Me and a Mat – Glute Edition

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Why should we make training our glutes a priority?

The gluteal muscles are comprised of the Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus.  They work in sync to produce movements of the hip as well as stabilize the pelvis during forward mobilization (walking, running, climbing, etc.).  Aside from the aesthetic feature of having a nice backside, your glutes serve a variety of functional purposes and when you train them appropriately and regularly you will reap the benefits.

Improved athletic performance: Your gluteal muscles generate a large amount of power. The Gluteus Maximus alone is the largest and one of the strongest muscles in the human body. Working and strengthening them regularly can increase your agility, add to your vertical jump, allow you to cycle for greater distances, and make it easier to lift heavier amounts of weight. To put it simply, a well-trained backside can be the key to functioning at maximum capacity for optimum output.

Minimize lower back pain: In a society where many of us spend most of our day in a seated position, sometimes we forget the detriment that this puts on our lower back until we feel the side effects. When the glutes aren’t conditioned appropriately, they are unable to perform their hip extension function properly. That being said, muscles that were not anatomically designed for this purpose will take over and over time become overstressed and strained causing pain and compression in the lumbar spine. Strong glutes support the lower back and minimize your risk of lower back pain.

Decreased injury: Since our glutes provide stabilization to our hips, when we do not exercise our glutes, our entire lower body can become out of alignment. When we consistently activate our glutes we are minimizing the risk of injury to our bodies.

The great news about training your glutes is that you don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment to have an effective workout.  In fact, all you really need is yourself and an exercise mat! Tryout some of these simple, yet effective exercises.  Research variations once the basics become too easy for you!

Beginner

Donkey Kicks

To position yourself for the donkey kick, start on all fours with your knees directly beneath your hips and your hands shoulder-width apart below you. Make sure your palms are firmly planted on the mat and your hips are pressed towards the floor. Keeping the knee bent close to a ninety-degree angle and the foot flexed, kick one leg back and drive your heel up toward the ceiling. Do this motion 15-20 times and switch to other leg, Repeat 3 times.

Tip: Try this exercise with a resistance band to further strengthen your backside!

Glute Bridge 

To position yourself for the glute bridge, lie face-up with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Rest your arms to your sides with palms face down on the mat. Raise your hips straight up off the ground towards the ceiling, engaging glutes and bracing your core. Lower down slowly, creating your own resistance.  Do this motion 15-20 times. Repeat 3 times.

Tip: Try the exercise with weight!  I typically use a barbell or a 25 lb plate.

Fire Hydrant

To position yourself for the fire hydrant, start on all-fours, placing your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Make sure your palms are firmly planted on the mat and your hips are pressed towards the floor. Keep both feet flexed. Raise one leg out to the side, keeping the knee bent ninety degrees. Lift it as high as you can while keeping your arms straight and your hips pressed downward. Do this motion 15-20 times and switch to the other leg.  Repeat 3 times.

Tip: Keep your head down while performing this exercise to avoid arching your back.

Basic Squat 

To position yourself for a basic squat, start standing with your legs a bit wider than shoulder-length apart, hips stacked over knees, and knees over ankles. Push out your chest as to pull your back away from your ears. You may position your arms parallel to the floor, at a ninety degree angle with hands clasped, or closer to the chest with hands clasped (as pictured). Unlock your hips and ease back into the squat as your knees begin to bend. While you stick your back end out, make sure your chest and shoulders stay upright.  Keep your head straight forward to ensure the spine is aligned.  Go as deep into the squat as your body allows, keeping the weight of your body back on your heels. Explode back up from squatted position and repeat motion 15- 20 times. Repeat 3 times.

Tip: Try squatting with weighted objects to further strengthen your base.  I typically use a medicine ball or kettlebell.

Intermediate

Single Leg Hip Lift

To position yourself for the single leg hip lift, lay on your back, knees bent, feet hip-width distance apart. Rest your arms to your sides with palms face down on the mat. Squeeze glutes to lift hips towards the ceiling and hold. Raise your right leg straight towards the ceiling and hold.  Bring leg down and lower hips to the ground. Repeat on the other side. Do each side 10-15 times. Repeat 3 times.

Optional – When hips and leg have been raised and held, reach your opposite arm on a high diagonal across your body, keeping hips straight (no twisting). Place arm back at side position and lower leg and hips.

Tip: Do not let your backside sink towards the floor between motions.  Keep hips thrust upward toward the ceiling at all times.

Side Lunge Shift

To position yourself for the side lunge shift, step your right foot to the side, send your hips back, keeping chest up and forward, and bend your right knee to lower into a side lunge. Keep your arms close to chest as pictured if you are not using any weight. Keeping your body low, shift to the other side, so your left knee is bent, and right leg is straight. Push off of your left heel to shift body weight back to right leg. Shift to each side 10-15 times. Repeat 3 times.

Tip: To get the most out of this exercise, lean into your lunge as much as your body allows. Try using light dumbbells!

Advanced

Bear Plank Leg Lift

To position yourself for the bear plank leg lift, start in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked above your wrists, and your body in a straight line. Lift your right leg and bend the knee ninety degrees, bringing your heel toward your butt. Keeping your foot flexed, squeeze your glutes, and raise your right heel up toward the ceiling. Pause, then bring your right knee back to meet your left knee to complete one rep. Do this 10-15 times, each leg. Repeat 3 times.

Tip: If you are having difficulty with balancing in a high plank position, try a low plank on your elbows.

Rainbow

To position yourself for the rainbow, begin on all-fours with your knees hip-width apart and your wrists stacked over your shoulders. With your toe pointed outward, extend your right leg and reach your foot toward the ceiling. Slowly lower your leg to tap the floor. Squeeze your glutes as you lift the leg back to starting position, then lower the leg to tap the floor about a foot to the left of your kneeling foot. Return to starting position to complete the motion. Do this 10-15 times fore each leg. Repeat 3 times.

Tip: To assist with balance, keep your core tight and hips gravitated towards the floor.

Single-Leg Deadlift

To position yourself for the single-leg deadlift start in a standing position with feet close together, arms at your sides. Shift your weight to  your right leg, slightly bending your knee. Keep your back flat as you hinge forward at the hips into a deadlift, sending left leg back behind you and arms dangling below you. Only lower as far as you can without curving your back or bending your right leg too much. Use your right hamstrings and glute to stand. Repeat on the other side. Do this 8-10 times for each side.  Repeat 3 times.

Tip: Use light dumbbells to pull deeper into the stretch. They will also assist in balance and keeping good form.

Share your favorite glute exercises below!

Be Well,

Tori

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