Are Your Glutes Working Efficiently?

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by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT

Arguably the most important muscles in our bodies for overall function in regards to any sort of movement, are the glutes. They power just about everything you do from walking, running, and jumping, to squatting and hinging. As for athletic sports, the glutes are king. You need strong and active glutes to perform at a high level. But do you know if your glutes are working correctly and activating the way they should be? There is a decent chance that they may not be and you may be missing the signs.

Your gluteal muscles consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Why is it important that your glutes are working? The glutes are the largest and most powerful muscles in your body and are an integral part of your performance. So if your glutes are underactive, meaning they are not working to their fullest capacity, two of the biggest problems you are going to run into include a decrease in performance and an increase in injury potential. And this does not just go for athletes. Relative to when you are in the gym, underactive glutes will not only inhibit the amount of weight that you can lift but also force other muscles to compensate. Other muscles such as your hamstrings, quads, low back, or hip flexors could be doing the work to pick up the slack for the underdeveloped glutes which could leave you will muscular strength or flexibility imbalances and even injury. The extra stress on those smaller, weaker muscles can cause both minor and even more serious injuries over time if your glutes go unaddressed. Even just walking, if your glutes are not firing correctly it can affect your gait and cause compensation patterns that lead to dysfunction in your lower half.

It might seem difficult to recognize, but here are some signs you should be able to notice that will indicate weakness in your gluteal muscles:

  • Chronic knee pain, especially if it tends to flare up most often during sport and exercise

  • Low back pain. Your low back muscles tend to compensate when your glutes are not doing the work they’re supposed to do

  • Sedentary lifestyle. Being inactive and sitting for extended periods of time can lead to an anterior pelvic tilt which will position your glutes in a constantly overstretched state making it difficult for them to fire properly

One test you can do to identify underactive glutes is a single leg stand. You should be able to stand on one leg with your eyes closed for at least a minute. If you cannot do so on both sides and you tend to fall forward, it is very possible that your glutes aren’t working as they should.

If you’ve discovered your glutes could use a little attention, it’s a manageable issue! First recommendation, lay off the heavy weights. If you continue to overload the surrounding muscles that are picking up the slack for your glutes you could cause further damage and exacerbate the problem. Your underactive glutes will probably also be causing an improper movement pattern. The next thing would be to perfect your movement patterns. This primarily pertains to the squat and deadlift but a proper hip hinge pattern is essential to keeping your glutes engaged throughout a movement. You should also perform actual glute activation exercises to focus on firing the glutes specifically. Glute bridges, X-Band Walks, Clamshells, or side-lying abductions and adductions can all help get your glutes going. If you perform one or more of these movements regularly, you can be sure to get those glutes firing closer to the way you need them to. Lastly, don’t skip out on leg day. Actively train your glutes! If you are a top heavy person that does everything but legs, there is a good chance your glutes aren’t working efficiently so be sure to incorporate regular training of the lower extremities into your routine. Keep your backside in the forefront of your mind!

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