It is a topic I feel compelled to address time and time again because looking at social media it is sorely misunderstood. That is the idea of training the glutes. Why is this such a common topic of discussion? Part of it is definitely cosmetically based but more and more people realize the glutes are where power is derived from (most powerful actions we perform are largely driven by the force the glutes can produce), as well as the ability for the glutes to help the low back have less issues.
When training an area of the body is so valuable, how do we get it so wrong? Mostly because we still have our training revolve around a bodybuilding approach. That means if we want a muscle to be stronger, bigger, and perform better, we think the key is to train it in isolation. Why is that thought process flawed? That is what I break down below.
The Glutes Don’t Act Alone
One of the easiest ways to explain the major problem of trying (because we can’t actually accomplish this) of training the glutes in isolation is that they never act alone. It would be TERRIBLY inefficient and ineffective for the body to try to use muscles in very individualized roles. What do I mean though that the glutes don’t work alone?
Our bodies weren’t designed to look great in a bathing suit, it was designed to function at the highest level so we could survive. If you think about primitive days, we had to walk, run, climb, get in many different positions and move in angles we almost never see in the gym just so we could perform daily tasks for that survival. Since food was much more difficult to find being efficient in how we moved wasn’t just a factor of performing well in a life or sport but it was a matter of life and death. If we were very inefficient with our movement that would result in needing more energy (food) to survive which wouldn’t make us very adaptable.
Okay, with all that said, from a practical perspective what do I mean the glutes don’t work alone? The way we create efficiency in how we move is by having our body operate in a series of chains. The stronger the links in the chain, the stronger, more mobile, more resilient, and powerful we are in what we do. At the same time, the weaker those links, the opposite occurs. So, what are important chains to understand for better glutes?
One of the most important is the Posterior Oblique Sling (POS) that has the glutes on one side intersect with the core and the OPPOSITE lats. The best example of this is how we see our bodies use opposite arm and leg action when we walk, run, or even crawl.
Seinfeld even understood the importance of moving the arms when we walk and run.
Why does the body use this system? The POS creates stability in the spine/pelvis so that we can move with fluidity and power. What most don’t realize is that walking and running are complex patterns requiring great stability, strength, and power. If our spine/pelvis is unstable, we can’t really be strong or resilient.
If you like to dive down the science rabbit hole, the above is a good video to gain better understanding. How does this impact what we do though in our workouts? One great example is how it forces us to look at a familiar exercise like a hip bridge (also known as a hip thrust). Knowing how the POS functions we realize that the typical barbell hip thrust only looks at the glutes and not the connection of the chain because the placement of the load being on the hips doesn’t engage the lats or core.
DVRT Master, Cory Cripe shows how we integrate the chain fo the glutes versus trying to isolate. It doesn’t matter if you put a barbell or an Ultimate Sandbag on the hips, this is the LEAST effective way to use this movement.
For those that don’t know, the POS is also responsible for how our glutes can help our low back. How? The slide below explains the concept of force closure that helps us stabilize our pelvis.
People often ask me if they can perform hip bridges both ways (on the hips and the manner which we will show) my question is WHY would you want to train the body in such an inefficient way? This will help us address the second point of training the glutes smarter, but check out some important concepts that we break down below.
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The Glutes Are Tri-Planar Muscles
This is SUCH an important concept of training the glutes that very few address. It is actually astonishing to me that people leave this concept largely out of their discussion of the glutes. You notice that our glutes are shaped more like a fan than a straight line that we see in our hamstrings and glutes. That means they are mean to function in all 3 planes of motion and largely moving in one plane while resisting other planes. Why is that important? This NSCA infographic does a good job of simply explaining why we have to understanding how ALL the glute muscles function.
You may not care about function of the body at all (which would be a bit odd) and just want to build more muscle. Does what I am sharing with you help with that? Well, this is how the idea of tri-planar training and building muscle can work together. In DVRT we move to a lot of different body positions when we perform exercises that require strong glutes. The reason for that is this helps us be strong in more directions/patterns, but also helps us use more muscles as the research between single leg and two legged good mornings show below. Keep in mind the two legged good morning uses more weight!
If you look specifically at med/max glutes you see that the single leg version outperformed the two legged version with MORE weight rather easily. That is because the muscles have to stabilize and produce force at the same time (which is why the glutes are shaped more in a fan). It is this reason too we progress our hip bridges by going more single leg and as physical therapist, Jessica Bento shows, we work on building progressions to more sophisticated hip hinge training.
You see how we can use different tools, but also exercises in a more purposeful way to build not only better looking, but more effective functioning glutes. This is why functional training is so important, as I’ve said many times, if we don’t know how something works, how do we make our bodies better? I hope this inspires you to think more deeply about not only how we train the glutes, but the body overall! Below I show how we progressively employ power into these concepts as well!
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