To be able to strengthen the gluteal muscles as a whole, we must target all muscle groups within this region consistently to be able to allow hypertrophy. Contreas (2016), and commonly known as the “Glute Guy” states there are different movements that are going to recruit different muscles in the gluteals: frontal abductions, transverse abductions, rotators, hip drivers, and head drivers. Frontal abduction gluteal exercises involve the standing cable hip abduction, banded side walk, lying band and ankle weight abduction and the off-bench side lying abduction. Transverse abduction exercises such as the banded side lying clamshell and the banded sumo walks are going to target the gluteals in the transverse plane. Rotators such as the cable external rotation are going to involve the abdominals as a stabilizer while activating the gluteus medius. An example of a hip driver exercise would be a barbell hip thrust - which is a huge compound exercise that activates 90% of the gluteal muscles. Head drivers exercises that involve any type of squatting motion, lunge variation or step up (see Figure below).
Even though having strong gluteals is important, the surrounding muscles around this region can be beneficial in providing support and stability to the spine and hip complex. If the glutel muscles ever become strong enough to overpower other muscles group, this can cause other muscles to compensate and this my lead to lower back pain and/or muscle imbalances.
Stretchers, Activators, and Pumpers
In the Figure shown above, you can see that all the exercises listed are colored and differentiated by: stretchers, activators and pumpers. This is segmented by the amount of time each exercise needs to fully recover. Barbell back squats take longer to recover from, because they show moderate gluteal activity, involve a big range of motion, with an emphasis on the eccentric phase and there is peak tension when the gluteals are lengthened. Combine these, and you have a lot of muscle damage, which allows more time for recovery (approx. 3-4 days). The barbell squat would generally be categorized as a stretcher exercise.
The barbell hip thrust would take less time to recover from because the range of motion is smaller, and there is peak tension when the gluteals are maximally shortened. However, the barbell hip thrust involves tremendous gluteal activity (Contreas, 2015) with a heavy-loaded eccentric phase (controlling the movement on the way down). The recovery time for this exercise and all other activator type exercise takes 2-3 days.
Banded side walks have a very small range of motion while gluteal activity is fairly low. This exercise would be determined as a pumper type of exercise. This is because the short range of motion and varying tension on the gluteals allow for more reps to be performed, which causes a lot of metabolic stress on the muscle as opposed to a stretcher exercise that results in a great deal of muscle breakdown.
Frequency and Adherence
Before diving into any strength program, there are many factors that are going to affect the outcome. The number one factor is going to be adherence. Adherence to any training program is going to be important because it is the only way to show results based on consistency. Another significant factor is going to be frequency. A study done by Thomas and Burns (2016) determined the effect of strength training frequency and it’s improvements in lean mass and strength. Seven women and 12 men with strength training experience were and assigned to follow a high frequency (HFT) or low frequency (LFT) training program. The HFT group trained each muscle group as the agonist, 3 times per week, exercising with 3 sets per muscle group per session (3 total body workouts). The LFT group trained each muscle group as the agonist one time per week, completing all 9 sets during that one workout. LFT protocol consisted of a routine split over three days: 1) pectoralis, deltoids, and triceps; 2) upper back and biceps; 3) quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and abdominals. Both of these groups would adhere to their training programs for a total of eight weeks. The results of this study demonstrate that both High Frequency Training (three sets on three occasions per week) and Low Frequency Training (nine sets, on one occasion per week) produced similar improvements in lean mass and strength in these 19 active, men and women, following an eight week training period. It is recommend that coaches and exercise professionals could use both training frequencies within a periodized training program to increase lean mass and in strength in athletes and/or individuals striving for this particular goal.
Inactivity, injuries, and muscle imbalances are the three main causes to weakness in the gluteal muscles. Weakness in this area can decrease athletic performance and cause lower back and joint pain in athletes and sedentary individuals. An increase in physical activity and consistent strength training will increase the strength in the gluteals and fix these issues. The best exercises to strengthen the gluteals involve isometric contractions, compounds movements, and bilateral and unilateral movements. Perhaps coaches, exercise specialists, and physical therapists can incorporate gluteal strength training for their athletes and clients who strive to be stronger and healthier individuals.
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