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Many people have weak glute muscles. In fact, weak, imbalanced, and under-activated glute muscles are among the most common causes of pain, injury, and poor mobility. The main culprit is a reality of modern living: we sit too much and end up with weak glutes and tight hips.
Talk to your clients about the importance of this major muscle group and help them with corrective exercises for strength and balance. Make sure they understand that it’s about more than just looks; the glutes stabilize their whole body.
The glute muscle group includes the gluteus maximus muscle, the gluteus medius muscle, and the gluteus minimus muscle. These three muscles that make up the glutes don't just make your backside look good when strong and defined. They also contribute to stability and mobility, working in conjunction with connected muscle groups. When they get out of whack, there is a ripple effect.
Signs of weak glutes may include:
Low back pain
Pain in the pelvic area
Fatigue after standing for short periods
Difficulty with stairs
The term corrective exercise includes several things, but in general it refers to any movement, exercise, or workout that aims to improve form to prevent or manage injuries, pain, mobility issues, and other problems. It’s an increasingly popular practice in gyms and with trainers who want to provide more holistic workouts for clients.
Clients and trainers interested in corrective exercise want to do more than simply lose weight or build muscle. They want to move better, balance strength in all muscles, avoid injuries, perform better, and enjoy greater overall fitness and mobility.
For the glutes, corrective exercises can take a number of forms. You may have a client, for instance, who is a runner and is experiencing hip pain because of poor glute activation. You can help them develop greater glute strength to correct that issue and to get back to running.
Another client may be showing signs that the glute and hip muscles on their left side are stronger and activating more than on the right. Corrective workouts can fix this muscle imbalance before it causes injury and pain.
Muscle imbalances are all too common and can cause a lot of pain and dysfunction. Help your clients identify their unbalanced muscles and correct them for greater mobility and less pain.
While there is nothing wrong with being motivated by aesthetics, working on the glutes has so many more benefits than simply a good-looking butt. Here’s what your clients need to know about the importance of these often-overlooked muscles:
The glute muscles are central to how we move. In fact, they are responsible for our ability to walk upright without falling over, an important aspect of human evolution. In order to move well, to be fully mobile, you need to have strong, balanced, activated gluteal muscles.
This big muscle group improves mobility, which means better performance in a variety of sports, from soccer to running. The glutes also provide major power for important movements. If your glutes are weak, you have less power, no matter how strong your quads, arms, or other smaller muscle groups.
Weakness in the glutes is related to a number of potential injuries, whether your client is an athlete or not (1). These include ACL and other knee injuries, hamstring strains, ankle sprains, lower back injuries, and femoral acetabular impingement syndrome. The latter is a type of hip injury resulting from bone rubbing against bone. It can cause a lot of pain.
You can both manage and prevent pain by building glute strength. The glute muscles help control knee movements, for instance. If the glutes are weak or if one side is weaker than the other, the knee moves improperly, which can lead to pain.
Even lower back pain can be related to the glutes. Studies have found that in groups of people with chronic low back pain, as compared to healthy individuals with no pain, the gluteus maximus is more susceptible to fatigue. This suggests that strengthening the glutes protects against pain (2).
Passionate about building a strong foundation to reduce injury and improve performance? Take on ISSA’s Glute Specialist Certification. You’ll how to improve the entire posterior chain with movement preparation, activation, strength training.
All your clients should work on glute strength. This major muscle group should be strong and functional in everyone to improve mobility, stability, and power and to reduce pain and injury. For corrective exercises, though, it’s useful to know if a specific client has an imbalance or particularly weak glutes. Here are some assessments to try:
The chair test. To test the strength in the gluteus maximus, the largest of the glute muscles, have your client stand in front of a chair, facing it, with the knees just touching the edge. Squat and try not to push the knees against the chair. If they can’t do it, the glutes are too weak, and their quads are engaging instead.
Single-leg squat test. The gluteus medius is smaller but very important in stabilizing hip and knee movements. To test its strength, have your clients do single-leg squats. If the opposite hip drops down or if the knee on the same side rotates in, the muscle is too weak.
Glute activation. Some clients may have glute muscles that aren’t even activating. This is sometimes called gluteal amnesia. It’s common in people who sit too much, a position that tightens up the hip flexors. Have your client lay down, face up on the floor and try to contract their glutes. Ask them to put their hands under their glutes to feel the muscles. If they are activating when attempting to contract, they should feel it.
So many people today struggle with tight hip flexors, which can cause lower back pain, poor posture, and even neck pain. Show your clients how to avoid this tightness and relieve it with the right stretches.
Chances are you will find that most of your clients have some degree of glute weakness or poor activation. Even those who are active, if they sit throughout the day, can have limited activation or gluteal amnesia. Use these specific exercises to help your clients correct weakness, inactivation, and imbalances.
This is the largest of the glute muscles, and the largest muscle in the body. There are many focused exercises you can walk clients through to strengthen it:
Glute bridges. Laying on your back with knees bent and pointing up at the ceiling, lift the hips up and squeeze the glutes. Try variations on this too. Progression can include resting a dumbbell over the hips for added weight or lifting one leg up and doing the exercise on one side at a time.
Split squats. The movement here is like a lunge, but it really works the glutes. Rest one foot on a bench or stability ball and lunge the opposite foot forward. Sink down into a lunge position, keeping the forward knee at a 90-degree angle. Repeat on the other side.
Glute kickbacks. Use a resistance band to make this more challenging. Place it around the legs just over the knees. With hands on hips, lift one leg back and squeeze the glutes. Repeat with the other side.
This muscle is wedged in between the larger gluteus maximus and the smaller gluteus minimus. Both it and the minimus are instrumental in hip movements, which affect your entire leg, even the knees. For example, weakness in these muscles can cause the knees to rotate in during exercises like squats and lunges, which ultimately causes pain and joint damage. Use these exercises to strengthen them:
This is a great isolating exercise for the gluteus medius and a staple for runners looking to protect their knees. To do a clamshell, start by lying on your side, legs stacked on top of each other and knees bet to about 45 degrees.
Keep your feet together as you lift the top knee up and squeeze. This isn’t a big movement. Focus on squeezing and feeling the side of your glutes activate. As you progress, add a resistance band just above your knees.
This is another way to target and mostly isolate the gluteus medius. Walking laterally (sideways) activates this side muscle. Use a resistance band around your lower legs or ankles and take sideways steps in both directions. You should feel the gluteus medius engage.
This is a compound movement that also targets the gluteus medius. This muscle really shines when you need to balance on one leg. If the muscle is very weak, start with simply balancing on one leg. Progress to single-leg squats and eventually make them weighted.
Another compound movement, the side lunge should have your gluteus medius aching after a few sets. Work on proper form before progressing to keep your knees safe. Eventually you can add weights to make this more challenging.
Also known as a curtsy lunge, the reverse crossover lunge will also hit your gluteus medius. Add it once you feel you can balance well in a side lunge.
To do the crossover, reach your left foot behind you toward a lunge position. Instead of placing your foot directly behind its starting position, reach it across and behind the right leg. Lower down into a lunge position and repeat on the other side.
Again, anything that requires you to balance on one leg will benefit your gluteus medius. Try doing deadlifts on one leg at a time to develop this muscle while also getting the other benefits of a compound exercise that targets the entire posterior chain.
The hip abductor muscles consist of the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor facia latae (TFL). They help rotate the leg at the hip joint and stabilize the leg, especially in unilateral exercises or movements.
On hands and knees, with the spine neutral, lift one leg up and straighten it behind you, parallel to the floor. Move the leg out to the side and hold for a few seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
You're going to feel this in your glutes, hip abductors, and abdominals. In proper side plank position, lift the top leg up and hold it. Repeat on the other side.
Targeting the right muscles is important, but there are also great overall glute exercises that hit other important muscles, like the hamstrings.
Single-leg deadlifts. This is a challenging one, so start small. Progress your clients by adding weights, but begin with no weights to help them build strong glutes and hamstrings.
Single-leg squats. Regular squats are great compound movements, but it’s easy to do them with a focus on the quads and to neglect the glutes. For your clients working on glutes, try the single-leg version to really hone in on glutes over quads.
Side skates. This is a great move to include cardio and glute strengthening work. The movement is lateral, jumping side to side from one foot to the other, leaning slightly over but with the chest up. Picture speed skaters and how they move.
Power skips. Again, use this move for cardio and glutes. In a lunge position, with the left foot behind, jump up and draw the left leg up and jump off the ground with the right foot. The left knee should bend and go up toward the chest. Repeat on the other side.
Glute strength should be a priority for all your clients, but really focus on these corrective moves for those who need them. Your clients who sit all day at work or in the car, those with specific types of pain, and the clients who fail the glute test will need to work on glute activation exercises and glute strengthening exercises. They’ll will benefit from targeting the glutes at least twice a week.
Are you hoping to provide your clients with the best, most informed glute activation exercises? You can become certified as a Glute Specialist, learning at your own pace, at ISSA online.
The ISSA Glute Training Specialist Course teaches trainers the science behind building better glutes and how to focus on these muscle groups to give clients the best results. You'll learn how to unlock the hips, create better programming, and deliver envious results. You'll master the art of developing a superior posterior and be the go-to glute expert!
Buckthorpe, M., Stride, M., and Della Villa, F. (2019, July). Assessing and Treating Gluteus Maximus Weakness – A Clinical Commentary. Int. J. Sports. Phys. Ther. 14(4), 655-69. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6670060/
Kankaanpaa, M., Taimela, S., Laaksonen, D., Hanninen, O., and Airaksinen, O. (1998). Back and Hip Extensor Fatigability in Chronic Low Back Pain Patients and Controls. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 79(4), 412-17. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9552107/
Can the average personal trainer train the glutes? Sure! However, adding glute-focused training to your training programs will not only improve your client’s results but also give you an edge over other fitness professionals!
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