Image Source: EliteTrack.com
If you spend a lot of time seated, or if you travel a lot in vehicles or in airplanes, then this post is for you.
Also, if you are an athlete and your sport requires you to be able to perform powerful movements with the lower body, like jumping and bounding, then this post is for you.
In addition if you run, whether in sprinting fashion or distance, then this post is for you.
And if you participate in strength sports or feats of strength, then this post is for you as well because today I am going to show you how you can get more power out of your glutes which will lead to better striding power when running, better leaping and jumping power, and better executtion of posterior chain strength movements such as deadlifts, cleans, throws, and braced bends.
Importance of the Glute Muscles to Sport, Strength and Power Movements
Your Glutes are some of the most powerful muscles in your body.
They are heavily involved in Power Movements like jumping and sprinting as well as directional changes.
Unfortunately, if you spend a lot of time sitting down, then you might be making your Glute strength disappear.
You see, when you are seated, your hips remain in a flexed position. Over time this joint angle at the hip can cause the hip flexors to shorten and tighten.
The image above from Human Kinetics shows the relationship between the front of the body and the rear. With tight hip flexors, generally comes weak lower abdominals and conversely, the muscles on the opposite side, the lower lumbar muscles and the glutes get weakened and can’t do what they are meant to do.
When the hip flexors shorten like this and become tight, they can actually hinder the amount of power your glutes can generate because they will keep your hips from extending correctly in the movements we mentioned earlier, such as jumping, running and other unilateral and power movements.
To illustrate this a bit better, imagine trying to jump up in the air, but attached to your waistline is a chain on either side, connecting you to the floor, and just as you are about to really get some drive going, the chains hit their maximum length and won’t allow you to explode. That is kind of what is going on when you have tight hip flexors.
Two of the main reasons to address this issue are stretching the hip flexors and activating the glutes.
Understanding the Hip Flexors
In the image above, you can see where the hip flexors are located, and where they attach. A lot of people don’t realize the actual articulations of the hip flexors.
Origins: The Psoas major originates along the lateral surfaces of the vertebral bodies of T12 and L1-L5 and their associated intervertebral discs. The Psoas minor, which presents in only some 40 percent of the population, originates at the transverse processes of L1-L5. The Iliacus originates in the Iliac fossa of the pelvis
Insertions: Psoas major unites with iliacus at the level of the inguinal ligament and crosses the hip joint to insert on the lesser trochanter. The Psoas minor inserts at the iliopectineal arch, the thickened band at the iliac fascia which separates the muscular lacuna from the vascular lacuna. femoral nerve, L1, L2
Common Hip Flexor Stretches
For individuals who have tight hip flexors, one of the ways to correct the situation is with stretching. Below is a commonly used stretch and some slight variations in order to intensify it.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
One common Hip Flexor stretch is the kneeling hip flexor stretch. Just getting into a position like what is shown above is not good enough, however. You must keep the torso upright and as you move forward, keep the pressure directed into the hip flexor muscles themselves. Improper angling here can result in stretching the quad. The quad originates on the ilium so its path is similar to the hip flexors. Not that there’s anything wrong with stretching the quad, but the purpose of this stretch is the hip flexor.
With Arm Raised
This stretch can also be intensified by raising the arm on the same side as the leg being stretched.
With Foot Elevated
As your flexibility increases, the rear foot can also be elevated to increase the stretch on the hip flexor and the quad as well.
Again, this is just one stretch that you can do for the hip flexors, along with a few modifications. In a bit I am going to show you another exercise to try that actually stretches my hip flexor even better while activating the glutes at the same time.
How to Activate the Glutes
When tightness on one side of the body inhibits a muscle on the opposite side of the body, we often have to retrain the muscle to fire properly. In the case of Glutes that have been shut down, the athlete has probably learned to use the hamstrings and muscles of the lower back to provide the force needed for hip extension. We have to get the body back in tune by training the Glutes to fire when they are supposed to.
Perhaps the most common of Glute activation exercises is the glute bridge. This movement can be done with one or two legs, and can be modified by extending a leg or by adding resistance, such as chains.
Quadruped Hip Extension
Quadruped refers to being on all fours. One leg is then lifted upwards by means of the Glutes. Very simple to perform, but attention must be put forth not to cheat or use momentum.
Named after a dog lifting its leg to mark a fire hydrant, I learned this movement from Joe Defranco, and in particular, I learned that you don’t half-ass this movement (sorry for the pun, but I had to). The way I heard Joe describe this movement is to imagine you’re sneaking into a house through a very large window. Perform the exercise by carefully pulling the hip around the full range of motion, slowly and deliberately. Doing the exercise like this REALLY helps you feel it. Don’t just go through the motions.
How to Do Both at the Same Time
There is absolutely plenty of value in performing the above exercises. I have done all of them and they have worked for me in varying degrees.
However, recently, when shooting footage for a DVD on Braced Bending, I stumbled onto an exercise that actually is highly effective at stretching the hip flexors while getting an extremely intense contraction from the glutes. In fact, of all the Glute exercises I’ve ever tried, none of them can compare to the heightened contraction of this maneuver.
I call this move the Knee Driver, because I was using it to demonstrate the initial kink used when braced bending things like steel bars, wrenches and other odd objects. In the initial kink, you use the strength of your glute to drive your knee into the bar to get it to bend, thus the Knee Driver.
My apologies for the poor quality video. I had changed the settings
by accident and did not realize it was so grainy until I uploaded it.
For me, I have never felt a Glute Exercise that caused such a deep and hard contraction of my Glute Muscles. I mean, this exercise balled my glute up so tightly when I first tried it that I could not believe it, plus it stretched my hip flexors at the same time, and I have done it just about every workout since then in order to get my Glutes ready to go.
I like to perform this exercise for two sets with each leg and to do at least 6 to 8 good solid contractions per set. I don’t even bother with a lot of the other glutes exercises I used to do, because the contractions pale in comparison to what I get out of the Knee Driver.
I encourage you to give this a try and report back what you have found and how it compares to other exercises you have tried.
All the best in your training.
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