The core is king…or is it? Ask anyone remotely connected to the health and fitness industry what are the most important muscles for injury prevention and you can almost guarantee that the answer will be the core. This is the collective term used to describe the muscles surrounding your midsection, waist and lower back. Core training is a fitness industry buzz word and is often considered as the “sexy” side of fitness as many people (mistakenly) associate core training with the six pack!
While a strong core IS very important, I propose that another muscle is equally vital for both injury prevention and improved sports performance – the gluteus maximus or glutes for short.
Your glutes are the largest and potentially the most powerful muscle in your body. They are one of two major muscles responsible for hip extension, the other muscles being your hamstrings. Hip extension is the joint action that drives you forwards when you run. If your glutes are weak, as they are in many exercisers, you are robbing yourself of essential hip thrust and therefore athletic power.
In addition to being essential for athletic performance, strong glutes are also vital for lower back health. Lifting and shifting heavy objects uses a combination of muscles with the main ones being your hamstrings, the aforementioned glutes and your lower back muscles. Weak glutes mean that any shortfall in force generation must be met by your hamstrings and lower back muscles. This missing link in the kinetic chain predisposes you to lower back injury.
Finally, glutes are essential for hip stability. Unstable hips can lead to, unsurprisingly, hip pain but also knee and lower back pain. It really pays to keep your glutes in tip-top shape!
So why do so many otherwise fit and healthy people suffer from underdeveloped and apathetic glutes? The answer is simple; we spend too much time sat on them! Your glutes may well provide a handy cushion on which to perch but, unfortunately, this extended inactivity tends to make your glutes weak, flaccid and inhibited. This means that even if you perform exercises for your glutes, they won’t be firing as they should as they are incapable of any meaningful force production having become lazy. This means that, if you want to get your glutes “back on line”, they need to be rebooted…
Exercises 1a, 1b and 1c are designed to get your glutes firing properly so that you are better able to perform the more strenuous exercises that follow. In addition to being part of your extended warm up, this three-exercise sequence is also a great stand-alone mini-workout that will have your glutes back online and firing properly in no time. Exercises 3, 4 and 5 will help increase your glute strength and power which will translate to increased hip drive and therefore athletic speed.
|1a||Supine hip bridge||2-4||12-15||60-90 seconds||1a, 1b & 1c performed as a mini-circuit|
|1b||Band side steps|
|2||Single leg Romanian deadlift||2-4||10||30 seconds||Straight set|
|3||Sumo deadlift||3||8-12||90 seconds||Pyramid|
|4||Kettlebell/dumbbell swings||2-4||15||60 seconds||Straight set|
This workout uses three training systems:
- Circuit – perform each exercise (designated 1a, 1b and 1c) back to back and only rest on completion of the final exercise. Repeat the sequence two to four times resting 60-90 seconds between laps.
- Straight sets – perform two to four sets of the designated number of repetitions. Rest for the prescribed period and repeat. Use the same weight for all sets.
- Pyramid – Start with the higher number of repetitions using a light to moderate weight. Decrease the reps and increase the weight set by set. The last set should be the hardest.
12 x 30kg
10 x 40kg
8 x 50kg
Exercise descriptions and tips
1) Supine Hip Bridge
Purpose: To “wake up” your glutes prior to performing more demanding exercises.
How to perform: Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Your heels should be as close to your butt as your flexibility allows. With your hands resting on the floor next to your hips and your shoulders and neck relaxed, push down though your heels and lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Hold this uppermost position for 1-2 seconds before lowering your hips back down. Continue for the prescribed number of repetitions.
2) Band Side Steps
Purpose: To further “wake up” the glutes prior to performing more demanding exercises and also strengthen your hip abductors.
How to perform: Take a short exercise band and loop it around your knees. Take large steps from side to side while pressing your knees out against the resistance offered by the band. Keep your knees slightly bent at all times and do not allow the band to go slack.
3) Supine Hip Elevation with Leg Curl – SHELC
Purpose: To integrate the hamstrings, lower back and glutes and promote the correct order of recruitment of these muscles for effective hip and pelvis stability.
How to perform: Lie on your back with your feet resting on a small to medium sized stability ball. With your legs straight, push your heels down into the ball and lift your hips off the floor. Keeping your hips up, bend your legs and pull the ball towards your butt. Continue to raise your hips as the ball comes closer. Reverse the movement, lightly touch your butt to the floor and repeat.
4) Single Legged Romanian Deadlift
Purpose: To improve single leg balance, identify and correct left to right strength imbalances, provide a low intensity glute and hamstring exercise designed to further prepare you for the heavier/harder exercises to follow.
How to perform: Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and stand with your feet together but with your weight on your right leg. Keeping your knees slightly bent but rigid, hinge forwards from your hips and lower the dumbbell towards the floor while simultaneously extending your left leg out behind you for counter-balance. Do not allow your lower back to become rounded. Stand back up and repeat. If necessary, use your free arm for balance.
5) Sumo Deadlift
Purpose: Increase glute and hamstring strength with an additional emphasis on hip abduction.
How to perform: Stand with your feet around 1.5 times shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward. With your feet under the barbell, bend down and grasp the bar using a double overhand grip with your hands inside your knees and arms straight. Lift your chest, pull your shoulders back, push your knees outward and drive down through your heels to stand up. Do not allow your lower back to become rounded as this may lead to injury. Push your hips back, bend your knees and slowly lower the weight back to the floor. Use large diameter plates or place the bar on a raised surface to avoid having to bend over too far.
6) Kettlebell/Dumbbell Swings
Purpose: Increase glute and hamstring explosive power – essential for improved leg drive and therefore athletic performance.
How to perform: Holding a kettlebell or single dumbbell in your hands, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms straight, bend your knees slightly, push your hips to the rear and lower the weight to around knee-height. Drive your hips forwards as though you were performing a jump and use this powerful “hip snap” to swing the weight up and forward to shoulder height. Allow the weight to fall back down while simultaneously pushing your hips back in readiness for the next swing. Set a smooth rhythm of around 30 swings per minute.
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Core training might well be a fitness industry buzz word but when it comes to delivering performance-enhancing results and reducing the potential for serious lower back, knee and hip injury, the glutes are more than just an also-ran. Reboot your glutes and see your injury rate and race times fall!