Sitting for long periods of time is terrible for your body. Sitting shuts off muscles in your glutes, tightens your ankles, hips, and shoulders. Basically, sitting for long periods of time weakens your entire body and causes dysfunction that can be manifested in joint pain, muscle weakness, and poor posture. So, how do we activate muscles that have been turned off from sitting?
Glute Activation is the buzzword in the fitness industry these days because we, as Americans, sit too much. I’m just as guilty as the next person-- even though I have an active lifestyle-- of sitting for hours at a time. Thankfully, there are many ways to turn on your glutes and rectify this problem.
Sometimes when I go to the gym, I see people bridging, performing hip extensions and (the most popular exercise today) the hip thrust. All these exercises only work in one plane, but the glutes are a complex muscle group that should be looked at from a three dimensional standpoint. The gluteals are made up of three muscles. The Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Mininimus. The Glute Medius is very important because it supports your stance leg when you walk or run, keeps you standing tall, externally rotates your hip and allows you to balance on one leg. The hips can do everything because they are a ball and socket joint. Hips Range Of Motion is not limited like the knee, which is a hinge joint and can only do two things - flexion and extension. What this means is that we have to attack the glutes from different planes of motion to fully activate and integrate them back into the bodies natural ROM which diminishes from inactivity. We also have to activate them with various loads and intensity.
There are many ways to train your glutes (squats, lunges, step-ups, bridging adduction/abduction), but what is the best way? Research has shown that knee pain and glute weakness are directly correlated, which makes sense once you fully understand the biomechanics of the body. Weak glutes do not allow your femur to track correctly when you walk or run which causes a negative chain reaction in your legs. Quads and hamstrings over work or over compensate because they are doing the job the glutes were designed to do. This causes muscle imbalances in your quads and hamstrings, which adversely affects your knees, hips, and ankles.
Looking at the glutes 3-dimensionally helps to understanding how to activate them properly. Just doing squats and lunges isn’t going to achieve your goal. Abduction of the hips along with bridging is a critical component of glute activation. Additionally, the hip abduction machine used in many gyms is not good because your glutes are not activated fully when using machines that do all the work. However there is a variation to this movement which I guarantee will activate your glutes. Take a mini ankle band (medium) and place it around your legs above your kneecap. Get your body into a bridge position, feet hip width apart with your toes pointing to the sky. While in the bridge position abduct your hips in and out for 15-20 reps or until you feel a burn in your glutes. Don’t allow your hips to drop. You can also abduct your hips out as you do a hip thrust combining two movements in one. Also do the same exercise but stay on the balls of your feet and not your heels. This will activate your glute in different areas.
Another good exercise is to stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart. Place a mini ankle band around both your feet and then externally rotate them for 15- 25 reps or you feel a burn in your hips. Turn your feet out as far as they can go and then bring them all the way in. The goal is to strengthen the glute medius. You might find one leg is easier to do than the other.
The last exercise is the same as the one above, but you’re going to perform it sitting on the floor. This exercise is hard and if your glute medius is very weak it will be a challenge. Sitting upright, take a light mini band and place it around your feet. Point your toes straight to the sky with your feet wide enough to create tension in the band. Now rotate at the same time your hips and feet to the outside and then back to neutral position. Do this for 15-25 reps or until you feel a burn. Your hips will feel loose, you will have better balance, you will stand taller and any patella femoral knee pain should begin to subside. Perform 3-4 sets of each exercise 3 to 4 times a week and you will see and feel significant improvements in your posture and leg strength within 2 weeks.
By: Todd Gates, Founder & President, MCore FTS
February 29, 2016