Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Attacking the Glute Medius with Band Drills

Question: Hi I was reading your tip about weak glutes and glute dysfunction on one side. My left glute doesn't function as it should, when I do mule kicks or glute bridges on the left side, my hamstrings tend to take over and leads to cramps. Surprisingly, my glute medius is stronger on my right side, when I do the band walks as you mentioned, or when I perform clamshells, my right side is a lot easier than my left side. And I've got all the effects you talked about, from tightness in my lower back on my right side to a scapula dysfunction and can't raise my right hand fully. Do you have any idea on what I can do to get my left glute functioning up to par with the right side? Thanks for any help."

Answer: Great question. We all have a dominate side and naturally, the muscles of the dominate side are going to be stronger and "fire" quicker when called upon. Next time you take the stairs, see which leg you move first...when you take an elevator...get in the car...take a seat...if you always use the same side, chances are the muscles and nervous system are programmed to use these muscles by default. Many of the muscle imbalances that we popularize are really caused by neural adaptation. Simply put, the nervous system is programmed to move our bodies in certain ways depending on the pattern that is developed over time and influenced by behavior, sport, injury, and muscle action. The nervous system becomes a 'gate-keeper' of sorts and is really the first aspect we have to address when considering "fixing" a muscle imbalance. I use the word "fixing" loosely because muscle imbalances really have to come to terms with:

1.) Proper instruction
2.) Constant reinforcement of proper instruction
3.) Proper execution
4.) Correct selection of exercises
5.) Optimal placement with an overall exercise program
6.) Body awareness
7.) Consistency
8.) Maintain

I always address the glute medius muscle.  Maybe its abit minimalist, but the glute medius can be a very neglected muscle that affects the lower body and, ultimately, the entire kinetic chain.
The glute medius has a couple of functions: with the leg straight is helps to abduct the thigh. During walking or one-leg exercises, both the glute medius and glute minimus function to help keep the body balanced and prevent they pelvis from dropping on the opposite side. When the hips are flexed,  the glute medius external rotates the thigh (clamshell). The clamshell exercise is great, but it get butchered easily by exercisers. The reason being is because people lack a body awareness to control compensations at the site of a dysfunction.

I am a big fan of activating the glute medius because I have found through the numerous assessments I have conducted over the years, it seems to be a common denominator among lower body deviations. I hesitate to say that the glute medius only affects the lower body because in essence,  it really causes a ripple-effect up the entire kinetic chain. However, this trouble muscle really needs direct work. I have incorporated mini bands into training and warm-ups for the last 6 years and I have never turned away or changed my mind regarding using other tools. Sure, clam-shells are great or bridges, but the lateral band walk is possibly the most simplistic way to really activate the GM. It is not a complicated drill and pretty difficult to muff up. Note: even if it is muffed a tiny bit, the glute medius still gets some work because of the elastic dynamic of the movement. Check out the video below that I created last week. I demonstrate 4 different band drills that I use. After the video I will explain my rationale behind each:

Long-Lever Band Resisted Band Walks - I prefer these for my more advanced trainees because the band placement offers a more "awareness" when abducting the leg. In this placement, I can even have clients purposely externally rotate the hip with each lateral step to intensify the exercise. Most people will feel the outer thigh doing most of the work, so this exercise is the best way (for me) to bring attention to the lumbar spine laterally flexing as an incorrect indication.

Ankle-High Band Resisted Walks - This is the most common placement for the band. For my group classes, I instruct participants to place the band at the ankle. The most important cue I can give here is to make sure the movement is controlled and the core is locked tight. If there is too much sway in the shoulders/torso,  the glutes really are not receiving the brute of the resistance; and the lumbar spine is. That is a no-no.

Short-Lever Band Resisted Walks - I choose these in some cases for people that experience hip asymmetries and weight shifting problems. A very good 'finisher' to this drill is to perform a squat movement with a purposeful abduction of the knees during the squat phase.

Standing Hip Resisted External Rotation -Unlike the classic clam-shell, I like to go right into some standing hip abduction work after some lateral drills. the clam-shell is usually muffed and often times, clients make the movement "larger" than it really is. With the band and standing, I cam able to get them to feel the glute medius at work. Hence,  in the video you will notice I place my hand on eh muscle to feel it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    Great article on activating the glute medius and the lateral walks. Lots of helpful information. However, the article doesn't really address the issue of the client's imbalance. How would you address someone with a glute imbalance that feels their hamstring cramping on only one side? I have the exact same problem..



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