I am sure that many of you reading this article have suffered from some form of sport related injury, and will have been told by healthcare professionals that you have “weak glutes” or that “your glutes aren’t firing properly”. But what does this mean?
As a sports therapist, in my experience of treating athletic injuries there are always two main problems which occur around the hips and pelvis affecting the function of your glutes, creating muscular imbalance and potential for injury.
Both neuromuscular inhibition (your bum not being activated when it should) and weakness in comparison to other major muscle groups could be the root cause of your problems. Muscles work in pairs so when one muscle fires the other relaxes, in the case of the glutes we can focus on:
The gluteal muscles become inhibited, preventing them from properly engaging due to the position they are forced to adopt when the “ideal” neutral pelvic posture becomes compromised. As a health care professional it is important to determine whether athletes have an anterior (bottom sticking out) or posterior (bottom tucked under) posture as this determines which muscles are possibly tight or weak.
Factors such as sitting down for long periods of time during the day can result in the hip flexors becoming chronically tight and over active, this then pulls your pelvis into an inefficient position, resulting in neuromuscular inhibition, this is when one muscle group (in this case the glutes) are inhibited by the activation of their antagonistic muscles group (in this case the hip flexors).
Before we can strengthen weak glute muscles, we need to teach our bodies to engage the right muscles at the right time. If you persist to work on big compound movements like squats and lunges for example, without being able to engage your glutes properly, there’s a higher risk that you will be compensating in your movements and putting more load on other muscle groups such as your quadriceps (front of thigh). By doing this your quadriceps will continue to get stronger, whilst your glutes remain weak, increasing the muscular imbalance around the hips.
When we run we are only ever supported on one leg, or the other, we are effectively hopping from one leg to the other with single leg balance, so it makes sense that we need to be strong and stable on one leg. However, this is usually a challenge for many athletes indicating muscular imbalance and potential for injury. Glute medius is responsible for providing lateral stability around the hip and pelvis, if this muscle is weak a hip drop is noticeable as you run. Similarly, the upper fibres of gluteus maximus control internal rotation of the hip, if this muscle is weak then our knees will collapse inwards as we run, putting stress and strain on the lower limb.
It is extremely important for athletes within any sport to work on activating their glutes when exercising, as a muscle group they really do provide the key to maintaining balance and stability.
Here are some simple exercises that can be performed as part of your warm up to get your glutes “firing” and ready for your workout ahead. Throughout all of the exercises make sure you are squeezing the glutes at the end of the movement and do not rush the reps.
1. Clams- Place a light resistance band around both legs, just above your knees. Lie on one side with knees bent and feet together. Exhale as you lift your top knee, keeping your feet together. Inhale as you return your knee to the starting position. 15 each side.
2. Crab Walks- Place a resistance band just above your ankles with your feet hip width apart. With a slight bend at the knees, step to the right keeping the band taught. Repeat to the left. 15 each side.
3.Donkey Kicks- start on your hands and knees, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Kick one leg back and drive the heel up towards the ceiling. Hold at the top for 2-5secs. 10 reps each side
4.Glute Bridge- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor with a band above your knees. Exhale as you drive your heels into the ground and lift your hips as high as possible without arching your back, keeping the band taught. Inhale as you slowly lower the hips. 12-15 reps.
You will find all these exercises on The Thornbury Clinic you tube channel where there are instructional videos!
Ella is the Sports Injury Therapist at the Thornbury Clinic and has experience working in both private practise and semi-professional sport. Ella has a thorough understanding of chronic and acute sporting injuries and specialises in finding the root cause of your problems and developing bespoke treatment plans to get you back pain free and performing at your best If you would like to book an appointment with Ella just Click Here!