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Why We Don’t Understand Glute Training At All!

fitness education

Sometimes when I feel stuck what to write about, social media gives me a gift. After all, I’ve been writing articles online since 2001, so you can imagine the ideas start to feel sometimes too repetitive. However, after engaging with strength coaches, physical therapists, and fitness pros on social media, I’m reminded of how topics I think we have written about extensively are still largely misunderstood.

This happened to me as a physical therapist reached out to me agreeing with some of what I was saying, then missing the point on other important issues. The post was around the proper way to hip bridge to achieve better glute function. The therapist agreed with me that integration, working with kinetic chains, and so forth was more productive than trying to do glute training in isolation. Where things fell off the rails was his insistence was to use isolated glute measures to determine the glute training and even the root cause of pain.

Posterior Oblique Sling

On the surface, it may seem like he made some sense. The claim was that if people couldn’t use their glutes in an isolated manner, then it was helping him determine that glute training would help someone’s pain. However, if we dig just a tiny bit under the surface we see this really isn’t true.

I’ve tried to teach many times that glutes don’t operate in isolation so neither shoulder our glute training.

For one, if someone has pain, isolated muscle testing is likely to show “weakness” in a muscle for a myriad of reasons from guarding, swelling, compensatory patterns, and more. Trying to test someone’s muscle strength while in pain is almost always going to give you a poor result. A practical example is, a 35 year old man goes to a physical therapist for low back pain after the doctor has determined there is no significant structural damage. The 35 year old man tells the therapist that they hurt their low back while deadlifting.

If isolated glute testing is our one of our screens, we have them lay face down, bend their knee and try to resist pushing the leg back down to the ground. The person struggles to resist and it is determined that the man has “glute weakness” and therefore we should start with isolated glute training right? Well, we don’t know if the glutes are “weak” because the person is experiencing pain, or because they were the cause of pain.

Instead, I suggest that we watch the person perform the task they associate with when the pain came on. Even just a dowel rod or mimicking the movement, I want to see how they used their body. Immediately upon watching, I see some technique flaws that could cause them to overload their low back. I still don’t know if this was the cause or possibly just a contributing factor.


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A post shared by Cory M. Cripe (@corymcripe)

Cory Cripe shows many of the technique flaws that being mindful in our Ultimate Sandbag deadlift can help more than what a single muscle does. 

My next question is to look at their workout programs for the last 3 months. If they don’t have any, well that could be an issue because they could have done far too much intensity and/volume and their back just finally was overwhelmed by poor programming. If they have the program I can still see if this was the case and it is much easier to identify. No amount of glute training can overcome poor technique and workout programs.

I still want to see how they move though, so we have them perform drills they can do without an increase of pain. Very often I will have people do relatively foundational movements such as a bird dog, a side plank, stand on one leg, a squat, a lunge, a hip bridge, and watch their gait. While none of these movements will tell me if glute training will solve their pain issue, they give me some idea of what patterns they have now adopted that could lead to the pain continuing or getting worse.

What I am doing is putting together a picture of the issues that could be contributing to the person experiencing pain when they perform different tasks. Just giving random glute training exercises tells me nothing about how they use their glutes when they need them (like in functional activities). In fact, NONE of these could be the absolute reason someone hurt their back one day deadlifting in the gym. They could have had a poor night’s sleep, had a fight at work at home, had eaten something that upset their stomach, or not eaten at all. These variables may seem like nothing, but I’ve seen them in 30 years of coaching play a pretty significant role because of the impact to the nervous system.

While I’ve been giving you more of a real world practical example, research supports these very ideas. In fact, a 2008 study found that motor control screens, not isolated muscle tests were more valid in understanding the performance of the glutes and should dictate what we do in glute training.

glute trainingglute training

To give you a practical example, when Jessica and I were asked to consult on Olympic level weightlifter, Mary Theisen-Lappen, we did a lot of these screens to get a better idea of why she was having low back pain.

Helping her with these strategies led her to breaking an American record in the clean and jerk without low back pain! You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from understanding glute training strategies like this as I explain below. When you understand how our body is designed to work, you start to see the difference of good and very inefficient glute training exercises.

Don’t miss about learning more in our educational webinars including our “Glute Truth” webinar that is 50% off with code “webinar” HERE