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  • Mandy Willis

Why do we activate our glutes??

Updated: Jul 13

Following on from our previous blog post regarding warm-ups and purpose of pre-activation exercises, in this blog we delve a little deeper into a common area of pre-activation prior to physical activity to enable better understanding of the role of purpose driven movement patterns and their translation into training.


Pre-activation purpose:

Just recapping briefly, pre-activation exercises are intended to increase the amount of activity within a muscle prior to performing the demands of desired activity and therefore improving the efficiency of the movement and increasing portion of muscle tissue exposed to strength adaptations. This can reduce potential for injury due to under recruitment of motor units but can also enhance performance through improving contractility rate of muscle enabling better power and acceleration during movement following (O’Halloran et. al., 2017).


Whilst the gluteals (“glutes”) are often referred to as a group, continue reading to learn about the differing function of the main glute muscles and which pre activation exercises may best benefit your preparation for your next training session!




Gluteus maximus (“glute max”):


Glute Max is the largest of the gluteal muscles and one of the largest and therefore most powerful muscles in the human body. The primary function of the glute max is to perform hip extension – moving your leg behind your body). It is functional in tasks of daily living, such as standing up from sitting down and going up stairs and is also a key muscle in athletic performance through its action of accelerating the body upward and forward from a position of hip flexion – for example, sprinting, squatting and climbing. Due to the direction of muscle fibres, the upper portion of the glute max also assists with abduction and external rotation of the high. The glute max function is imperative for maintaining an erect posture – we would not be able to stand up straight without it functioning!



Gluteus medius (“glute med”):


The glute med has both anterior and posterior fibres which differ in function due to orientation of the muscle fibres relative to where they insert onto our thigh bone. Together, they are the primary hip abductors (movement of leg away from midline).

Anterior fibres: abducts and assists in flexion and internal rotation (turning of your thigh inwards towards midline) of the hip. It is also active when our base of support is minimal i.e. bridging, single leg squat, side step up, making it very important in single leg movements.

Posterior fibres: abducts and assists in extension and external rotation (turning of your thigh outwards relative to midline) of the hip.



Gluteus minimus (“glute min”):


Acts in synergy with the anterior fibres of the glute med, to abduct and internally rotate the hip.

Functionally, this abduction moment created by the glute med and glute min counteract collapsing of the hip by keeping pelvis level/stable over the hip in single leg stance activities such as walking, running, going up and down stairs, jumping and landing.


Dysfunction or weakness in these hip abductor muscles is common and can contribute to an array of movement dysfunction, pain and injury. The “catwalk swagger” you see models do on the runway may look trendy but it’s actually a sign of a poor glute med and min strength!



Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL):


Located at the front of the thigh and not quite a “gluteal” muscle, it has an important function in assisting the glutes by working synergistically to enable hip flexion, abduction and internal rotation. This muscle is known to become quite dominant with gluteal dysfunction, often becoming overactive and contributing to more of the movements than designed to through overcompensation – which can lead to anterior (frontal) hip pain.



Deep rotators: including well known Piriformis, contribute to hip abduction when the hip is in a flexed position and are very import to hip stability. We will cover these more extensively in a separate blog post


Common pre-activation exercises:


Preparatory exercises to optimise function of hip driven movements are commonly performed before workouts – but are you getting the most out of your pre-activation? Below, we look at some of the more common exercises and which are the most effective.


Hip Extension:

Movements that bring the hip from a flexed position to an extended position attempt to prepare the glute max fibres for power or acceleration. Movements often seen in pre activation warm-ups include:

- Bridges

- Standing hip extension

- Body weight squats

- Body weight lunges


These preparatory exercises will translate functionally to assist motor recruitment with activities such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, running and acceleration based movements (eg. sprinting, jumping)


Hip Abduction:

Movements that take the leg away from midline out to the side of the body with the aim to prepare glute med and glute min, or our lateral hip stabilisers (keeping our pelvis level during single leg stance activities). Such exercises include:

- Standing hip abduction

- Crab walks

- Monster walks

- Sidelying leg raises


These preparatory exercises will assist pelvic stability in single leg activities such as lunges, split squats, step ups and running for example.



Hip External Rotation:

Movements that involve hip rotation where knee moves from midline outwards to prepare posterior fibres of glute med and deep rotators. Exercises include:

- Clam shells

- Banded bridges


What does the research say?


A recent literature review compiled data from a number of studies and concluded the below exercises were most effective for activation of glute max and glute med (figures attached below for reference):



Glute Max:

1. Forward step ups

2. Single leg deadlift

3. Single leg squat

4. Wall squat

5. Retro step up






Glute Med:

1. Side bridge/plank (to neutral spine)

2. Single leg squat

3. Single leg deadlift

4. Pelvic drop (hip hitch)

5. Sidelying hip abduction (leg raises)







We can see a few select exercises that appear in both groups, this is because they are both hip extension dominant with single leg control required. This makes them worthwhile additions if you want bang for buck with pre-activation exercise selection. With all pre-activation exercises, it is important to note that these movements should be with control and intent, connecting your mind to muscle as you complete these to ensure you are getting the most out of them. Give these a try next session and see how you go!


References:


Reiman MP , Bolgla LA, Loudon JK. A literature review of studies evaluating gluteus maximus and gluteus medius activation during rehabilitation exercises. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 2012 :28(4): 257-268.


Pictures accessed from: https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy


Parr, M., Price, P. D., & Cleather, D. J. (2017). Effect of a gluteal activation warm-up on explosive exercise performance. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 3(1), e000245.




Evolved Physio is a welcoming and inclusive physiotherapy clinic located in Footscray/Maribyrnong in Melbourne's Inner West. We pride ourselves on providing out clients with the best possible experience. Our Physiotherapist are all Exercise Science trained and hold Masters Level Physiotherapy qualifications. Come in and see how we have EVOLVEDPHYSIOtherapy.





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