Over the coming months I will be writing a series of articles titled "Build Stronger" which will teach you how to fill out your workout when you're trying to target specific joints, movements or muscle groups. I hope this will provide some added creativity to your workouts and will also help you to in a way have a prehab element to your workouts so you better avoid injury. These articles will sometimes be more functional groups such as today but I will be bringing in equal amounts of body building too. I'll write about the anatomy of each area, what movements are produced, why it's important to develop the area and finally I'll give examples of what I'll do in my own workouts - so I hope this will be a popular series.
BUILD STRONGER: GLUTES
So let's talk Glutes. We're starting with Glutes because they're the powerhouse of the human body, and if we speak about gluteus Maximus itself then no other muscle in the body has a greater proportion of muscle fibres suited to power than itself. There are 4 main muscles in the gluteal compartment and they are gluteus Maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and piriformis. There are also much smaller muscles that help support the hip in this compartment called obturator internus, obturator externus, quadratus femoris, gemellus superior and gemellus inferior but we're going to focus on the four I previously mentioned.
Origin: ilium (pelvis) and sacrum.
Insertion: greater trochanter of femur.
Action: hip extension, abduction, external rotation,
Origin: iliac crest
Insertion: greater trochanter of femur
Action: abducts hip, internally rotates hip, limits hip drop
Origin: iliac crest
Insertion: greater trochanter
Action: abducts hips, internally rotates hip, limits hip drop
Origin: lower 2/3 of lateral border of sacrum
Insertion: greater trochanter of femur
Action: abducts the hip, internal and external hip rotation depending on point of hip flexion.
In this part of the article I hope to "sell" this muscle group to you so to speak, to try and explain why it is a good idea to lend a little more attention to the area when you can. The gluteal compartment is involved in several aspects of health and fitness and they are:
1. Power in sports. Almost all power in sports is generated through the extension mechanism in the hips, likewise any movements that involve upper limb, trunk and lower limb coordination are utterly reliant on how well functioning the gluteal compartment is in order to connect the upper and lower extremities.
2. Left-right synchrony during gait. When we move during gait (running, walking or jogging) we need our body to work well with the opposite side of it in order to link left-right movement. Notice when we run that we run with our left foot and our right arm moving forward vice versa.
3. Pelvic and lumbar spine stability. Muscular imbalances (left vs right, or front/anterior vs back/posterior) are one such path to injury and degeneration, working the glutes individually ensures the lumbar spine is in a strong neutral position and is well supported.
4. Protection of overuse degeneration in the knee and foot. When the gluteal comportment is weak or not firing well the distal joints such as those found in the knee and ankle get used as slaves to this weakness, experiencing loads and forces greater than they would were the gluteal compartment strong.
Classic exercises like deadlifts, squats (more so back squats) and step-ups (with a good high box) are all solid ways of training where the Glutes get an awesome workout. If these aren't in your workout already then change it today and work hard on these fundamental movements, as they are your bread and butter wheat comes to lower limb conditioning.
Fair those of you who are already training the above on a regular basis then the next step is to introduce some hip extension/glute bridge style exercises. I love this exercise because you can load it in so many different ways be it with a barbell, dumbbell, medicine ball or my favourite - heavy weighted chains. To do this most effectively I would recommend laying down facing the ceiling with your arms in a crucifix position and your shoulder resting back on a bench. You'll then want to load the exercise and the easiest way to start this is simply with a medicine ball, then progress to a barbell and finally the chains. You can also make the choice as to whether or not you want to do bilateral hip extensions (working both legs) or unilateral hip extensions (working one leg at a time).
To challenge the endurance of your Glutes you can introduce hyper-extension holds - for this your gym will need a hyper-extension bench to do this effectively and safely. Of course there is a great deal of hamstring and lower back coming in here but if you focus the attention and contraction onto the Glutes they'll take most of the load.
Finally and this is a great one to put at the end of your workout as a means to totally trash your muscles - plyometrics. Plyometrics are specifically designed to access the muscles fibres that hold the greatest athletic potential, those fibres that respond most sensitively to change - your type 2B fibres. Plyometric exercises are explosive movements that involve jumping, I like box jumps (building a stack of boxes up and jumping on top to land on them) and broad jumps (simply jumping as far forward as you can on two feet). Bear in mind this is an incredibly intense form of training and your rep ranges will be much lower than with traditional strength and hypertrophy paradigms, think more of the "little and often" approach and set out for 5 sets of 4 reps.
- Building strong Glutes will provide you with a strong platform from which your can progress in the gym.
- Your Glutes are the most explosive muscles in the body and as such hold the most sporting potential – neglect them at your peril if you are an athlete.
- Avoid lower limb degenerative injuries in the knees and ankles by increasing strength in the hip.
- Start with the classic exercises such as deadlifts, squats and step ups.
- Challenge yourself by bringing in extensions and hyper-holds to improve the endurance in your glutes.
- Lastly progress to plyometrics to really stress your body and cause an adaptation response.