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Why Most Glute Workouts Stink!

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It was the late 90’s and I was finishing up my degree in Exercise Science when I was also frantically taking as many continuing education courses by coaches in the field. This was a time where the educational opportunities were far less (the internet wasn’t nearly as big and everyone wasn’t a guru yet) and those offering programs were coaches of great respect. I was so adamant about my education that right after graduation I took an internship with one of the most well known coaches of the time. So, while many of my friends from college went on trips or took time to just relax, I was trying to learn and be as good of a coach as possible.

If I told you my drive to be the best coach was all about helping people, that would be a lie. I was still battling having recently lost use of my right leg that ended my college basketball career. My back pain was still high and I was having trouble recovering even though I had spent extensive time in physical therapy. A lot of my drive was about learning myself as much as it was helping others. How good of a coach could I be if I was still having such huge issues?

While learning from other coaches was so valuable for so many reasons, one of the biggest benefits I got from these experiences was being steered towards books that were leading us in a whole new direction with training. Not blog posts, not IGTV live posts, but actual textbooks were something I dove into with great passion. One that changed me forever was one of the toughest to really digest. That was renown physical therapist, Diane Lee’s, “The Pelvic Girdle” (I believe she has at least the 4th edition out now!), a book geared towards more therapy but had a section that really transformed how I thought about the body and training (even though it would take me a few years to really get it).

glute workouts

The above images were the “sling systems” and discussion of outer and inner units. This work was based on the VERY extensive research by Dr. Andry Vleeming who is often seen as one of the foremost experts on low back pain and pelvic dysfunction. I had never seen ANYTHING like this before!!! Sure, I had taken plenty of anatomy classes in school, even with a cadaver. However, I never learned or seen images that were being described in this book, why not?

Strength coach, Mike Boyle, often has a great quote that most of us learn “dead person anatomy”. What Coach Boyle is referring to is that most of the work we think about with anatomy is based upon cadavers, not live human beings. So what?! The biggest issues is that in a cadaver we don’t have an active nervous system nor do we see the body actually creating movement. How our body functions after we die laying on a table is extremely different than what our body does alive in movement.

These sling systems gave me a whole different perspective on the body and training, a great example is how glute workouts are often missing the point. Now, I’ve long said that you can isolate any muscle and make it grow, that’s rather simple. However, the better question is isolating that muscle the most effective and efficient way to train? all the science is pointing to not really, especially if we appreciate how the muscles are actually designed to function.

Better Glute Workouts

To answer this question we just have to understand a little bit of science. Most people will think of the glutes as doing isolated functions such as extending the hip, rotating the hip outwards, etc. While the glutes can and do such movements, this is a HUGE oversimplification of what the glutes actually do and why our exercises need to change as well. Since we do have 3 different gluteal muscles on each side of our body, they aren’t designed to work in isolation from one another, rather synergistically. Our glutes during locomotion (walking and running) have to help extend our hips, control our pelvis both from dropping forward and moving too much laterally, they are decelerators , in other words they are designed to do A LOT in real movement and they don’t do so independent from one another.

glute exercises

The fan shaped design of the gluteal muscles key us in that they do WAY more than move forward and back (otherwise they would look like one vertical line like your biceps or quadriceps). This is because our body wasn’t designed to lay on the ground and do a bunch of different hip thrusts that count as glute workouts. The glutes were designed to help our body do very complex movements while standing and do so while making it appear effortless.

Does that mean we shouldn’t use the ground in our glute workouts? No, we can use the ground as a more stable environment where we can re-educate one’s body to work correctly. As I wrote recently about “gluteal amnesia” this has nothing to do with weak glutes, but rather glutes that don’t work at the right time or with their chains in the right ways. Better foundations of glute workouts would like what Strength Coach, Martin Adame shows below.

These types of glute workouts teach the body how to integrate with the chains of the body and to work with the rest of the posterior chain the correct way. However, why do we keep putting the weight in such exercises in such weird places that the rest of the industry doesn’t do? You have to really understand the body to know why putting the weight on your hips for glute workouts makes no sense. I can’t say it better than Ms. Lee so read her explanation below…

Translation? Our glutes have to work with our core and lats to help create stability for the SI joint and allow the extremities to produce optimal movement and strength. If we lose that stability and connection that we create instability of the SI joint and lose power, strength, and movement efficiency. So, putting the weight on your hips is fine if you don’t care about actually making your glutes work significantly better. This isn’t new science, it is just science that most of the industry likes to ignore because it means we have to change what we have been telling people in making great glute workouts.

Where do we go from the ground exercises though? Sure, exercises like deadlifts are helpful and establish a good foundation of movement and strength, but we want to remember that our glutes are designed to work in all 3 planes of motion both producing and resisting force. So, our goal should be to progress to glute workouts that contain exercises like physical therapist, Jessica Bento shows below…

It isn’t just hip hinges either! DVRT UK master, Greg Perlaki shows how we can use a wide array of movements to teach the glutes to work smarter and yes, look better at the same time!

What makes for the BEST glute workouts? Exercises that accomplish the following….

-Connect the glutes, core, and lats

-Movements that challenge us to produce and resist force (this can be sprinter stance, single leg, split positions, etc.)

-Going in different planes of motion.

-Using different loading strategies that challenge our body to maintain its posture while lifting (shoulder positions, MAX movements, lift/chops are great examples).

-Standing and engaging the feet because we are meant to be upright animals and how we use our feet are key in what happens to our glutes during movement, not squeezing them.

The best way to have you see the best glute workouts is to show you! Check out this great series that Coach Robin Paget demonstrates that makes you realize that if we want awesome results we need to think smarter about the body!

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