Powerful hip function has always been critical to achieving athletic success – and the glutes are the prime movers of our hips. In our previous blog, Building a Better Butt for Athletic Success, we examined exactly why glutes are so important for athletes.
When we are looking to improve glute performance in runners there are three key initial aspects:
Activation – getting the muscle ready to work
Activation/Synchonization – getting the muscle to work when you want it to work and in the correct firing sequence
Strength – making the muscle stronger so that is can perform its role more effectively and efficiently
This blog is going to some important exercises that we use with our athletes to achieve the first two goals -Activation and Activiation/Synchronization. The third blog in this series is going to focus on exercises which strengthen the glutes for improved athletic performance.
Running athletes – when presented with issues pertaining to the glutes – are often prescribed the clam exercise in one of its many variants. The clam is a useful exercise especially at a very introductory level and when done well is excellent at isolation the glute med. The difficulty often becomes, however, taking that isolated muscle and making it perform in a sequence which will allow the muscle to play its role in functioning to improve performance.
The exercises we have described below are ones that we have found to be highly effective in both “waking up” the muscle so that it is ready to work and preparing the muscle to work as part of a synergistic unit to improve performance. These exercises work both glute med and glute max such that once activated the athlete will be ready to perform either their running or strength based session much effectively and efficiently.
Place the theraband around your ankles. Start with feet hip width apart and adopt a “cowboy” stance – feet pointing predominantly forward and knees partially bent slightly turned out. There should be a slight bend forward at the hips as if you were about to play a golf shot. Keeping the hips facing forward and the hips level take a large step to the right and then slowly (to a count of 3) take a half step with the left foot towards the right (the half step will keep plenty of tension on the band. Then take a second step with the right. After you have completed 10 steps to the right then repeat the process heading back to the left.
We normally will performance two sets in each direction – with the second set having a much larger “hip hinge” or larger bend forward at the waist. As the athlete fatigues they need to fight the temptation to either stand up taller or raise the hips.
To increase the effect on glute med place the band around the arches of the feet rather than around the ankles (if you do this its best to use a band with a more resilient fabric).
Start supporting leg with partially bent knee. Hold arms wide for balance. Lean forward at the hips while keeping neck in line with spine then rotate spine in one direction as far as possible while reaching one hand towards ground. Undo the rotation and return the standing position. Repeat exercise rotating in the opposite direction. Do 10 total rotations then repeat on the other leg. You can alter the exercise to increase the endurance effect on glute med by rotating in both directions before returning to the standing position.
Skater Lunge With Hip Flexion
From a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart, slowly step your left leg back diagonally behind your right leg. Lower into a lunge until your knee almost touches the floor and the rear foot just touches the ground. At the same time reach your left hand across your body and towards the ground. As you return to the standing position Flex your left hip and bring your left foot to stop beside the right knee. Build up to doing 20 reps on one leg and then change sides.
I was chatting to a triathlete friend of mine the other morning and discussing physio visits, injuries and performances. She was lamenting the fact that, despite all the training triathletes do, they very often have a butt that “does not work”. The observation is a relevant one and it begs the questions “WHY?”
There are a couple of obvious reasons.
Firstly, all the training time spent across the 3 disciplines may not make up for the many hours we spend sitting at desks, in cars, in front of the TV – and even in the saddle of a bike. This appears to be increasingly the case for Masters competitors with the greater demands placed on their time by work and family commitments.
Secondly, most triathletes are aerobically fit and very strong willed – the effect of which can be that the body and/or the mind will find a way to compensate for areas of weakness eg the quads will “kick in” to cover for glutes that aren’t producing enough force.
Experience with many athletes across multiple sports tells me that strong, well conditioning glutes are essential for making an athlete more efficient, to improve performance and to reduce the risk of injury.
So what exactly do the glutes DO?
To answer that we need to recognise that there are 3 key muscles that make up “the glutes”. Each has a particular role in athletic performance… and in life.
Glute Max (Gluteus Maximus)
This muscle is the power unit of the hip.It is the large “cheek” of your backside. Its primary job is to powerfully extend the hip – the key action in running and cycling. A weakness in glute max will often lead to problems with calves and lower back as these parts of the body are forced to absorb more of the ground forces than they ideally would.
Glute Med (Gluteus Medius)
Glute Med is found on the side of your backside – towards the outside of the hip, For athletes the primary role of Glute Med is to provide stability in a single leg stance (think ground contact in running). A weak or poorly functioning Glut Med can lead to issues with achilles, shin splints and pains in and around the knee. Glute med also adducts the hip (moves it away from the body’s midline)
Glute Min (Gluteus Minimus)
This is the smallest of the glute muscles and it lies underneath Glute Med. It works in conjunction with Glute Med to provide stability to the hip and to help abduct the leg.
As you can see, a weak or poorly performing glute can have a significant injury impact on an athlete.
In good news… the glutes can be trained to not only reduce the risk of injury but to provide a more efficient and powerful performance.
In our next two blogs we will look at:
Exercises to activate the glutes so that they work more effectively and so that they engage at the most appropriate time
Exercises which will strengthen the glutes and provide more power to enhance performance
NOTE: The blog post below comes directly from the British Masters Athletic Federation (www.bmaf.org.au) and can be accessed here: https://rb.gy/c2bpls
I really wanted to share this excellent blog as it covers many of the training misconceptions that I have seen amongst masters athletes (and athletes in general).
Enjoy the read and be sure to check out the BMAF as well.
Ten Athletic Performance Facts For The Master Athlete
#1: Training is not a solution to overeating.
A lot of athletes believe that starting to train will help them lose body fat. Now, it is true that there’s probably no other behavior more important to overall health than exercise, but that doesn’t mean that training will definitely lead to fat loss.
A lot of people do forms of exercise that are straight-up ineffective for fat loss. Or, they inadvertently compensate for the calories burned during workouts by eating more at meals. Or, their crazy stressful lives prevent them from developing habits that make noticeable body composition changes.
If you want to lose body fat, you need to adopt a way of eating that allows you to satisfy hunger without overeating. The right training program can accelerate this fat loss process, but it needs to start with sustainable eating habits that leave you nourished and satisfied.
That’s where higher protein, real food diets that include plenty of vegetables and healthy fat come in—they lead to the release of hunger-reducing hormones and elevate metabolic rate so your body naturally burns more calories daily.
#2: Simplicity and consistency are the most important factors to success.
There is no end to fancy, complicated, and unique ways to design your workouts, but the reality is that if you’re a fitness-minded person, all you need to do is show up, give it a full effort, and train the basic exercises for your discipline.
You could throw in an interval or sled workout twice a week if your goal is fat loss or conditioning, but there’s no need to overcomplicate things with endless exercise variations. And crazy hybrid workouts or training tools that produce diminishing returns have no place in most people’s workout if they have performance or body composition goals.
All you need to do if you want to change your body and improve your overall physical performance is as follows:
Get a written workout plan that fits into your schedule and follow it religiously.
Never skip workouts.
Always give it your full effort. There will always be hard days, but if you give it all you’ve got, these are the days that will make all the difference.
#3: Workout ADD will get you nowhere.
Doing random workouts—lifting one day, a group class the next, and cardio after that—is ineffective if you want to see measurable changes in your athletic performance.
Performance, strength and body composition changes are progressive—they don’t happen after one or two workouts. Gaining strength or getting lean requires you to string together a series of high-quality workouts in which you do similar exercises each time.
The best way to take advantage of this fact is to pick a goal and train using a pre-set workout program that progressively overloads the body. Consistency and focus are key.
#4: You should do weight lifting and cardio in SEPARATE sessions.
One cause of the workout ADD mentioned above is the belief that it’s necessary to do weight training and cardio in the same workout. Packing it all into one session is a nice idea, but this leads to diminishing returns.
You’ll get much better and faster results if you separate weight training and cardio for a few reasons:
Having one training priority per session allows you to approach workouts with focus and drive so that you can get much more out of your efforts.
It keeps workouts short and sweet so that you avoid excessive physical stress and high cortisol.
Studies show it improves hormone response to training and leads you to burn more calories during the 24-hour recovery period after your workout.
Therefore, if your goal is to lose body fat, try 1 to 3 weight workouts a week, and 2 separate sprint interval sessions lasting no longer than 30 minutes.
If your goal is strength or building muscle, all your workouts should be weight-training workouts—there’s no need for cardio.
If you’re training for endurance, like running a 5K, Prioritize cardio and do two separate weight-training workouts a week.
#5: Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts & presses will get you BEST results.
The classic exercises like barbell squats, presses, rows, and deadlifts have become more popular recently, but many people still shy away from these lifts. Whatever the reason for this, everyone should understand that these are fundamental movements that will get you in the best shape of your life.
The master athlete will benefit from planning their workouts around these exercises for the following reasons:
You train more muscle mass in less time.
You can lift more weight and get stronger faster.
You will get a much greater afterburn than with isolation and machine-based lifts.
They have carryover to both daily life and sports.
#6: Sit-ups and isolation ab training are useless for anyone who is overweight.
(This is not necessarily a ‘performance tip’, but everyone wants abs right?) If you’re overweight, ab training, whether you try some magical 15-minute program or do it for 45-minutes a day, will never get you a visible six-pack.
Great abs require two things:
1) You need to have low body fat. Studies show ab training has zero effect on body fat, making it a big timewaster. Instead, adopt a smart diet that leads you to eat fewer calories than you expend, and a workout program that includes weights and intervals.
2) You need to develop the muscles in the abdominals and lower back. The best way to do this is with moderately heavy weight training, using multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, presses, and one or two ab exercises like Garhammer raises or a jackknife.
#7: If it feels easy, it’s not doing anything.
With all the misinformation out there, a lot of people think that all they have to do is show up and muscles will appear.
There’s no need to kill yourself everyday in the gym, but you do have to work hard and give it a full effort if you expect to see changes in your strength or performance.
Unfortunately, most people don’t effectively overload the body. For example, studies show that people sell themselves way short, underestimating the intensity with which they are training by as much as 35 percent.
To optimize the training effect a few things are necessary:
When training with weights, always choose a weight that you can’t lift more than 14 times—this correlates to about 65 percent of the maximal amount you can lift. You can go heavier too, choosing weights that make you reach failure by the 8th, 10th, or 12th rep, depending on if you want to build strength or are training for body composition.
Time all your rest periods. Few people actually time their rest periods, which is a huge mistake because it leads you to waste time and reduces the training effect.
For fat loss, choose rest intervals in the 10 to 60 second range. For strength gains, rest as much as 3 minutes, or do circuit training in which you alternate lower and upper body exercises, taking 1 to 2 minute rest periods.
#8: The mainstream media should never be trusted for workout advice. I repeat; The mainstream media should never be trusted for workout advice.
You’ve heard it all:
“The best way to lose belly fat is with 40 minutes of aerobic cardio.”
“Squats will damage your spine and knees.”
“A 4-minute workout is all you need to get fit.”
This is all useless workout advice. The media is regularly distorting the results of exercise science research in order to give you attention-grabbing, but hopeless recommendations.
The problem isn’t the research studies as much as the fact that the media takes them way out of context. Most people are so confused they do nothing. At best, they leave people with workout ADD so that they switch from one training mode to another, never making any progress.
Get your workout advice from an educated and experienced trainer or another reputable scientific-based source that understands how the human body works.
#9: “Magic bullets” like weight loss supplements almost never work.
There’s no mystery as to how to improve your physique or gain strength.
People just don’t like the answer: Results take consistent training and a smart diet. The magic bullet for fat loss simply doesn’t exist.
You’ll get what you want a lot faster if you accept that successful people are the ones who show up and use their workout time wisely. They figure out a way to eat that allows them to be satisfied with their meals and avoid hunger.
Be consistent and patient. Stay the course. Follow the plan. You will get what you desire.
#10: Exercise will solve many of your problems if you use the best techniques.
Most people are motivated to exercise for aesthetic reasons like fat loss or building muscle. That’s great, but the true power of exercise transcends aesthetics. Check out the following amazing benefits you can get from exercise:
Physical activity reduces cancer risk by lowering inflammation and improving immune function.
Weight training strengthens bone, builds muscle, and reduces belly fat—all factors that help you avoid health complications like high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Exercise improves brain function and learning so you’re smarter during your early years and sane in your golden years.
Working out improves hormone balance and optimizes reproductive health and libido in both genders.
Training helps you sleep, boosts mood and lowers depression and stress.
The hard thing for most people is to figure out what kind of training to do that will give them all of these amazing benefits. Fortunately, you don’t need a complicated lifting program or to spend hours working out.
What you do need is a plan every time you exercise. Your plan should include what exercises you intend to do, weights, and the number of reps, sets, and rest periods.
In addition, interval training in which you intersperse a hard burst of exercise with rest will promote fat loss and boost conditioning.
“With the right mindset you can turn your weaknesses into your strengths”
Since partial lockdowns (due to Covid19) have been announced
I have chatted with a number of athletes whose biggest question is basically “What
am I going to do now?”
Well given the restrictions we face I think the answer is
obvious – use the time to target your physical weaknesses and turn them into
your running strengths.
There are times where we all hit a plateau – where performance
just don’t seem to really improve. Even worse there are times when we seem to be
constantly plagued by niggly injuries that hamper both performance and
enjoyment (think plantar fasciitis, lower back pain, sore hips, Achilles tendonitis).
Runners are really good at saying “I am not fit enough… I
better run more” but quite possibly even larger improvement lies in decreasing
the effect of your physical weaknesses – therefore improving your running
efficiency – saving you energy, making you smoother and … making you faster.
Those that have been following us for a while will know that I passionately believe in the ability of strength training to transform running performance. I have written a number of blogs on this topic. If you haven’t caught up with them the links are below:
Work on the right areas consistently and you will be ready to hit the next parkrun (whenever that may eventually be) in good shape to hit a new PB.
SO WHAT SHOULD I
It’s a matter of getting the “best bang for your buck” – in other words where is my running body weakest and how is it impacting my running. Below are the key areas I would examine – and some suggested exercises you might be able to do at home (with minimal equipment) to focus on them
personal nemesis and focus, therefore, of much of my own training):
Calf Raises – straight leg, bend leg (seated), double leg, single leg,
over a ledge, barefoot
Pogos (straight leg bouncing)
Straight leg rebounds (step of a low box and rebound)
Heel slides – single and double leg
Straight leg bounds
Glute (Max – the power unit of our running)
Hip Bridging – double and single leg
Butterfly Hip Thrusts
Glute (Med – for hip stability)
Side Plank variations: for time – arm &/or
leg movement, raised
Side lying leg raises
Alternating arm arabesques
Plank Variations: for time, elbows to hands,
dolphin, lateral pull throughs, forward pulls, rotating
Bear Walks – forward/backward/lateral
“Dead Ants”: Holds, alternating arm leg lowers,
resisted lowers, same side lowers
Hanging leg lifts
Split Lunge Jumps
This is very far from a complete list but there is a cross
section of very effective exercise from low level to explosive.
HOW SHOULD I USE THE EXERCISES?
Choose your area of weakness
Choose 1-3 exercises that target that area. If
you chose multiple exercises try to choose ones that target the muscle slightly
different from each other
Complete 2-3 sets of 12-15reps.
Progress from double leg to single leg to explosive
as you develop competency and strength through each phase
In strengthening the weakness, start with slow
controlled movement – keeping the muscle under tension for extended periods of
time through the full range of motion. Develop controlled speed as your competency
The final stage is adding explosive movements.
Start with low reps 1-5 and 4-5 sets.
Keep these explosive by not taking reps higher than 8
***Remember this is NOT running conditioning – this is strengthening.
Our aim is to make your weaker muscles more stable, stronger and more dynamic
to improve running efficiency so we can IMPROVE YOUR PARKRUN PB***
When Masters athletes contact us and want to train for sprints they generally fall in to one of four categories:
Never competed before but used to feel pretty
fast “as a kid”
Have been doing parkruns but feel they are
supposed to run faster (and much less distance)
Ran as a youth and/or young adult and want to
get back into it
Currently compete but want to improve (or at least
not slow down as they age)
No matter which category they fall into we look very early
at the effectiveness of their posterior chain.
SO WHAT IS THE
The posterior chain refers to the
muscles are the rear of the body. The Posterior Chain is made of four
major muscle groups:
Posterior chain exercises
involve contracting and lengthening the muscles in a chain like manner
WHY THE POSTERIOR
Hunter Charnesk, the American
Physical Preparation expert, describes the Posterior Chain as the “GO” muscles.
Despite sprinters generally having very impressive physiques, the muscles we
want to develop lie in the power generating engine and not in the “show” muscles.
The key component of that engine is the hips. Power is generated by extension
of the hip muscles to drive foot into the track. The other muscles of the
posterior chain support and sustain control as the hip goes to work.
SO HOW DO
WE DO IT?
We need to build strength in each component of
the posterior chain. As we progress our training will become more explosive. We
also need to ensure that each component of the chain works in synchronicity
with the others to ensure the most efficient flow of power and that we don’t have
Below we have listed some of our key exercises
for developing the posterior chain. To suit each athlete, and to progress or
regress the exercise as needed we can:
range of motion
Roman Chair /45 degree back extension*
Glute – Ham – Calf Raise*
Kettle Bell Swings*
Double leg calf raises (standing and seated)
Single Leg calf raises (standing and seated)
Straight leg rebounds
Any of the above exercise marked with “*”
Reverse hypers (also a great glute exercise)
Bent over rows
Exercise such as the Olympic lifts (and their
derivatives and variations), sled pulls and prowler pushes are means we use in
the gym to develop the co-ordination and efficiency of the posterior chain.