The same muscle group powers each of the movements: the glutes. Not to mention any sort of powerful rotational movement, quick direction changes, and throwing of any object.
Last month we talked about how important having a strong core is to keep your adventuring at its peak performance. Today, let's discuss how having a strong backside is just as important to keep you good shape on the trails.
The glutes are the biggest muscles in your body. They're a primary mover in nearly any time of powerful movement made in the lower body. And they're important for making those movements smooth and controlled. However, many people have improper gluteal function, resulting in other body parts and muscle groups taking on the work that should be the glutes' job.
Before we look at how to get stronger glutes to power our movement on the trail, let's take a look at why so many of us have poor and improper use of the gluteals.
#1. Sitting way too much.
Hey, this was one of the reasons for a weak core, too! Think we might sit too much as a modern human race?
Think about it: our glutes are in a flexed or activated position when our hips are at full extension (standing position, glutes squeezed.) But how much are we in that position. I know that as I sit here and write this post, I'm in a chair, with my hips flexed and 90 degrees. What happens when we're seated all the time? Our hip flexors are constantly, well, flexed, and our gluteals are in a stretched position — aka they're turned off. When we sit hour after hour, day after day, our hip flexors can actually shorten and our glutes learn to take a back seat — no pun intended. This leads to our consequential reason number two.
#2. Inactivation of the glutes.
You might not be lazy, but if you sit all day long, all week long, chances are your glutes are lazy. Another way to say it is the glutes aren't activated.
If the muscles of our glutes aren't properly firing, other muscle groups and body parts are going to take on the brunt of the work, which can lead to inefficient movement, or worse, injury.
I mentioned earlier that our gluteal muscles are the largest muscles in the body. This means it takes more work to move them than it does, say, the rectus femoris, a muscle in the quadriceps that attached at the pelvis and the knee. Our bodies are smart, and if we're not activating our glutes, then they'll rely on other muscles to do the job. This leads to reason #3.
#3. Muscle imbalances.
We, as humans, just can't help some muscle imbalances. We (typically) have a dominant hand, therefore we use that side a little bit more than the other. Naturally, having a dominant hand leads to using one side of the body more than the other. However, another reason for muscle imbalance is inactivity. If you're reading this article right now, the likelihood is high that you're an active person. However, if you're all quads when climbing that hill on your bike or hiking that mountain, then part of you is still inactive: your glutes.
So how do we reverse all this and gain proper use of the glutes again? Simple! By activating them. I personally prefer to do a few glute activating exercises every day or directly before I'm going to do a workout or activity that involves the glutes to power my motion (see: beginning of this post.)
Additionally, doing a glute-focused workout every now and then will not only activate the glutes, but also promote stronger gluteals to increase your power and decrease risk of injury on the trail.
Please consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
In each other these exercises, make sure you're using the glutes to complete the motion.
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift: Hold your implement of choice in a standing position, framing one leg. Hinge at the hips and push the hips back and the non-working leg behind you. Make sure to squeeze the glutes in the non-working leg and keep the hips square to the floor - keeping the extended leg's foot internally rotated. Squeeze the glutes of the working leg and push the hips forward to stand.
- Clamshell: Lie on your side with your knees bent, hips, shoulders, and knees in line. With your heels together, lift the top knee up, hold for :02, and then back down.
- Anterior-leaning Split Squat: Leaning forward slightly here places more tension/work on those glutes! In a split stance, place your weight evenly between each foot, and lower straight down, and press through the front heel to stand back up.
- Glute-ham raise: with your feet secured under a sturdy object, kneeling on the ground, hold a dowel out in front of you a foot or two. Squeeze the glutes as you slowly lower a few inches toward the ground. Keep the glutes squeezed to bring you back up to kneeling.
- Hip thrust: Start with your upper back against a bench, your butt on the floor, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor directly under the knees. Contract the glutes, and push your heels into the ground, lifting your hips upward, until parallel with the floor. Hold for :02 and then release back down.
The key is to transport the gluteal activation from these exercises to your activities on the trail. Strong, active glutes promotes proper muscle use, balance, strength, and range of motion. Most importantly, they'll help you out on the trail, whether you're jumping, climbing, hiking, or running
**Paige is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Learn more from her on her blog: Your Trainer Paige.