Glute activation has become a topic I’m incredibly passionate about, especially since I’ve recently found out a lot of my lower back and core instability is a direct result of poor glute activation.
Your glutes do much more than give your backside a bit of flare. In fact, the gluteus maximus, one of three ‘glute’ muscles located in each buttock, is the largest muscle in the human body—and one of the strongest.
When firing properly, the glutes carry out functions that involve extending and rotating the hips and legs, and play a big part in stabilizing and supporting the pelvic and hip area. For example, the glutes keep your hips, knees, and ankles aligned when you run, and are responsible for propelling your body forward.
They also help you squat, jump, walk, and pick things up off the floor—all of which are pretty important for everyday life.
So, what causes the glutes to stop activating? Constant flexion
—or the condition of being bent. Extended periods of time sitting, whether in the car, at our desk, or on the couch, can lead to tight and overactive hip flexors, which can “turn off” the glutes. Eventually, this can lead to imbalances and compensatory actions by other muscles, which can create pain and lead to injury.
In short, if your glutes aren’t activating, it can lead to injury, core stability issues, chronic low back pain, and decreased overall strength potential.
4 Glute Activation Exercises
Glute activation exercises are incredibly beneficial because they teach the glutes how to fire appropriately. This restores proper movement patterns and alignment, which ultimately increases the body’s functional capacity.
The four glute activation exercises listed below are all movements that isolate the glutes, meaning the lower back, hamstring, and quadriceps are not able to overcompensate. Of course, these movements can be performed in a way that doesn’t effectively fire the glutes, so it’s incredibly important to use proper form, and intentionally engage the glutes when you’re performing these movements.
For best results, I recommend doing each of these exercises once a day. They’re great to include as part of your warm up because they get the glutes fired up and ready to perform bigger exercises.
Number 1: Side Leg Hold
The side leg hold may look innocent, but the action it requires from the gluteus medius makes it no easy feat. If you have problems with overpronation of the foot, or tend to be susceptible to knee and foot issues, this one’s for you.
Laying on your side, slowly lift your leg towards the ceiling and hold it 10 seconds. Your leg should be in line with your body, or slightly behind you. Make sure to keep your knee straight, and do not allow your hips to rotate forwards or backwards when performing the movement. Lower your leg back to the floor. Perform 10 reps, and repeat opposite leg.
If you aren’t able to hold your leg in an extended position for 10 seconds, start with 5-10 reps of 3-5 second holds, and work your way up to 10 reps of 10 second holds.
Number 2: Lying Bent Knee Raise
The lying bent knee raise is quite possibly one of the best movements for getting the gluteus maximus to action. Bending your knee remove the hamstring from being able to overcompensate, so it’s great for those who have strong hamstrings that like to do all the work.
Begin lying face down with a pillow under your lower abdomen and hips. Bend one knee to a 90 degree angle, and raise your knee off the ground and hold it for 10 seconds. Think about intentionally tightening your glutes just prior to, and during the movement. Maintain a neutral spine, and keep your hips still while performing the movement. Lower your leg back to the floor. Perform 10 reps, and repeat opposite leg.
If you aren’t able to hold your leg off the ground for 10 seconds, start with 5-10 reps of 3-5 second holds, and work your way up to 10 reps of 10 second holds.
Number 3: Seated Band Hip Abduction
If you’re struggling with pelvic floor issues such as incontinence, this is an incredibly effective exercise that helps to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor while also getting the glutes to activate. If you’re more focused on pelvic floor stability, I recommend doing this exercise three times a day.
Sit up straight with your feet together. Tie a band
around your legs, just above the knees. Spread your knees apart against the band, and turn your toes out. Hold for 10 seconds. Bring your knees back together. Perform 10 reps.
Number 4: Standing 4-way Band Kicks
Standing band kicks require stability from the glutes during hip extension, flexion, adduction, and abduction with the help of a resistance band. This is one of my favorite exercises to do when warming up because it’s fast, and calls the glute to action from all directions.
Tie a band
around a stationary object at ankle level like the leg of a table, desk, or squat rack. Facing the desk or table, step one foot inside the band, and place it around your ankle.
Standing tall and keeping a slight bend in your standing leg, kick the leg in the band straight back. Keep your hips forward, and do not lean forward or twist while performing the movement. If you need to use something for balance, lightly place your hand on the desk or table that is close to you. Bring your leg back to start. Repeat this movement 10 times.
Perform this movement with the same leg with your body facing away from the desk (start with your leg behind you and bring it underneath your body), and then on each side (start with your leg out to the side, and bring it towards your body, and start with your feet beside each other, and move your leg out to the side away from your body.) Repeat the entire set with the opposite leg.
When doing these glute activation exercises, keep in mind… Your glutes didn’t stop firing overnight, so it’s going to take some time to get them activating again. Give yourself a good 6-12 weeks before you expect to see results.
Have any questions about these glute activation exercises? Ask them below!