Thursday, November 11, 2010

A $5 Solution to Weak Glutes

Weak glutes are the culprit to many structural dysfunctions. You'd be surprised at how this powerful lower body some not so powerful. And its lack of involvement in everyday movements really causes compensatory dysfunction that affect everything from the knee to the lower back to even the shoulders. More-so,  the lack of gluteal involvement in simply movements like walking and running (locomotion) can actually cause the gluteal muscle to atrophy. I wrote an entire article on this phenomenon here

Specifically, the glute medius can be a muscle that really puts the stops on optimal function if it is not firing during movements. The glutes medius is located just above the glute maximus and is responsible for abducting the thigh and rotating the hip. If it is not functionally properly (due to weakness) it can lead to a host of muscular inefficiencies including:

  • Knees - caving inward/outward
  • Pelvis - asymmetrical weight-shifting
  • Low Back - arch or rounding
If any of these dysfunctions become prevalent, they can exacerbate local shoulder problems due to the placement of the scapula relative to the condition of the spine. In simple terms, if the glute medius on the right side is not firing properly, chances are the lower back will be tighter on that side due to synergistic dominance. This will cause a"ripple effect" upwards that will cause the scapula--possibly on the left side--to not adequately stabilize during movements with the arms overhead.

One exercise I have made a staple in training for 90% of my clients is the lateral walk with a band.  Mini bands are roughly 12" to 14" in diameter and are made of rubber. They are not very thick so expect some wear and tear to eventually rip the band; however, I have found the best quality bands are available through Perform Better.
First, place a 12 inch band around the feet.I prefer placing the band around the widest part of the foot--over the shoe laces. Once the band is in place, pull feet apart to create some tension. Next, I want the client in an "athletic position" which is a  slight bend in the hips and knees (triple extension); core tight and chest erect. Once the torso has "stiffened", place the arms at the sides and laterally walk a few steps to the right and left.  I usually recommend about 10-12 steps in either direction.

A few coaching cues:

#1. The shoulders should not "rock" during the lateral steps. This is usually common in beginners that already exhibit poor glute medius strength--so be cautious of it. It is a compensation and continuing the exercise while this occurs is a waste of time. The object is to fire the abductors and glutes during the drill, rather than the "legs". If you keep the core tight and stiff, you will also feel the muscles of the low back get involved. Repeat this exercise 3-4 more times (in both directions). 

#2. The trailing foot should not drag.  If you are leading with your left foot, your right foot shouldn't "drag" on the floor during the exercise. I prefer my clients to pick up the training foot about a half inch off the ground as they follow each step.

#3. Keep the toes facing first. People with tight ilio-tibial bands will show discomfort with this exercise. This has nothing to do with the musculature that we are focusing on with this drill. Rather, if the IT Band becomes too much of a distraction, I will have my clients externally rotate the lead hip as they perform each lateral step. This simply "turning out" engages more gluteal action and takes some of the stress off the IT Band acting as a phantom stabilizer. 

Where you can use this drill. I prefer using the lateral band walking drill in the beginning of the workout serving as a warm-up. It can also be used in between sets as an active recovery tool. In large groups, the drill acts as a great movement prep to really "wake up" the gluteu medius of your clients. I demonstrate the drill heavily in an old video of mine titled Eye of the Trainer.


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