A few weeks ago I was down at my friend Gan Power’s gym in Tramore where I taught my bodyweight workshop.
Over the day, the gathered audience asked many great questions, one point in particular came about when I noticed one participant was having issues with the squat, their knees kept collapsing in (known as valgus). This is a common occurrence in people with poor Gluteal function.
This observation side tracked us from my planned schedule, but did serve assembled audience well as several of the crew were also coaches and were looking for hints on how to deal with this very common problem.
The reasons for glute dysfunction are many. Very often the muscles are just “sleeping” due to lack of stimulation. EMG studies have noticed that when seated there is little to no EMG activity below the waist. Muscles that aren’t used will atrophy, and as the glutes are a particularly large muscle group, they’ll be one of the first victims of this atrophy, the body knows it can get by without them, so why not save some energy by losing the extra luggage.
That’s the sedentary population and “recreational” exerciser. The guys that spend 40+ hours at a desk, more hours commuting and most evenings on the sofa. The guys that go to the gym to sit down to train. These are the most common victims of gluteal amnesia.
But what about us active folk? Why do we get it?
Very often its down to muscle imbalance. The majority of sports are quad dominant, meaning that our thighs are over active and our hip flexors are tight. This can lead to the posterior chain becoming inhibited.
Without getting technical, the phenomenon here is named Reciprocal Inhibition. This means that when the muscles on one side of a joint fire to move that joint (agonists), the muscles on the opposite side must switch off to allow the movement happen (antagonists).
If the tension is always present in the agonist, then the antagonists are always inhibited. This can become habitual unless interventions are taken in the warm ups and the weight room.
Almost every athlete I’ve ever trained has noticed significant improvements in their performance and power generation after the addition of glute activation drills and posterior chain work.
They also report decreases in knee and low back pain. Personally I attribute much of my SI joint issues to poor glute function and tight hip flexors.
The following few videos are some of the drills I use to activate the glutes. These are usually programmed into the guys general warm ups and often used as “active” rest between ramp up sets on lower body days. Rep ranges on these are optional, anywhere from 5 – 15 is good, as long as full concentration is applied and quality of movement is carefully observed.
The first drill is the Side Lying Clam:
Next is the Bird-Dog or “Superman” drill, the video also discusses a few variations:
I’ll reiterate one point from the clip, do not do as the aerobicists do, they use the Bird-Dog for “toning” the core, usually they bang out poor quality reps at pace. this is worse than useless. The Bird-Dog and it’s variants are exercises in control, treat them as such.
This next drill is a favourite, the Bridge. Here’s the video:
As stated, this is a great drill as it utilises reciprocal inhibition by using the posterior chain to switch of the anterior chain. Hold this one for time, constantly squeezing the glutes and trying to lift higher and higher.
One last one for you, the X-Band Walk:
Often I’ll alternate between a Glute activation drill and a hip flexor or adductor stretch. A stretched muscle is temporarily inhibited giving us a great window of opportunity to activate its opposite number.
I also have guys do these drills between specific warm up sets of lower body lifts. I tend to use the X-band walk the most for active rest, especially on Deadlifting day.
I’ll be teaching another Bodyweight Workshop, this time in Sarah Smith’s Galway Kettlebells Studio. This will be held on the 10th November and is limited to the first 20 people. Drop me a line to book a place.