Training the Hips & Glutes for Sports Performance
Derriere, buttocks, or buns whatever you like to call it, this area of the body is clearly identified by its location.
Its official name is the "glutes" or gluteals. In athletic performance, strong "hips and glutes" are of upmost importance. However, it's not just strength that must be considered when training the hips and glutes. Flexibility and stability also play an important role in helping the athlete achieve a high level of performance, and these areas are often a neglected part of one's training program. I've trained a lot of athletes who had great hip strength but lacked the flexibility and stability to move on the field or court.
Before we go any further, let's look first at three main muscles that drive the hip:
- The gluteus maximus
- The gluteus medius
- The gluteus minimus
The "gluteus maximus" is the biggest muscle of the buttocks. Its main function is to extend the hip. When an athlete is running and the knee is coming up to the chest, this is called knee flexion. Hip extension is just the opposite. Hip extension is when the hip and glutes are driving the force down through the ground and back to propel
the athlete forward.
The "gluteus medius" lies under the gluteus maximus near the hip. Its main function is to hold the pelvis upright when walking and especially when running. That's why when you walk, run, or even sprint for long periods of time you can become sore in this area. Also, the gluteus medius is activated to a greater degree when performing single-leg movements (more later on this).
The "gluteus minimus" lies under and assists the glute medius in most movements, especially in rotating the hip joint inward, such as when one brings the knees together.
Your hip joint is one of the main reasons you need the glutes at all. This joint is where the thigh bone,or femur, attaches to the pelvis. Something has to move the hip joint, and your glutes are an important part of this task. It's important to know how the glutes move the hip joint - especially when seeking to improve athletic performance.
Everyone knows the importance of squats and squat variations such as front squats to work the hips. There are also power cleans and hang cleans plus Olympic lifts for explosiveness, but these are all bilateral (both legs) movements. On the other hand, anatomical evidence for single-leg (unilateral) movements is overwhelming for improving performance. I must point out, however, that besides single-leg movements being great for isolating the hips, they are also great for helping to prevent knee injuries.
So what's an athlete to do when selecting exercises to promote hip and glute strength, explosiveness, stability, and flexibility? A general rule is "choose single-leg movements over doubleleg movements but neglect neither." With the athletes and personal training clients that I train at the Epicenter Sports Performance Facility, for the most part I'll train bilateral leg exercises the first workout of the week, then the next workout later on that week will consist
of single-leg movements.
Earlier I talked about how important the gluteus medius is when doing single-leg movements. This is because the gluteus medius plays a big role in stabilizing the hips, and with singleleg movements body weight becomes a very important part of the resistance. An athlete learning to control his or her own body weight is a precursor to doing heavy bilateral leg work.
Some of the single-leg exercises we use at the Epicenter:
The Unsupported Single-Leg Squat (Fig. 1). When performing this movement, be sure to take the hips and glutes back as if you were sitting in a chair, and keep the knee in line with the second and third toe.
The Supported Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (Fig. 2). On this movement make sure to keep the chest and shoulders up, back, and over the hips.
The Single-Leg Dead Lift (Fig. 3). When performing this exercise, you must try to keep the entire back from the cervical spine to the sacrum as straight as possible.
The previous exercises are all great for strength and stabilization; however, earlier I talked also about flexibility. I know many athletes who can squat over 500 pounds but can't move as they should on the football field, or they can't get down when they run a 20-yard shuttle because of tight hips!
The following exercise can help with flexibility:
Hip-Overs, Or Around The World (Fig. 4). This shows how we do the exercise using a foam-roll that's 351/2 inches tall. Athletes can turn sideways at the foam-roll with the ankle going over and back 25 to 50 times, or the athlete can face the foam-roll having the hips and leg going forward and back another 25 to 50 times. This creates a lot of Range of Motion (ROM), plus this movement is not only in the sagital plane but also in the frontal and transverse planes.
NOTE: If you are 45 or older, performing double-leg (bilateral) back squats can be stressful on the lower back. This is where single-leg (unilateral) squatting can be effective in taking the stress off the lumbar area and putting it directly on the hips and glutes.
The Case for Single-Leg Training, Mike Boyle
The Ultimate Glutes, Ron Brown