March 27, 2013

Glute Activation and Strengthening: Ask the Trainer

Let's talk about asses, shall we?

Feet don't fail me n... oh. Never mind.

 So the question for this installment of Ask The Personal Trainer is:

What's the deal with "glute activation," is something you work with people on? And if so, why is important and what's your approach?

"Glute activation" was a term I'd been hearing tossed around on various websites, and curious about the difference between active and lazy asses, and how to have one of the former rather than the latter, I thought I'd ask a couple of our trusty personal trainers.  Plus, I'll weigh in, just 'cause I have an ass  myself and it's my blog.

So, what is glute activation and how does one build a better butt?


Can't I Just Pay These Guys?

First up we have...


Chris Kelly!




[Chris Kelly is a fitness writer and personal training studio owner. He specializes in quick and effective workout routines to fit fitness/nutrition in to a busy schedule. Check out his blog at Peak Wellness online.]


In discussions around my gym, the glutes are referred to as the "money maker" by the majority of my clients. By this, I mean that I feel the size and muscularity of one's posterior region is a direct indicate of health, strength and overall bad-ass-ness.

The glutes act as the work horse for virtually any activity which involves movement of the pelvis--from bending over to pick something up to sprinting across a soccer field.

If the glutes are weak or inhibited, other muscles such as the hamstrings (back of the leg muscles) and spinal erectors (low back) are forced to do more work to produce the same movements. Because these muscles are not meant to perform this task, we often get strains and chronic pain in these areas-- not to mention looking flabby in a two piece.

For trainers, this means the idea of "glute activation" has become popular in the last few years as we have become a more sedentary society. But the question everyone is asking is how can we wake up the butt (or money maker) to get the best return on exercise investment?

Here is a step by step process (click on each step for a video):

1. Perform this glute testing exercise  to see if your glutes are actually weak. If you cramp in your hamstrings or are unable to hold the pelvis up, it is an indication you are dealing with some degree of glute weakness/inhibition.
2. Stretch the hip flexors  (muscles which get tight and turn the glutes off).
3. Perform this bridge exercise to activate your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds and grab your butt to ensure these muscles are contracting and firing versus the hamstrings.
4. Perform this exercise progression to strengthen your glutes.

I will also add the best reference for getting a great butt is my colleague Bret Contreras. Known as the "glute guy," Bret is something of a mad scientist when it comes to the glutes and trains a litany of women from top figure competitors to stay at home moms.

What I really like about Bret is he has carved out his results by getting women strong in basic lifts such as the squat, deadlift and hip lift while down playing the dogma of excessive cardio training. After getting over the initial shock of watching women hip lift several hundred pounds, you will likely find hours of fun/torture in his approach.

And next up it's...


Dave Smith!

[Dave Smith is a personal trainer who specializes in quick and effective body weight exercise routines that can be done anywhere, anytime - Check him out at MakeYourBodyWork.com]


I am definitely a butt-man! (meaning of course that I do think it's important to focus on glute strengthening). Here are two important reasons why "glute activation" deserves some extra attention:

1. Glutes = Core. Core training is often thought to be synonymous with ab exercises but this is only partially true. Your "core" is just that - it's the middle section of your body. That means it includes your stomach, lower back, and hips. Training this area is crucial because all movement originates from our core.

For example, think about running and quickly tell me what body parts are required for this simple movement. Legs - yes, but before the legs are even involved, a running stride is initiated from the hips. We don't really think of it this way because our core muscles are relatively stationary while our legs and arms are the body parts that are obviously in motion.

Glutes are part of the core. In fact, the glutes are also a key player in a running stride. Once your foot contacts the ground it's a combination of your glutes, hamstrings, and quads that create an explosive movement to push your body forward. Long story short - Glutes are part of every movement because glutes reside in the core of the body.

2. Weak Glutes = Injury. Weak glutes create a missing link in many movements. The slack must be picked up somewhere so our bodies quickly begin to compensate by using other muscles (often the hamstrings and lower back). This can result in tight muscles and eventually injury.

Training Your Glutes

Watch this common exercise, but notice a few key points that will help target the glutes more effectively.




And finally we have...
Crabby McSlacker!



[Crabby is a Health and Fitness blogger, but sadly, has never gotten around to sculpting a nice ass.  It's on her "Must Do Soon" list, which means she will get to it by about 2024... by which time said ass will probably reside somewhere south of her knees.]

I can't remember where I first heard the term "glute activation." But the notion was vaguely alarming. Could my glute muscles be sitting around (so to speak) just waiting to be useful...at the gym or on the trail or even in the supermarket, yet feeling too shy and inhibited to show up for the party?  Afraid to step into the spotlight, nudged aside by other more confident muscles like quads who feel like they get to takeover whenever they feel like it, even if the poor wallflower glutes would do a way better job of it?

Well, I never got official about testing anything, and I was too lazy to embark on a whole glute strengthening program, but one thing I did experiment with that I'd like to pass on:

Think About Your Ass.

Weirdly, the more I do this in a variety of exercisey situations, the more I find the glutes are feeling more spunky and confident and are pitching in more than they used to.

I already make a spectacle of myself at the gym, so while the sight of me occasionally slapping my own butt on the elliptical or giving it a quick squeeze as I slide into a leg press machine might look odd, it's no weirder than my silently screaming along to my playlist or dancing on the treadmill or any number of other strange things I do there.

I even notice a biomechanical difference just by remembering to stick the ol' hiney out a bit more than I used to whenever I bend over, whether it's to pick up a heavy weight at the gym, or just re-test the validity of the five second rule when I toss my lunchtime salad too enthusiastically.

One odd thing: sometimes I'll catch the right side sleeping while the left side is working just fine.  A quick grab or slap and I can turn the other cheek... on. (Sorry!)

So what about you guys, what do you think about your butts, are they strong and active?

Photos:
Statue: Thomas
Butt construction: animalkitty




60 comments:

  1. I never gave the glutes much thought until today. I worried they were weak, but I see one of the exercises offered by the first trainer is the same as a cheater version of one of the Tibetan Rites I've been doing for almost four years. That's good enough for me.

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    1. Tibetan Rites for Buns of Steel, sounds like an infomercial I'd watch Leah! Glad you have your ass covered, so to speak.

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    2. I don't think I've seen the word Glute used so many times in one post.

      I too never gave glutes much thought until today. Now that's the only thing on my mind. Glutes of Steel. :D

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  2. As a Pavlovian reflex from seeing the word "glutes," I must share my most favorite trainer exercise for glutes. (Which I did about a week ago and said, "Oh, yes, this one is effective.)

    Take a smallish weight in one hand, and sit on a balance ball. Slide down until the ball is supporting your upper back/neck/head, your torso is a table top, and your knees are at right angles. Do dumbbell presses up and down (90 degrees from your chest) in one hand (I like to put the other hand on my waist). Keep your table-top torso nice and level.

    Totally sounds like you're working your upper body with the presses, but it's even more so activating your glutes (score!) as you stabilize your torso.

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    1. Rachel, this sounds very sneaky and I can't wait to give it a try!

      Well, ok, I am perfectly capable of waiting when it comes to any sort of strength training, but trying something new like this does seem intriguing. Thanks for the tip!!!

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    2. I'm definitely gonna try this! Thanks!

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  3. As always, the photos and captions are cracking me up. Butt Construction, REALLY?

    This seems like an A-OK place to mention that once while visiting my in-laws in New Mexico, we took a roadtrip and passed Elephant Butte. My husband assured me it was always a topic of laughter when he was a kid. As it of course remains now for me, as an adult.

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    1. This is TOTALLY the place to giggle over Elephant Butte OtF!!!

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    2. I saw Butt Construction and all I could think about was being the darn secretary and having to answer the phone.

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  4. I do the squats and deadlifts and shoulder bridges and that's all the glute work I plan to do unless I lose enough weight to be able to show it off.

    Here we not only have ButtCon -- clearly owned by people who had long gotten over any teasing and decided to go ahead and use it's eye-catching potential -- but also URBACON, which reads to me like some higher form of breakfast meat.

    BTW Crabby, I had commenting difficulties for a while (and may still on my home computer -- I hit "publish" and the whole thing just disappears). I wanted to mention a couple of small thoughts about the life coaching. One is that you could definitely mush the life coaching and fitness together in your advertising for a total package kind of deal. Not many life coaches have that to offer. The other is that I went to a conflict management course run by my employer which was taught by a life coach. Her skills made her an excellent teacher, and it was a way to give lots of people a taste of her work. You could consider looking at businesses or adult education programs that offer life-skill courses like that. I bet you'd be awesome at it, if you have any interest in group work. Mostly I just agree with those that said to bite the bullet and pay someone to market you, because who wants to do that crap themselves?

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    1. Your glute work sounds more than sufficient, and love ButtCon and Ur-Bacon!

      And no Trabb's Boy, you are not the only one having comment problems and how frustrating to have your comments evaporate!! Wish I knew what the deal was. Where are you having trouble from, I think iPads might have particular incompatablity issues. But shoot, I gotta figure out a solution.

      Great stuff to think about re life coaching! Hadn't even thought of adult ed courses, and great other suggestions as well!

      Note: feel free to email if you ever can't get through and I can post for you.

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  5. This post may become a classic!

    Interesting that in medicine, one of the biggest money areas is gastroenterology, and the starting and the stopping of it "all."

    No question, our butts are where the money is, lol! Who would have known??

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    1. And that's not even counting all the implant and cosmetic butt people and colonic cleansing and who knows what else. Thanks Dr. J!

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  6. I don't think I've ever done the bridge (hip thrust, hip lift...) with my toes up. Can't wait to try it - hopefully I will really activate my butt!!! Or I might just join you and start occasionally slapping myself on the butt!!

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    1. There's an exercise variation out there you haven't done before Kim? I'm amazed! :)

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    2. Tried it today for my 43!!!

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  7. Fantastic article about a near and dear body part! My wife is always doing lunges, lunges, lunges. :) Great info and advice.

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    1. Thanks Tim, I'm lucky to have personal trainers on hand who actually know what they're talking about!

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  8. Argh! It can be so difficult to know where your abilities exist in the normal spectrum when you have an oddity. I have a curved spine and I am obese so some exercises just work differently for me. This is a case in point. There will always be an arch in my back but I think my glutes are doing OK and I base that on my butt climbing up a few inches after several months of cycling. Yeah!

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    1. Oh shoot Cindy, the curved spine does sound like it would complicate things. But hooray for the cycling-induced butt lift!!

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  9. Love this because those damn glutes want to fall no matter how much you work them with age! It sucks!!! ;) I always like to learn more & I keep trying.

    Like you, I do like to feel myself up to see if I am working those booty glutes! ;)

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    1. We need Butt Bra's Jody! And glad I'm not the only one grabbing my own ass at the gym. :)

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  10. That hurdler picture is hilarious...I think my glutes are pretty amazing and I love to move them...

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    1. Some day 'Drea I SO want to be able to say I have amazing glutes! But, um, would that involve exercising them? Sigh.

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  11. Dang, was unexpectedly offline today and am heading on a road trip tomorrow to see family, sitting on my glutes most of the day. But love these comments!!

    Thanks to you guys I will try to inspire myself to do a few gas-station lunges and passenger seat bridges along the way.

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  12. Couldn't agree more with you, a lot of people just don't think about there derriere too much but it is important to work out whether you are a man or woman. Gonna go try that single leg glute bridge now to make sure I'm not weak :P

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    1. Thanks Jon and good luck with the single leg glute bridge; I doubt that for you it would be "A Bridge Too Far!"

      Although I realize if you're not an old movie fan that pun made absolutely no sense.

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  13. Yoga and Pilates both result in what i've heard called "yoga butt", which my Sweetie likes. Both use moves just like these outlined here, so you are, as usual, right on top of things, Crabby!

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    1. I agree messymimi...a lot of the 'glut exercises' remind me a lot of my yoga classes!

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    2. Never really thought about it messymimi and Sherri, but no wonder so many yoga people have such nice asses!

      Um, not that I've noticed (she said, looking over her shoulder to make sure the Lobster isn't reading...)

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  14. LOVE every section of this post - including comments! I feel so much better about my silent screaming/singing (ok - sometimes not even completely silent) and other wierdness when working out where I can actually be seen by others! And, love that there's even a quick glutty test included along with the terrific tips! What more could we ask for?????
    The only attention I ever really paid to my posterior was when I woke up one very sad day and noticed... yes, "cottage cheese"! :(:(:( Then, I went through a period which I shall call 'contructive denial' which included avoiding ever, ever looking at that area. That approach wasn't too constructive though. So - now, I do look and I do things about it. This post is really going to help me with the more positive "contruction zone". Thanks!

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    1. Oh good anon, another silent screamer!

      Fortunately I have acquired the ability to contain my curiosity about the potentially cheesy state of the backs of my thighs... and there is no mirror in our house that would reveal that info unless I contort myself very intentionally. Ignorance is bliss! :)

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  15. Great post! I'm definitely going to pay more attention to my butt from now on. I have to admit, this muscle group has never been the center of my attention but I think that's going to change...

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    1. Thanks Liz! I'm glad this blog won't be accused of promoting excessive navel-gazing, since we'll all be focused on our butts instead.

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  16. It is almost bed time. I had lots I could have said on the previous post. I had lots I could have said on this one. I want to believe you would wonder where I was if I didn't comment. I looked at a video link about the one leg lift from your back thing for glut work. Glut and gluten are two different things.

    I am tired. What a day. Not bad...just A DAY. And tomorrow is another one! I don't know how you do it Crabby...visiting other blogs AND commenting too! Phew!!!

    I am going to bed now. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    :D

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    1. glutE glutE glutE (not glut) zzzzzzzzz

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    2. Too funny about Glutes and Gluten, both weirdly popular blog subjects, and Sherri D, no pressure at all but yeah, I would TOTALLY notice if you were gone!

      On the other hand, I've been total crap about blog visits lately, and have even been struggling to get to my own while out of town, so do NOT feel bad at all if you can't get to commenting, especially when you've had a DAY!

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    3. Hey, I know you can't always visit all the blogs you want to. And I would NEVER comment about YOU behind your back on MY blog....nope, not me. :D

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  17. I'm constantly amused by what I consider the patois of the fitness industry, in a good way - "glute activation" sounds like something that would be part of the opening for the Six Million Dollar Man - thinking about that made me go to YouTube to look at the opening sequence and yes, I could see how something about glute activation would fit nicely in there.

    Our backsides are highly underrated as functional body parts, that is for sure - this was a great post!

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    1. Love the glute activation Six Million Dollar Man visual Monica!!!!

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  18. This is a great post, Crabby! Actually, I am already satisfied with my butt (big thanks to my trainer) and I'm planning to enhance it with more strengthening exercises. Thanks for sharing! :-)

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    1. A happy camper who is actually satisfied with her butt? Did not know anyone like that existed, that's awesome Mary!

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  19. I have no butt. It's sunken in, I think I need that Brazilian Butt Lift

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    1. I sympathize Starving Bitch, but then those who have the opposite of no butt often seem kinda unhappy about that too!

      The perfect posterior is strangely elusive for most of us.

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  20. Thank you for sharing this. It is a big help for me and I'm sure for others too!..

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  21. I just realized that the glutes can be a good signal if you are totally fit or not. This is definitely new knowledge for me. It is really nice to hear the answers from the experts. It is time to add some exercises that can further improve the muscles of our glutes.

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    1. It's also nice to see that people dropping in with commercial links are having the courtesy to post relevant comments! It's still a no-follow zone down here, but that way I don't need to delete the comment the way I would with blatant spam. At some point soon though, I may stop replying to people posting these sort of links.

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  22. you made me laugh hard as always! *heads of to butcamp*

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  23. Glutes=Core I never really that of it like that. Exercising the glutes is much more involved that I thought.

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  24. Death Ride GrandmaMarch 31, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    What I want is the glute exercise that will make me strong enough to survive my bike saddle on a long day! I'm fine with all these bridge pulse things - one leg, yoga block between knees - but somehow, as much as they do to make me firm, they don't make my saddle any less firm/hard!

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    1. That's depressing DRG, that someone who rides as much as you do still has to cope with the ouchy-saddle problem. I thought perhaps that magically disappeared for you hard core riders. Shoot!

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  25. My job requires full-time sitting. Been a few months and the lower body doesn't look too good now. I think these exercises are simple and would help a lot, especially the video. I will look more into it.

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  26. Awesome post!
    When I hired my trainer I challenged her to give me a butt (I was what you could call flat-butted). A few months later I can announce that I am the proud owner of a nice rounded, firm little rear-end.
    But mostly it has made my running so much stronger!!!

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  27. Oh my goodness, what a blog! Love it! Never read so many fun posts about glutes :)
    I agree that Yoga does a good job, butt ;) additional classic exercises are a must, especially if one has to sit around a lot. According to my opinion butts get flat and wide from too much sitting...
    oh and surfers also have a great butt :)

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  28. Hey thanks Annie, JSint-Mleux and Kathryin for stopping by!

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  29. Think about your ass...haha I love the vido!

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