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Much Smarter & Effective Glute Exercises

ultimate sandbag

Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist

(Co-Creator DVRT Restoration, Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification, DVRT Shoulder & Pelvic Control Courses)

I’m not going to lie, when Josh first asked me to contribute more to our DVRT blogs I wasn’t so in favor of it. Writing was never really my thing and as some of you know, being in front of large groups isn’t my favorite either. However, seeing how positive so many of you have been about learning, THAT has really motivated me to come up with some great information to share with you. Especially because I never look at fitness just through the prism of building muscle or weight loss. Trust me, those are goals I can relate with and understand, however, wouldn’t it be really cool if we could accomplish those WHILE helping people move better and have less aches and pains? They only way we can accomplish this goal is if we understand that not all exercises are the same, especially when it comes to glute exercises!

Glute Exercises In 2020

If I go on my social media today and look up something like “glute exercises” I will see a whole bunch of “interesting” training. Lots of kicking, bands, and things that look NOTHING like what our body was actually designed to do in life! I get it, people value what they can feel and if we isolate a muscle we definitely can feel it. However, that doesn’t actually lead to us achieving our fitness goals like we may think!

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Josh shared this great quote by world renown spine specialist, Dr. Stuart McGill, in one of his recent posts…

“single muscles cannot be activated to 100% MVC in these whole-body standing exercises that do not isolate joints. This is because most torso muscles create moments about the 3 orthopedic axes of the spine. If a muscle were activated to a higher level, unwanted moments would occur that would have to be balanced by other muscles. This places a constraint on the activation level of any muscle in a “functional exercise”…The 3-dimensional joint moment constraints hold the peak muscle activity levels in check during the whole-body multiplanar exercises.”

At first glance, if we break down what Dr. McGill has said it looks like functional training isn’t great for glute exercises that want to develop the glutes right? After all, if we can’t achieve these HUGE EMG readings (how muscle activity is measured and far from a 100% trustworthy method) from functional training why would we use it to develop our muscles?

Our body is designed to function in balance, if one muscle gets SUPER active then you have to wonder what the surrounding structures and those muscles that are suppose to work with said muscle are doing. Don’t confuse though if a muscle doesn’t have off the chart activity that you aren’t building the muscle or that it isn’t getting well trained. Let me show you three ways of constructing better glute exercises.

Your Glutes Start On The Ground

No, I’m not necessarily talking about hip bridging all day. Rather, I am referring to the fact that your FEET actually drive your glutes. Think about walking around, you wouldn’t all of a sudden start squeezing your glutes. However, if you think about grabbing the ground and pushing off with your feet as you move, your glutes become more active. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense from a movement perspective if randomly squeezing our glutes caused them to be more productive. Our body functions largely from the ground up and that is really important to know how to properly cue and progress our glute exercises.

glute exercises

Don’t listen to Dwight Schrute about functional anatomy!

Knowing how to cue the glutes properly is what helps us get better results from our training.

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You want stronger #glutes but the problem is that most people don’t use exercises like #hipthrusts to build stronger glutes. How is that possible? Well, because the glutes are actually a combination of 3 different muscles and they don’t work in isolation. The other two glute muscles actually work in stabilizing our pelvis from side to side and research has shown that TOO much an emphasis on just glute max trying to extend our hips actually creates a detriment to these other glute muscles. So, we have to train the glutes as they are all designed to work together. These 4 #DVRT progressions are designed to do just that! ……. ➡️ The #kettlebell press with single leg hip bridge is the most challenging progression. The single leg action not only is the most difficult to extend the hip but taps into those other gluteal muscles that are often neglected in most #gluteworkouts . The #kettlebells bring in a connection of the lats and core to the glutes. This connection is known as your posterior oblique sling. It is why we swing our arms when we run and walk! These muscles work together to produce real world strength, therefore gripping tightly and the position of our hands are key! ……. ➡️ Using a march allows us to progress up to single leg hip thrusts and build that pelvic stability and #corestrength . Incorporating the Ultimate #Sandbag with @peform_better lateral band resistance teaches our core and glutes to produce force in the sagittal plane while resisting the other planes of motion and key in real world glute #strengthtraining . …… ➡️ The lift/chop with the #hipthrust allows us to combine what we know about the core working in diagonal patterning with stabilizing our pelvis at the same time by making that connection of the shoulder, core, and opposite hip. This is how we move in every day activities, especially locomotion. While functional training doesn’t have to replicate what we do in every day life, it should build the qualities!

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One of the EASIEST ways to get more from your glute exercises is to force your feet to work harder to create stability on the ground. Working towards more single leg drills like the above hip bridges will go MUCH further in getting results than just trying to go heavier. That has a lot to do with the fact your glutes are muscles that are designed to create force, but are also postural muscles and do A LOT to resist movement so your pelvis can be a stable platform for the body to move!

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I like to believe that people do like single leg exercises, the bigger issue is finding ways to make it accessible and possible for people to do well. Lots of times people are coached to hold onto something for balance and while that may outwardly seem like a good idea and at times has its place, the reality is that it doesn’t teach people to control their own body in a way that transfers as well. Instead, I wanted to share 3 #DVRT progressions we use to teach single leg movements in different ways. ________ The pistol squat is an exercise many people want to improve upon. With its focus on building not only strength but requiring mobility of the ankle, knee, and hip, there is great overall value to the movement. In the Press Out with the @valslide and @perform_better mini band I’m doing a few different things. The Press Out helps me with core stability (think of a moving plank) that allows for that proximal stability and therefore, better mobility and control. The valslide and mini band help give me some core control from the ground up. Teaching one to use their feet more and how not to lift the off leg up, but push out for greater pelvic control. _______ The lateral shoulder cossack squat is an often looked movement for both mobility and building single leg strength while still having some support from the other leg. The larger base of support also allows us to build up into these movements. The shoulder position amplifies core tension and lateral strength of the core. Many people in single leg exercises actually struggle more with frontal plane instability than just sagittal plane strength. _______ The airborne squat is a great single leg drill that can be progressed by placing a step under the back leg and progressively going deeper into the movement. Creating tension against the Ultimate #Sandbag in the front load position gives us that #plank again and with that core stability actually makes the drills easier than trying to be more reactive than just bodyweight. With thinking about better solutions we can make great training more accessible to more people and that is exciting.

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Of course going to single leg exercises can seem taunting for a lot of people, so that is why we have some progressions like those DVRT drills I show above, as well as…

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I believe what keeps me excited about what we do with #DVRT is that we aren’t afraid to ask questions. If there is ONE question that every coach or therapist should ask is, “am I picking the BEST solutions for the goal?” Some may think we automatically default to using the Ultimate Sandbag for everything, but that isn’t true. Just like we like to think about if exercises that are commonly prescribed are as good as we may think. @Joshhenkindvrt and I thought using landmine exercises as an example could really help! ➡️Check out WAY more in the great post Josh wrote in today’s blog…LINK in my BIO! ______ While we reserve the idea of something being “wrong” for those drills that have a high risk of injury, we just look at what happens during a movement like landmine single leg deadlift and feel like explaining the shortcomings can help people to better solutions! ______ What’s the “issue” we see with a single leg deadlift with a landmine? The issue really stems from the same thing that makes so many people like it. Which is that the landmine stabilizes the lifter and movement, so we actually don’t build the motor control to move our own bodies through space. Having something else artificially balance us doesn’t teach our body how to control the movement, therefore, the transfer tends to be very poor. ______ Instead, we should use progressions that help us build up to that level of stability and strength. People tend to underrate single leg deadlifts because the load is typically lower, but we also can’t see all the work our body is performing to RESIST unwanted movement. Therefore, there is A LOT more going on. Using strategies in our system of manipulating plane of motion and holding position along with using feedback strategies like the @perform_better XL mini band, kettlebells (yes, they are important feedback tools), @valslides, and our Ultimate Sandbags help people become more successful at being strong and moving their own bodies!

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These types of drills that teach the glutes to work as they are designed versus being artificially supported by something like a landmine. When Josh shared this earlier this week is was so important for us to have people understand that learning to control your OWN body in space is not only important in having better strength gains, but teaches these muscles to work as they are suppose to in life.

The Lat Connection

Probably the most surprising idea we share in all of DVRT has to do with how we look at glute exercises like hip bridges differently than most. The irony is that what we coach is what people use on EVERY other glute exercises EXCEPT they don’t apply this important concept to their hip bridges.

That is the lats play a HUGE role in getting the glutes to work correctly in the Posterior Oblique Sling system (POS). This system helps stabilize our spine and SI joint as we walk, run, etc. This quote from physio-pedia describes the importance of the POS well, ” The POS, otherwise known as the back functional line, crosses approximately at the level of the sacro-lumbar junction. The lower portion of the sling, consisting of the distal GM fibres, passes underneath the iliotibial tract to attach to the posterolateral edge of the femur, thus this system becomes linked with the lateral sling[16]. Within recent decades’ clinicians have begun to identify that stability is a complex phenomenon, and “a system of assisting movement whilst stabilising” exists[17]. The POS is fundamental to this method of functioning.”

This demo by DVRT Master, Cory Cripe really brings this concept to life. 

If you think this seems weird that we would recommend doing glute exercises like hip bridges like you see below rather than the weight on the hips, let me remind you…

-On barbell deadlifts the first action is to try to “break the bar” to bring in the lats.

-When one goes to do a kettlebell swing, the first thing is to try to “break the handle” to bring in the lats.

So, it makes sense to do these actions on most other glute exercises but NOT hip bridges? That doesn’t seem right does it?

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I never begin a #trainingsession without some variation of the #glutebridge using the #ultimatesandbag 🙌🏼 Why? It’s the smartest way to train your #coremuscles and get your #hips fired up! The #dvrt system is all about connections and restoring how the body was meant to move. 🔑 Keys to a better hip bridge experience: ✅ Make a footprint in the ground and push down for the hips to rise up ✅ Pull all slack out of the USB with straight arms for an ultimate lat sensation ✅ Have fun and explore 🔭 @ultimatesandbag @perform_better #functionaltraining #coreworkout #lacrossewisconsin #dvrtdad #dvrtstrong #prehab #shoulderhealth #nomoredadbod #strongbacks #glutetraining #bunsofsteel #strongdads #fitdadsofig #sandbagtraining #inspiretobebetter

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This doesn’t only get missed during glute exercises like hip bridges. In the drills below people forget to squeeze the handles of the kettlebells, pull apart the Ultimate Sandbag, drive the elbows to the ribs, etc. These are all essential in building the connections and strength we could achieve from these glute exercises.

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Most people don’t know that while I lived in Phoenix I worked at MANY different physical therapy clinics. Mostly because I liked variety so I was a contract therapist for many facilities. However, I did end up taking some extended positions, one that surprises many is my time heading up a fall prevention clinic. So, you can imagine “balance training” has a special place in my heart and it doesn’t apply to just the elderly. ___________ Balance usually gets sorely misunderstood and people think it is about crazy balancing acts. Yet, understanding some foundational science about balance helps us appreciate what balance actually means and that it plays, or should play a role in many fitness, strength, and performance programs. __________ ➡️Check out today’s post where we break down understanding different types of balance training and how it can really help you progress in your training. Go to my BIO for the 🔗

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When we get to more challenging environments like being truly single leg, trying to put these concepts of engaging the feet, optimizing the lats, all lead to us having more success in drills the most struggle to implement. It isn’t just that we can use these drills, but these types of glute exercises make our training so much more productive. Single leg deadlifts are a great example of these ideas coming together and how we can use progressions within the exercise. For example, the single leg deadlift with the XL Perform Better mini band helps teach how to not only use the foot on the stance leg, but how to properly drive the leg back to use glutes on both sides. We have how we are using the weight as well! Using two kettlebells is easier than one (yes, I know can be more load, but we use this balancing of the body for stability), the grip we have (don’t let the arms turn!), how we create tension on them like “pulling apart” the Ultimate Sandbag.

My hope is that gaining a deeper understanding we can provide people with more effective exercises. After all, we all want the best we can have, who wants to work hard to do the “ok” exercise? These concepts you will be surprised do NOT just relate to glute exercises. The more we use the concepts of functional training we will see how we get positive impact to our core and upper body training as well. Who doesn’t want that?!

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