February 9, 2011

Glute activation in three steps | How to switch your glutes on!

This follow-along video will show you extremely effective activation techniques for the gluteus maximus muscles (what we all call "the glutes"). 

Glute activation is key in helping to protect you from lower back pain and is fundamental to efficient movement patterns. And today's lifestyle, where we spend most of out time sitting, is only helping to switch those glutes off! 

Learn how to switch your glutes on, and feel how much better you move as a result.

Read transcription

Kit Laughlin:

All of the fundamentals on this DVD are critical. And so in that sense, we can't say that one is more critical than the other. But in our experience, particularly in terms of lower back pain, avoiding lower back pain I should say. There's probably no more important muscle group to make sure is active than gluteus maximus. And to that end, of course, you need loose hip flexors, which we'll deal with in another place.

We have found using the Swiss ball – and we recommend this particular type of Swiss ball – we have found using the Swiss balls in particular ways, are one of the most spectacularly effective ways of achieving glute activation. So I want to show you how we actually do this in class. And what we do always – because for us every exercise we teach and use is both diagnosis and treatment – we want to show you the position that we want you to get into and then we'll ask you to imitate this position. And then we'll ask you where you actually feel the effects of trying to do this. And where you feel the effects will be very, very important clues for how we then steer the exercise to the activation that we actually want.

So just watch this. I'll go into the details of exactly how to position the legs on the ball and the width of the arms and all those sorts of things in a moment. But how we normally introduce this in class, is we simply lie down like this. Don't give any other cues. So basically the person will be imitating the shape with their own neural patterning. And then we say, "The position we'd like you to get into is simply this." Now the key thing to note here is that my body is actually straight and the thighs and the trunk are in a single line and that the ball is stable. That's the first thing to note.

The second thing is, we ask our students where they feel this action. And most people either feel the lower back muscles, erector spinae in particular, strongly activated, and many also feel that the hamstrings are strongly activated. So what I want to take you through now are the cues that we use to get the glutes activated rather than those other two muscle groups. So this is what we do. The first thing that we do, and this is not at all obvious just from watching that little demonstration, is we flatten the lumbar spine onto the floor. And we do that by using that same tail tucking cue that we were speaking about in our very first exercise.

So I'll just do that now in an exaggerated fashion, like this. Once in this position here, flatten the lumbar spine as we spoke about before. Lift the chest, cue TA by pulling the lower ab back to the spine or whatever cue works for you. But make sure you can feel these muscles in here active. Arms out to the side. And then once we're in this position here, the cue that I give myself is not, as you might think, lift the body up, but rather I'm going to talk to myself about pressing the legs down on the ball. So flatten the lumbar spine, lift the chest slightly and press the legs down on the ball. Now, as soon as you do that, you will feel these huge muscles at the back of the legs here, the glutes, actually activating and that's what you want.

If on the other hand, you still feel strong sensations in the lower back, watch this. You can actually tuck the tail when you're in midair, like this. And that also will take the effects out of the lower back and put it strongly into the glutes. And then let yourself come back down. So the key things here are not to think about lifting yourself up but rather pressing the legs down on the ball because that is the fundamental glute action. It's extension of the hip joint, and that's what we want to encourage. And there are some more details, as well. Let me just show you a couple of things. To make the exercise easier, you bring the ball closer to where the effort is, because that shortens the lever; I'm sure you can imagine that. So in this position here, for example, which would be the easiest position, we flatten the back, lift the chest and press the legs down on the ball. And for me, that's an effortless thing to do.

Then you could use the intermediate position, which I used in the initial demonstration. Or as you get stronger, you can push the ball further away from you like this and just watch, it looks like this. We tuck the tail, lift the chest and press the legs down on the ball like this. You can also decrease your stability base by lifting your forearms off the ground or finally, doing the exercise with your hands crossed across your chest. Each of those little variations makes it more difficult simply because the stability base is decreased or the leverage is increased. And they're the two key things if you want to make any Swiss ball exercise more difficult.

From this position here, we can make the exercise significantly more difficult by ... watch, I roll the ball across slightly until my right leg is in the middle of the ball and then I lift one leg off, like this. This introduces the assymetry dimension. It also introduces another difficulty, which is to keep the body still and in the same shape against a rotational torque, as well. But the main thing that it does is, it emphasizes one glute over the other. So I'll show you what this looks like on the other side. We roll the ball slightly, get into a good position and then ... watch, slowly take the leg off, like this. And when you do that, if you're in good alignment, you'll feel in each case, the left and the right glute on their own will fire extremely strongly. And that's part two of the exercise.

You can also do that from the floor too, when you get strong enough. So for example, this is what the exercise looks like and then back down, like so. And in each time, what we're trying for is to have the thigh and the trunk in a perfectly straight line with good spinal alignment. Because this too, is a spinal alignment drill. Now I want to show you the next part. And this next part is the part I think that is so misunderstood, at least in many of the materials that I've reviewed. Just I'll demonstrate the exercise first and then I'll talk you through it. Same cus again, tuck the tail, lift the chest a little, make sure TA is activated, arms out to the side and press the legs down on the ball like this. Now the next part of the exercise should look like this. With everything cued correctly, TA firing strongly ... watch this.

We bring the ball underneath, like so. But without the line between the thigh and the trunk changing at all. Just watch this again. Flatten the spine, lift the chest, all cues applied, press the legs down and bring the ball underneath, like so. And down. Now what we see most people doing and something I really hesitate to demonstrate it, because it just looks so hideous, but something that looks like this. This is not the movement. I'm going to sit up for a minute and explain a couple of things.

What we're trying to do with this exercise is to uncouple the normal tendency for the hamstrings to both extend the hip and to pull the lower leg and the ball underneath the knees. What we're trying to do instead is strongly activate the glutes so the hamstrings only do one job, that is bring the ball underneath the knees. If you watch your students or if you watch yourself, and you find that as the person tries to bring the ball underneath, the hips drop down, which is the most common response to asking someone to do that job, that's a sure indication that either the hip flexors are tight and the glutes are being inhibited, or in fact, the glutes are simply not activated. And our suggestion, very strongly, is to concentrate on the first part of the pose, and in particular the one leg version of the pose where you're simply trying to bring leg and body in line. That's in our view is the way to make progress in this pose.

I'm going to show you now what we consider to be a more advanced version of this pose or part of this pose. And that is, that once the body's in the horizontal position, we can actually have a play with changing the shape of the spine, because the spine is actually strongly loaded in this position. It looks something like this.

And I'll do it in the most difficult form, which is when the ball is at ... when my heels, I should say, are on the highest part of the ball. Again, because that lengthens the levers maximally. So from here, we follow the same cues. Tuck tail, lift chest, make sure TA is activated and we pull ourselves to here, like this. Now watch this. I'm going to arch the back backwards, neutral and tuck the tail. This action, when the spine is under load, is what we want to be able to do. And secondly too, I'm going to lift the chest, collapse the chest, lift the chest and collapse the chest. And all of that you'll feel, when you get that action, that experience in your body, it'll make these muscles here activate extremely strongly, and these ones here very strongly indeed.

Now my last suggestion to you is not to rush progress in this too quickly. What we've found is that if you try and do the second part of the pose, where you bring the ball underneath your knees using the hamstrings, too early in your training and the glutes are not strong enough, it's extremely common for the hamstring muscles, in fact, to cramp. And you don't want that, it's very painful. So make progress slowly, in other words. And one of our favourite sayings in the gym here is "Rome wasn't built in a day." Make sure you've mastered each piece of this pose perfectly and can do at least three or four perfect repetition before you add the next difficulty. Cut.

 

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