Lower back pain? Flat bum got you down? Your glutes may not be working properly! Take a read and learn how to get the most from your glutes so you can get the results you want.
I have a confession to make: I like big butts and I cannot lie. Strong glutes are essential for proper posture, prevention of low back pain, and act as a powerhouse for virtually every sport. They can also go a long way in filling out a pair of jeans.
One of the most common issues for my clients who initially present with lower back pain is that their glutes are simply not firing properly. This may be caused by a number of factors, but can often be due to muscular tightness in surrounding regions such as the hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings and spinal erectors, coupled with a weak anterior core. These muscle groups will often compensate by working overtime for weak glutes.
When attempting to work on my previously non-existent glutes, I was always told to just do more squats. Don’t get me wrong, squats are a great exercise and I still do them regularly, but I for one never experienced that glute burn that was supposed to accompany them. Instead, I would have muscle fatigue in my quads and hamstrings and experienced limited gains in strength and hypertrophy.
Why? Ask a group of women where they feel squats and the majority will likely say in their quads. Research has shown that for many women, a bodyweight squat activates about 70% of MVC (Maximum Voluntary Contraction) for the quads and only 20% of gluteal MVC. Ideally, squatting should be closer to a mean glute MVC of 50-70%.
So many women shy away from lifting heavy due to the fear of developing huge legs. It only exacerbates the issue when they feel like they are overworking an area they are already self-conscious about.
The solution to many of these issues lies in integrating more glute-specific exercises into your training routine. So how the @#$% do we do this? Before you rush out to buy the Brazilian Butt Lift or one of these, follow the next 4 steps:
Step 1 – Are your glutes actually firing?
Lie on your back and squeeze only the right side of your bum. Hold for a second, release and then squeeze the left side. Can you do this without tensing through your quads or hamstrings? If not, time to start practicing! Mastering this simple drill is key for successful glute activation in any other exercise.
Step 2 – Do you have mobility restrictions?
If you are inhibited through your hip flexors or hamstrings, they may not allow you to obtain full activation in your glutes. Try incorporating some myofascial release (stick rolling and foam rolling) as well as the mobility drills below into your warm up.
Step 3 – Master the bridge
What do you feel is working during a bridge? If it is all in your quadriceps or hamstrings, you have some work to do. Start by experimenting with different foot positions. If you are feeling it primarily in your quads, try to drive into the ground with your heels.
If you are feeling mostly hamstrings, try a bridge with your feet together and knees hip-width apart. Focus on staying relaxed through your legs and squeezing your glutes at the top.
If you still can’t feel your glutes working, try a bridge with wall push. The overhead push will help to activate your anterior core, a common weak link. Don’t forget about the mobility work in step 2! This can go a long way.
Step 4 – Learn about hip thrusts and start doing them regularly!
Enter the hip thrust. Earlier I mentioned maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) during bodyweight squats. When completing a squat with 80% of your 1RM, mean glute activation should be around 50-70% of MVC. The mean glute activation during the hip thrust is significantly higher, approximately 100% of MVC. Why are you not doing this exercise already?
Give these 4 simple steps a try and turn your flat bum into a strong, functional, Beyoncé booty!
Check out Bret’ Contreras’ blog for endless resources about glute training and the hip thrust.
Please leave your comments, questions, or feel free to share your love of hip thrusts below.