Through human evolution, the buttocks served as a key component for mankind to finally raise his hands off the ground and stand erect on two feet. The glutes served as a counterbalance to the chest. This gave our ancestors the ability to stand tall and climb their way to the top of the food chain. At about 330 B.C., Aristotle even declared the importance of the booty to humanity stating, “Man needs a seat.”
In today’s era, the glutes are undeniably one of the biggest and most critical muscles in the athletic body. The glutes serve as a bragging right for many, a point of pride in the locker room for some, and a source of great power in movement for others. It’s the most talked about body part but not just for aesthetic reasons. Surprisingly, your glutes play a critical role in keeping your body upright, moving your hips, and much more.
Without adequate glute strength, a chain reaction may occur. Your hips might lack mobility leading to issues with various movements and potentially problems in your chosen sport, setting you up for a higher risk of injury. You might experience back pain from an unsupported pelvis due to weak glutes. Other muscles, like the hamstrings or hip flexors, may become tense as they try to compensate for the glutes. This can cascade, and you may experience pain in various parts of the body.
But before we dive into the problems that may arise with weak gluteal muscles, let’s take a closer look at the glute muscles themselves and their function. What is their purpose? What should you know?
The Function of Your Glutes
The glutes consists of three muscles; the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the biggest of these three. The glute muscles attach at the base of the spine and part of the hip called the ilium, and run down attaching to your upper thigh bone, the femur. And these muscles further play a very important role in moving the hip and thigh.
The glutes contribute to extension, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation of the hip joint. But that’s not all. The gluteus medius and gluteus maximus also help stabilize the pelvis. When these muscles lack strength, the pelvis can become tilted. In turn, this can contribute to lower back pain – amongst other issues. We’ll take a closer look at the problems that may arise from weak glutes in the following section.
Everything in the body is connected. When one piece doesn’t function as it should, other pieces and systems also become imbalanced. As a result, you may experience pain, limited range of motion, and an inability to complete your regular activities – such as participating in your regular sports or competition. The glutes are no exception to this rule.
In today’s sedentary society, weak glutes are a common cause of various ailments. When you sit at a desk all day or fail to achieve the recommended amounts of physical activity, your glutes weaken. They also become more difficult to activate. Think of the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is very true when it comes to muscles and their activation capabilities. The neural pathways that activate these muscles also become weaker. And it takes practice to get it back.
When you have weak or tight glutes, you may experience the following:
1. Back Pain
The glutes contribute to the correct positioning of the pelvis and spine. The glutes may become tight from inactivity or sitting all day. When this happens, they can pull on the pelvis, creating issues and pain in the pelvis and lower spine.
Weak glutes may also not support the pelvis, hips, and lower spine – also contributing to back pain. Other muscles may have to compensate for weak glutes, pulling on the structures of the low back. This can cause degeneration, pinched nerves, or other damage. These muscles may also become overworked and overused. This can lead to strained or torn muscles. And ultimately, this often ends in discomfort or pain.
2. Poor Mobility
The glutes are responsible for the movement of your hip joint and upper thigh. In walking, running, or jogging movements, these muscles help send the leg backwards, which propels your body forward. They guide you toward that homerun, and they send you past your racing opponent. If your glutes lack the strength and power to do so, again, other muscles may compensate. These muscles may become injured due to overuse, and they may also not work as efficiently as the glutes do. This means you end up with an inefficient gait, with less speed and less power. You may also be unable to move your hip joint in other directions, including abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation.
3. Knee Pain
The integrity and stability of the pelvis can affect the knee joint as well. When the hip joint’s function is impacted, the knee inevitably is impacted too. The femur connects these two joints to one another. This bone is also primarily controlled by the glute muscles. A common problem occurs when the hip internally rotates outward (caused by incorrectly performing glutes), which twists the knee and causes pain. This can hinder many athlete’s training and performance. With your knees required for various movements, such as walking, running, or lunging, this isn’t an ideal scenario for most athletic enthusiasts.
Your Glutes in Sports
The glutes play a critical part in a variety of sports – from weightlifting to running and biking. When you run, your glutes are responsible for bringing your leg back and pushing your body forward. As a runner, this means that cross-training by working out your glutes, such as performing the exercises in the next section, can help you gain greater power and speed.
For weightlifters, the glutes are the powerhouses behind major moves, such as the deadlift or squat. During the deadlift exercise, you squeeze your glutes as you go to stand up, allowing your body to return to an upright position, while holding onto a fairly heavy weight bar. The glutes also help with the squat. The glutes, along with the hamstrings and quadriceps, help you squat down while also maintaining an upright position. Further, these muscles are important to train and isolate to help aid in other exercises, such as lunges.
In cyclists, their glutes become activated when they go to press down on the pedals from the top part of the pedal stroke. However, many cyclists tend to have weak outer glutes. Thus, it’s often recommended for cyclists to cross-train through resistance training that specifically targets these areas.
Glute Activation Exercises
Got weak glutes? No problem. We’ve got the exercises you need to build strength and support your body. These exercises target all three of the gluteal muscles, helping you activate your whole backside, as well as helping you avoid time spent on the sidelines or away from the weight room.
The Glute Bridge
- Begin lying face-up on a comfortable surface, such as a mat.
- Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the ground.
- Squeeze your glutes together and lift your hips and buttocks off the ground.
- Raise your hips as high as you comfortably can.
- Pause for 5 counts.
- Then, slowly lower back down to the ground.
- Do 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. For more of a challenge, wrap a resistance band around your thighs.
- Stand facing a wall, and wrap a resistance band around both ankles.
- Lean slightly forward from your hips.
- Shift your weight to your right leg.
- Extend your left leg back as far as you can, while squeezing your glutes.
- Slowly lower, and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
- Alternate sides, and do 2-3 sets.
- Stand on top of your resistance band.
- Hold each end with your hands.
- Begin by standing tall.
- Slowly bend forward at the hips, with a slight bend in your knee.
- Lower until your hands are about midway between your shins. Make sure you maintain a straight spine throughout this movement.
- Slowly stand back up, squeezing your glutes as you get to the top.
- Repeat for 10-15 repetitions and 2-3 sets.
- Wrap a resistance band around both your thighs.
- Begin standing up tall and with your feet hip-width apart.
- Lower down into a squat, as far as you can comfortably go.
- Keep tension in the band throughout the exercise.
- Step your right foot to the side, then your left.
- Then step back toward the other side.
- You can also choose to walk forward for this exercise.
- Mix it up and have fun with it. Challenge yourself! Aim to perform 10-12 steps per leg for 2-3 sets.
- Begin on all-fours.
- Wrap a band around both of your thighs.
- Slowly kick your right leg back while keeping your leg bent.
- Slowly lower your leg, and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
- Perform 2-3 sets per leg.
- Begin on all fours.
- Wrap a band around both of your thighs – similar to the donkey kicks.
- Bring your right leg out to the side, while keeping your knee bent.
- Slowly bring your leg back.
- Perform 10-15 repetitions per side for 2-3 sets.
- Wrap a resistance band around your thighs.
- Spread your feet wide, creating good tension in the band.
- Slowly bend your knees and send your buttocks back into a squat.
- Go down as low as you comfortably can or until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Stand back up tall.
- Perform 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.
Fire Up Your Glutes Today!
The glutes are inevitably an important muscle to activate – whether that is for sports or to ensure your general optimal health and wellness. About 80% of individuals experience back pain at some point in their life. But you don’t have to be part of that statistic. Taking care of your body – including increasing your glute strength – can help you train better, lift more, run farther and faster, and overall, improve your performance.
Ensure that on top of the exercises listed above that you perform a proper warm-up and cooldown before any exercise routine. Your warm-up should get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. This warm-up should also activate the muscles you intend on working. This means, for the glutes, lightly activating them through squats, lunges, or other movements. Your recovery should entail stretching out the muscles you worked. In this case, you need to stretch out the glutes and any other muscles worked. These strategies are essential to prevent injury and to become your best and healthiest self. When you take care of your body, it’ll take care of you back. You’ll feel better, be able to engage in all the activities or sports that you love, as well as excel in your sport of choice.