and stability.

Now, I’m not denying that they may have the capacity to improve upper body stability (scapular stability in particular), and trunk stability in appropriate situations, but in my personal opinion that is where their benefits as a training tool for the general population stop. 

There are a couple of reasons i say this.

They have zero (and I mean ZERO) specificity to the real world.

Specificity implies that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must actually perform that exercise or skill. In the same light, if you practice a skill, you will get better at that skill.

So if you practice training on an unstable surface you will get better at training on an unstable surface.

The issue with this?

We don’t live on an unstable surface. We spend 99.9% of our time on stable ground, whether talking a sporting situation or just in day-to-day life.

The improvements in strength we see if training on an unstable surface don’t actually carry over to stable surface movements. Therefore we do not see the associated improvements in speed and power that come with improved strength.

In fact, they won’t even improve our ability to maintain stability on the ground, as the neural coordination required for even the same movement on the alternate (stable and unstable) surfaces differ too much!

In fact, stable surface training has shown to produce superior improvements in athletic performance measures in comparison to unstable surface training (1).

This is likely the same for day to day activities such as walking up stairs and standing from sitting.

We cannot train to our full capacity when on an unstable surface.

So the main reason we lift weights is to increase our strength and power, and develop muscle mass, right?

Well when we train on an unstable surface, our force production capacity is limited, as we spend so much neuromuscular effort to maintain stability. If we cannot produce maximal force, we are limiting our ability to both increase strength and power, and also build muscle, as the muscle is not placed under enough stress to elicit an adaptation response (2).

 

So to summarise

Unstable surfaces limit our ability to increase athletic performance and improve our capacity to undertake activities of daily living.

They also inhibit our ability to recruit muscle and produce force, therefore limiting strength and hypertrophy gainzzzzz.

But how do we improve stability?

 

Single leg work my friends, which is a topic for a future post.

 

 

Do you want to improve strength, stability and power but are not sure where to start? Click here to see if you qualify for my online coaching program.

 

 

References

1.     Willardson, Jeffrey M. "The Effectiveness of Resistance Exercises Performed on Unstable Equipment." Strength & Conditioning Journal 26.5 (2004): 70-74.

2.     Anderson, Kenneth G., and David G. Behm. "Maintenance of EMG activity and loss of force output with instability." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.3 (2004): 637-640.

 

Are you hamstrings actually tight? Or is it a symptom of a greater problem?

One of the most common complaints that I hear is ‘I have tight hamstrings’.

And the most common cure I see?

People stretching their hamstrings.

But even with all this chronic stretching, people often still feel as if their strings are tight? Which leads us to the question, are your hamstrings actually tight?

And the answer, like with so many things health and fitness related, isn’t a particularly good one.

Probably, maybe, sort of ..... But that’s not actually the issue.

Muscle tightness vs Misalignment

If someone constantly complains of tight hamstrings you should have a look at their pelvic alignment. I would put my money on them having some excessive anterior pelvic tilt (APT).

APT describes the forward ‘tilt’ of the pelvis when looked at from the side. Whilst slight APT is actually the norm in majority of the population, it is often worsened by excessive time spent in the seated position, and can have an impact on the hamstrings. Excessive APT results in someone kind of looking like Donald duck, with the pelvis tilted very far forward.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Tight hamstrings, anterior pelvic tilt, APT, posture, rehab, lordosis

 

If you have a look at a pelvis with significant anterior tilt, you can begin to see why the hamstrings may feel tight. As they attach to the pelvis, when it is anteriorly tilted, they are placed in a lengthened position, hence the feeling of tightness. Now as they are already lengthened, is stretching them (trying to make them longer) going to improve the problem?

No. In fact, it may even do the opposite, potentially worsening the already apparent APT. 

So rather than tight, we should think long. Long and weak, as they do not have the strength to maintain normal pelvic positioning.

Whilst weak hamstrings are a potential contributor, we also need to look at the other muscles that act on the pelvis.

On the front of the body we have quite a few muscles that act on the pelvis, with the hip flexors and knee extensors the two most likely to be pulling the pelvis into anterior tilt. Now these muscles here are most likely tight in the way people think of tight muscles. As in they are short and stiff. What I mean by short and stiff, is that they are in a shortened position due to sedentary activity, and stiff as they rarely get used in a lengthened position, causing them to become tight and immobile.

It is these muscles that are going to require stretching and myofascial release to restore length and mobility, and hopefully help return the pelvis to a more neutral position.

With this it comes back to proper assessment and ensuring that we treat problems and not symptoms. In this case we can see that tight feeling hamstrings are the symptom, and by stretching them, they may feel better acutely but we are not actually treating the problem that is causing the sensation of tightness, being the pelvic position. Always look into a symptom in depth to try and establish its cause, rather than trying to treat it as a problem.

 

If you feel like you this article applies to you, and are unsure of how to deal with it I can help you here!