Glute Activation

It is a very common movement dysfunction pattern to have tight/overactive hip flexors and weak/under-active glutes. This can FEEL like: sore quads, tight quads, knee pain, low back pain, or hip pain. It may also feel like your quads do all the work in squats, deadlifts, and glute bridges. The glute bridge is going to be the main focus of this blog, because it is very telling of this issue.

A glute bridge, as its name suggests, is intended to work the GLUTES. Yet many people, including myself, will report feeling their (1) low back, or their (2) quads instead. They often report not even feeling their glutes working AT ALL! This tells you that your quads are OVERACTIVE -- aka: stealing the work -- and you glutes are under-active -- aka: not getting the chance to do the work.

Lay down on the ground.
Try and glute bridge.
See for your self if you fall into this category.
(You probably do.)

Lay on the ground. Relax your head and neck. Relax your arms to the side, palms up. Keep your feet flat. *Lift your hips up as high as you can.*

So, if you do fall into the category of my-quads-work-but-my-booty-doesn't, there are two main things you can do to improve this dysfunction -- and eventually experience some pain relief! 

1. Foam roll and stretch your hip flexors.
2. Activate and strengthen your glutes.

But, WHY DOES IT MATTER?

If this is the case, your muscle groups are activating and firing improperly. Your quads have acquired what's called synergistic dominance over your glutes in the action of extending the hips. In other words, the quads are supposed to work in synchronicity with the glutes acting as the PRIMARY hip extensor. In this dysfunction, though, the QUADS act as the primary hip extensor while the glutes just sit back and atrophy... (very simplified).

So, while you may visually be moving through the correct pattern (i.e. a glute bridge, for this example, but this extends to squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc.) your muscles are doing it improperly.

Aka: just because it LOOKS right doesn't mean it IS right.

Moving forward, let's say this is the case for you. Under-active booty muscles and over-active legs and back. #youandeverybodyelse #amirite Well, if you start squatting, lunging, deadlifting or really any lower body movement with faulty muscle recruitment you run a *muuuuch* higher risk for injury. And that risk goes up even more if you're doing these exercises weighted.

Improper muscle activation = higher injury risk.

Furthermore, you probably know that squats can be use to build dat booty, right? Well, that's only true if your glutes are firing properly in a squat. This is true for lunges and deadlifts as well. It's true, really, for any exercise that includes hip-extension. So, if you want the full benefit of the exercises you're doing, you want to be sure your muscles are working correctly. 

Improper muscle activation = reduced benefit from the exercise.

So, WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

Lay on your stomach. Make a "pillow" with your arms for your head and neck. Relax your head, neck, and upper body. Lift a STRAIGHT leg up to the ceiling as high as you can while keeping your hips on the ground. This can be done single-leg or with both legs. 

This movement can be done kneeling or standing. Start by relaxing your trunk completely. Then brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and tuck your pelvis under you. (Imagine a scared dog tucking its tail under.)

- First, try the glute bridge to see where you feel it.
- If you feel it in your quads/hip flexors, then roll and stretch those babies!
- If you feel it in your low back, still roll and stretch the quads/hip flexors! Add an additional low back stretch or two. 
- Perform *BOTH* of these glute activation exercises (standing pelvic tilts -> prone leg raises) prior to performing a few sets of glute bridges.
- Go through this warmup before squats, lunges, deadlifts, and any other lower body exercise. 
- Be amazed at how much better those primary movements look and feel after properly warming up and activating your glutes.

To make it even easier, here is what that warm-up could look like:

1. STANDING PELVIC TILTS x 20
2. PRONE LEG RAISES left leg x 20
3. PRONE LEG RAISES right leg x 20
4. PRONE LEG RAISES both legs x 10
5. GLUTE BRIDGES 3 sets x 12 reps