Whether it is for athletic performance, injury prevention, to change your physique, or to look and feel good, training big muscle groups is the key. And there is no bigger muscle group than those surrounding your hips, in particular your glutes, which consists of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
Glutes to change your physique:
The key to a lean, athletic physique is not hours of cardio training, it’s having a high metabolic rate, so that you are burning energy day in, day out, even as you sit still. The energy you burn within a training session pales in comparison to your metabolic cost known as your RMR, or resting metabolic rate, your RMR is ultimately determined by the amount of lean tissue that you have. So to increase your RMR, increase your fat burning potential, you need to increase your lean mass. Now before you get scared off from a common myth, that doesn’t mean you will be bulky, or overly masculine looking, you will just be leaner, a higher muscle to fat ratio, to give you that lean athletic look.
The glutes are generally the largest muscle group in the body, so train them effectively, increase that muscle tissue, boost that RMR and burn more fat, and have a nice firm backside to match.
Glutes for athletic performance:
If you are an athlete of any level, a weekend warrior, are contemplating your first half marathon, or any other sporting endeavour, then there is barely a sport out there where you will not benefit from increased hip stability, and improved hip extension power coming from those vital glutes. From sprinting out of the blocks as a 100m runner, powerlifting a 1 rep max, running and changing direction around a footy pitch or netball court, or keeping stable and efficient on a long run or ride, the glutes are your go to muscle group. Train them effectively, train them regularly and watch your performance improve week after week.
Glutes for injury prevention:
Your hips are the centre of your mass and play a key role in your lumbo-pelvic stability, having poor lumbo-pelvic stability leaves you at a much greater risk for injury. If you have weak glute max, it will leave you over reliant on your hamstrings for hip extension, predisposing you to hamstring injuries as well as a higher risk for lumbar spine hyper extension in movements as simple as jogging all the way to movements as complex as Olympic lifting. If you have weak glute medius and minimus, your ability to control internal rotation of your leg will be reduced, which puts greater pressure on your knees and ankles to control movement and greater torsional force on them and your lower back. Ensuring good symmetry, good activation, and good strength and endurance in your glutes will keep you training consistently and efficiently by keeping yourself injury free.
So how should you train your glutes?
There are always going to be individual differences, but the glutes generally have quite a mix of fast twitch fibres and slow twitch fibres, so to effectively target all those muscle fibres requires reps ranging from high endurance work of 15-30 reps burner type exercises, to all out strength and power work such as 1-5 repetition max lifts and plyometric work. These of course take time to learn in order to safely and effectively perform so it is important you get correct instruction for doing so and your body is well prepared. Ultimately, different areas respond to different types of stimulus, based on EMG studies (Anders, 2006), so variety in your glute training is valuable. Manipulating reps, sets, time under tension, rest periods and overall volume will go a long way in making the most of the 3 key mechanisms to create muscle hypertrophy, Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress, and Muscle Damage (Schoenfeld, 2010)
Given that your glutes are so important and are such a large muscle group, it only makes sense that you should train them a few times each week. Ensuring you hit at least some area of your hips 2-4 times per week will have them quickly catching up to speed with those generally over-dominant quadriceps. Particularly when you consider the high prevalence of sedentary jobs, those glutes tend to get lazy sitting on them all day, so regular activation is very important, even if it’s just a few squeezes each day as you wait for the train.
Variety in angles and vectors that you train your glutes is also a very important factor to get the most out of your training, the glute max alone has been seen to have 3 anatomically different subdivisions that all function in a unique way (McAndrews et al, 2006).
What are the best exercises for your Glutes and their various areas?
With such variety in fibre types, angles and subdivisions, there is no one perfect move, your glutes need a planned structured attack. See below for some examples of great exercises for each area. Correct form and planning gained from a qualified coach is vital to make the most of each move and remain injury free.
Glute Max Upper Fibres:
- Hip thrusts with shoulders elevated
- Glute kick backs
- Quadruped hip extension
- Side lie hip abductions
Glute Max Lower Fibres:
- SL Deadlifts
- Front Squats
- Back Squats
- Goblet squats
- Lunge variations
- KB Swings
Glute Medius and Minimus:
- Banded Crab walks
- Prone banded abductions
- Side Lying abductions
- Banded hip abductions in sitting
With the right guidance with your training, hitting those glutes in all shapes and forms with correct technique, you will have yourself a bullet proof, injury free, high performing lean body for years to come. Happy glute training!
Written by Head Performance Coach David Smith. To maximise your training potential, remain injury free, and become more educated on a smarter approach, come in and see us at Absolute, 199 William street, Melbourne CBD
Anders, M. 2006. Glutes to the max: Excusive ACE research gets to the bottom of the most effective glute exercises. American Council on Exercise. January/February, 2006.
McAndrews, D., Gorelick, M., & Brown, J.M.M., 2006. Muscles within Muscles: Mechanomyographic analysis of muscle segment contractile properties within human gluteus maximus. Journals of musculoskeletal research, 10 (23).
Schoenfeld, J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their applications to resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Oct 2010, 24,(10), 2857-2871.