Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- “You have weak glutes.”
- “You have glute amnesia.”
- “You just need to strengthen your glutes.”
When athletes develop pain, especially knee pain or low back pain, their online search or rehab specialist tells them they have weak glutes. So, they do all sorts of glute strengthening exercises – clamshells, bridges, single leg bridges, weighted bridges, hip extensions, etc. – but the pain does not go away.
That is because the overall problem is not weak glutes. The true problem is not being able to fire them because you are not putting yourself in positions to be able to fire them. And I am not saying that strengthening your glutes is a bad thing, as it will help long term, but if isolated glute exercises is all you are doing for your pain, you will not make the progress you are looking to make.
So, since we now know it is not weak glutes, let’s discuss what is actually going on. There are a few primary causes to your body not knowing how to fire them at the appropriate times: 1) lacking foot activation and control, 2) lacking a proper hip hinge, and 3) compensations your body has picked up.
Lacking foot activation and control
Your foot significantly impacts your glutes. Without good foot control, your glutes cannot fire. Any lack of control in your foot will create a lack of control at your hips. Roll to the outside of the foot? Your glutes will not fire like they need to. Collapse your arch? Your glutes will not fire when they need to. Lose contact of your big toe? You guessed it! Glutes will not kick in.
Unless you get control of what your feet are doing, you can do all the glute isolation exercises that you want and it will not matter. You will still not feel them firing when you do all the things you do in your training and life.
Lacking hip hinge
Many movements that we do require a hip hinge – squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, Olympic lifts. Unfortunately, because of habits people have gotten into, many people do not know how to do a proper hip hinge, which limits the impact of the glutes.
Common issues I see are only leaning forward at the hips rather than also shifting the hips backward, letting the back arch or round, and initiating the movement with the knees. All of those movement faults place your body in positions that do not allow your glutes to fire at the intensity that they need to. Once again, you can have all the glute strength in the world, but until you correct your movement patterns it will not matter.
Our bodies are amazing at creating compensations to allow us to do things easier, to avoid doing things that we subconsciously fear will hurt us, to let us move with restrictions or weaknesses after an injury, or simply because we got stuck in patterns based on previous activities, such as job duties or sports. For example, I have a client who had difficulty turning on the muscles in his left hip. After a long conversation, it came up that he spent over 10 years in a job where he stood most of the time on his right side. It has been over a decade since he has been at that job and he is still standing mostly on his right side and struggles to use his left. He and I have spent most of our time together working to break his body out of the patterns it feels are normal. Without that, he will continue in the injury cycle that he came to me with.
Everyone has compensations. If any of your compensations are not allowing your glutes to fire when they need to, it is time for you to address them. Your body will not figure out how to do it on its own no matter how much strengthening you do.
Tired of doing all the glute strength exercises and not seeing results? It is time to do something different! Schedule a Discovery Call with Brianne to figure out what to do next.
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