Your glutes are the largest, yet often most underused, muscle in your body.
The inability to contract or activate your glutes has been termed Glute Amnesia by Dr. Stu McGill, who is a professor of Spine Biomechanics and one of the most respected and well-versed back specialists known today.
Some problems linked to weak gluts include:
Chronic tight (and/or restrictive) hip flexors
Low back pain
While the research is still inconclusive to whether prolonged sitting has a direct link to gluteal weakness or atrophy, we do know that when in a seated position your glutes are “stretched” (while your hamstrings and hip flexors are tightened or flexed) which is believed to cause your body to develop greater tension and muscle availability in your hamstrings and hip flexors, and less in your glutes.
Tight Hip Flexors
The problem with tight hip flexors is that they take from you your ability to fully extend your hips and capitalize on full gluteal activation.
The picture below should give you a better idea of what I am referring to here.
Studies have also shown that improving your hip extension range of motion is important because it dramatically improves gluteus maximus activation (measured in EMG amplitude) during resistance training.
If your reading this and think that this blog doesn't relate to you or that a lack of glute activation doesn’t bother you, consider the following; A normal walking pattern requires you to move your hips 10 to 15 degrees beyond a neutral extension (which is normal upright standing) in order for you to drive/push forward with your leg and foot. This means that the muscles crossing the front of your hip joint (also known as your flexors) must be of adequate length to give you enough hip extension to walk regularly. If either of these muscle groups aren’t functioning properly there will be a muscle imbalance, and as a result, your gait pattern will be compromised.
But the problems don’t end there…
When hip extension is not available your tendency to compensate with lumbar hyperextension (when your spine extends back beyond your pelvis) increases, which is when we typically see a lot of spinal complications. Low back pain also tends to emerge at this time.
Lumbar hyperextension is something that you need to keep in mind when performing exercises that finish with hip extension under load – which is pretty much every lower body exercise. Before executing these types of exercises it is imperative that you address your hyperextension. If you don’t, you run the high risk of putting regular stress on the lumbar region of your back at the top of your deadlifts, squats, lunges, hip thrusts, golf swing and step ups. You also risk of hurting yourself when performing common movements like, standing up from a seated position,or even walking.
The following video is a sequence of exercises designed to improve your hip extension and activate those dreaded glutes, give it a go, what have you got to loose.