You have shitty glutes. Yeah, I’m talking to you – the one sitting in the chair, staring at your computer screen. Every second you’re on your rear end, you add to your problems. I’m not the first to say it, but I’ll gladly join in. Sitting is killing you. But you’re not dead, so you probably don’t believe me. I do, however, have some other bad news. It’s about your glutes. They are dead. You may not be able to tell though, because you aren't listening to those small aches in your lower body. It’s time to do something, before you cripple yourself as your glutes shrivel to nothingness.
A LITTLE SOMETHING I CALL LIFE
You're a robot to society, which is confined by chairs that always put us above a half squat when we sit down. Just think of how many quarter squats you do in one day. Every time you get in and out of a seat. Every time you get in and out of bed. Every time you get in and out of a car. Every time you go number two (or even number one for the lady viewers). Every time you sit and stand from a couch.
But I thought squats ruled, I mean, shit, it's even unilateral? What’s the problem? Most people don't know how to use the glutes in the top half of a squat. The hundreds of half reps per day teach your body how to bypass the glutes. The most powerful muscle in the body vanishes. Don't forget that your butt literally falls asleep if you sit too long.
When you stand up from a chair, quad activation reaches 70% of MVC, but glute activation is around 10% of MVC. Brisk walking will only get glute activation to around 30% of MVC, as will climbing stairs. So most individuals never activate their glutes to over 30% of MVC in their normal daily activity.
When one joint underachieves, others have to overachieve in compensation. This is why knee pain is so prevalent. We have all of these therapeutic modalities for patellar tracking problems and patellar tendonitis, but no one stops to wonder why the problems exist. If our hip sucks, our knee has to do its work. No one likes to work overtime without extra pay.
The solution is simple then. Get the glutes moving, and let life end happily. A common choice, popularized by Bret Contreras, is the barbell hip thrust. Probably because you can load it with a lot of weight, making it more manly than most Pilates-Esque exercises.
But there’s a problem.
Hip thrusts have nearly the same amount of quad activation as a full squat!
And while it actives your glutes much more than a full squat, it doesn’t really teach you how to use your glutes. Nearly anyone can thrust their hips in the air and get a quality glute contraction. The problem is that you don’t know how to use your glutes when you’re on your feet. Your squats and deadlifts go to shit. I know because if I asked you what muscles you “feel” during these lifts I’d get responses like, lowerback-quads-hamstrings. Where did the glutes go? People can’t feel the largest muscle in the body working? How is that possible?
THE RESET BUTTON
The glutes are responsible for hip extension, so you have to start with exercises that neglect the quads and target hip extension. There are hundreds of exercises out there that “activate the glutes.” But that's not good enough.
You have to relearn hip extension, which is difficult because glute activation (and hip extension) depends on spinal position. Jumping right into a squat or deadlift is suicide because you don’t know how your body is supposed to feel. Take hyperextension for example. If you’re standing with an extreme anterior tilt, the moment you hit hyperextension will look different than if you’re standing with a neutral spinal position.
THE CATEGORIES OF HIP EXTENSION
In my book, I break hip extension into three categories: basic, advanced, and explosive. Each of the three categories is broken down further into segments that mimic the stages of motor learning. As I progress through this article, realize that you’re in the first stage, even if you think you're not. I like your confidence, but you’re only going to screw yourself with it.
Stage One: Conscious Incompetent
You don’t know what the hell is going on. During practice, your mind has to be 100% involved in every repetition. Using video’s and human feedback is very helpful.
Stage Two: Conscious Competent
You kind of have it figured out. Complexity of motor pattern and overall exercise difficulty increases. Your mind still needs to be focused.
Stage Three: Unconscious Competence
Shit just happens, because you’ve done enough to make it happen correctly. But this only applies to what you have practiced. Just because you know how to do a bird dog doesn’t mean you know how to squat.
BASIC HIP EXTENSION
There is a laundry list of exercises that are known for their glute activating properties. But as you know, we’re using a different angle. Throw most hip bridging exercises out. You need exercises that prioritize the glutes, and hip extension, that sequentially teach standing hip extension. Below are three exercises, meant to be used in a progression. For those meatheads that can't grasp this, it means you don't do more than one of these at a time, and you do 1 before you do 2 before you do 3. Minimizing focus makes mastery easier.
The simplest form of hip exention is done in what is known as a “prone glute.” It’s a leg lift that hyperextends the hip, a very small range of motion.
- Lay flat on your stomach.
- Working foot can be straight or bent at a 90 degree angle, other foot is straight.
- Put one hand on the small of your back so that your pinky finger is on your glutes and your thumb is on your lower back.
- Lift one leg in the air by hinging at the hip.
You should feel this in your glute, and in your glute only. If your hamstring is cramping, you’re doing it wrong. If you feel your lower back contract via your thumb, you’re doing it wrong.
Each phase has a two count — lifting, holding, and lowering — so one rep lasts six seconds. I've seen people recommend 100 reps of these per day. Especially if you have no glutes. It's a daunting number, but don't sacrifice form to get there. I'd shoot for a minimum of 50, but you have wiggle room.
- Can’t get the glutes to contract? Think about lengthening the hip flexors by pushing your hip into the ground for each repetition. Sometimes thinking about lengthening an antagonist will help activate the muscle you want to contract.
- If your hamstring is cramping, toy around with the bent vs. straight leg version. A bent leg will take the hamstring out of the movement, but I found that it’s easier to cramp in this position.
Modified Bird Dog 1
The bird dog is a great exercise, but it’s overload. Extend that arm with this leg while not rotating and balancing a cup of hot soup on your head. Nah. I'll keep it simple. The modified bird dog is similar to the prone glute, but you’re on all fours, adding some range of motion and lessening our base of contract.
Keep your hips square during the entire movement, and make sure you keep your abs locked down in a neutral spine. Thinking about lengthening the hip flexors (talked about in troubleshooting for #1) helps.
Keep your knee locked out by cuing yourself to touch the wall behind you with your heel. It’s easy to get lazy with this.
Modified Bird Dog 2
Very similar to the first modified bird dog, but now we’re bringing the knee into the chest. The same rules still apply.
ADVANCED HIP EXTENSION
Those three exercises are what I use to develop basic basic hip extension patterns, while also working on the mind-muscle connection. There are the only “glute activation” exercises necessary. From here, more complex movements like squats and deadlifts, spinal position becomes the focus making success more than doing 100 reps per exercise.
That’s all for now.