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Training the Glutes for Form & Function

Our current approach to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex—emphasizing concentric muscle activation and linear movement patterns—provides an incomplete picture of how the hip joint and surrounding myofascia receive and transmit a variety of forces. This article will explore some unique kinesiological and biomechanical principles to widen our perspective on how the glutes function in many of our favorite exercises. After that, it will offer exercise strategies to give clients the butts they’ve always wanted and the hip function they require to move optimally.

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Conventionally, we think the glutes’ primary function is to create hip extension, external rotation and abduction. As a result, we select popular exercises such as floor bridges and hip thrusts, side-lying clams, prone leg raises and cable hip extensions because of their high muscle-activation potential during these motions. While this conventional approach is still warranted, it considers only how the glutes and hips function in the presence of gravity, with femur-on-pelvis motion in a horizontal position relative to gravity.

When we expose the upright body to the forces of gravity and ground reaction, and then couple them with pelvis-on-femur motion, we find the glutes will actually turn “on” during their eccentric phase and, relatively speaking, turn “off” during the concentric phase, using the concept of “load to unload” (Lorenz 2011; Komi 2000). For example, the glutes will turn on during the deceleration of an anterior walking lunge but turn off as we stand up and propel ourselves forward onto the other leg.

Coupling eccentric muscle contraction with loading/lengthening of the fascial web helps us maximize our energy potential, following the principle of energy conservation (Komi 2000). Thus, the glute complex receives the energy of gravity and ground reaction as the hip moves into flexion, relative internal rotation and relative adduction—motions opposite to those we usually associate with glute activation (Wolf 2011). The interplay of the neuromyofascial systems and their timing in promoting optimal hip, knee and lumbar motion are vital for maintaining the integrity of our joints and for enhancing performance (IOM 2012).

This perspective increases our understanding of why squats, deadlifts and lunges are great glute exercises, and it provides a path to helping clients improve the appearance of their butts. Performing these exercises multidirectionally allows us to truly take advantage of the glutes’ responsibility to stabilize and create multiplanar motion at the hip, while also sending more mechanical stress into the gluteal complex.

Table 1. Conventional vs. Progressive Approach to Glute Function

Perspective Conventional Progressive
focus point muscles muscles, connective tissue, nervous system and joint motion
activation concentric eccentric and isometric
force profile gravity gravity plus ground-reaction force
hip motion femur on pelvis pelvis on femur
muscle actions accelerates hip extension, abduction, external rotation decelerates hip flexion, relative adduction and relative internal rotation
position and direction horizontal and sagittal vertical and multidimensional

Level-Based Approach to Progressive Glute Training

The following exercises may be new for you or your clients, so it is imperative to build a foundation for good movement and slowly progress the level of force the body (and specifically the glutes) can tolerate. If you can move a lot of weight with traditional squats, lunges and deadlifts, it’s still important to begin by practicing these new movements unloaded, with small ranges of motion and at speeds that promote rhythmic movement.

For specific exercises using this approach, plus a full reference list, please see “The 3D Booty: Training the Glutes for Form and Function” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2014 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Derrick Price, MS

Derrick Price MS, CPT, PES, CES has been active on many levels in the fitness industry for over 8 years. He holds a MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion with an emphasis on injury prevention and performance enhancement from the California University of Pennsylvania where he has also spent time as an Adjunct Faculty member teaching courses in Exercise Program Design. Aside from personal training at the acclaimed Function First in San Diego, CA, Derrick also is a Master Trainer for ViPR, Technogym, Core-Tex and Power Plate. He began his educational career as a Master Instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and has since moved on to become a Faculty Member for the Personal Training Academy (PTA) Global. Derrick currently resides in San Diego with his wife Laura where they enjoy many outdoor activities such as hiking, golf, disc golf and a variety of other sports

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