Glute Activation and Strengthening: Ask the Trainer

Let's talk about asses, shall we?

Feet don't fail me n... oh. Never mind.

 So the question for this installment of Ask The Personal Trainer is:

What's the deal with "glute activation," is something you work with people on? And if so, why is important and what's your approach?

"Glute activation" was a term I'd been hearing tossed around on various websites, and curious about the difference between active and lazy asses, and how to have one of the former rather than the latter, I thought I'd ask a couple of our trusty personal trainers.  Plus, I'll weigh in, just 'cause I have an ass  myself and it's my blog.

So, what is glute activation and how does one build a better butt?

Can't I Just Pay These Guys?

First up we have...

Chris Kelly!

[Chris Kelly is a fitness writer and personal training studio owner. He specializes in quick and effective workout routines to fit fitness/nutrition in to a busy schedule. Check out his blog at Peak Wellness online.]

In discussions around my gym, the glutes are referred to as the "money maker" by the majority of my clients. By this, I mean that I feel the size and muscularity of one's posterior region is a direct indicate of health, strength and overall bad-ass-ness.

The glutes act as the work horse for virtually any activity which involves movement of the pelvis--from bending over to pick something up to sprinting across a soccer field.

If the glutes are weak or inhibited, other muscles such as the hamstrings (back of the leg muscles) and spinal erectors (low back) are forced to do more work to produce the same movements. Because these muscles are not meant to perform this task, we often get strains and chronic pain in these areas-- not to mention looking flabby in a two piece.

For trainers, this means the idea of "glute activation" has become popular in the last few years as we have become a more sedentary society. But the question everyone is asking is how can we wake up the butt (or money maker) to get the best return on exercise investment?

Here is a step by step process (click on each step for a video):

1. Perform this glute testing exercise  to see if your glutes are actually weak. If you cramp in your hamstrings or are unable to hold the pelvis up, it is an indication you are dealing with some degree of glute weakness/inhibition.
2. Stretch the hip flexors  (muscles which get tight and turn the glutes off).
3. Perform this bridge exercise to activate your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds and grab your butt to ensure these muscles are contracting and firing versus the hamstrings.
4. Perform this exercise progression to strengthen your glutes.

I will also add the best reference for getting a great butt is my colleague Bret Contreras. Known as the "glute guy," Bret is something of a mad scientist when it comes to the glutes and trains a litany of women from top figure competitors to stay at home moms.

What I really like about Bret is he has carved out his results by getting women strong in basic lifts such as the squat, deadlift and hip lift while down playing the dogma of excessive cardio training. After getting over the initial shock of watching women hip lift several hundred pounds, you will likely find hours of fun/torture in his approach.

And next up it's...

Dave Smith!

[Dave Smith is a personal trainer who specializes in quick and effective body weight exercise routines that can be done anywhere, anytime - Check him out at]

I am definitely a butt-man! (meaning of course that I do think it's important to focus on glute strengthening). Here are two important reasons why "glute activation" deserves some extra attention:

1. Glutes = Core. Core training is often thought to be synonymous with ab exercises but this is only partially true. Your "core" is just that - it's the middle section of your body. That means it includes your stomach, lower back, and hips. Training this area is crucial because all movement originates from our core.

For example, think about running and quickly tell me what body parts are required for this simple movement. Legs - yes, but before the legs are even involved, a running stride is initiated from the hips. We don't really think of it this way because our core muscles are relatively stationary while our legs and arms are the body parts that are obviously in motion.

Glutes are part of the core. In fact, the glutes are also a key player in a running stride. Once your foot contacts the ground it's a combination of your glutes, hamstrings, and quads that create an explosive movement to push your body forward. Long story short - Glutes are part of every movement because glutes reside in the core of the body.

2. Weak Glutes = Injury. Weak glutes create a missing link in many movements. The slack must be picked up somewhere so our bodies quickly begin to compensate by using other muscles (often the hamstrings and lower back). This can result in tight muscles and eventually injury.

Training Your Glutes

Watch this common exercise, but notice a few key points that will help target the glutes more effectively.

And finally we have...
Crabby McSlacker!

[Crabby is a Health and Fitness blogger, but sadly, has never gotten around to sculpting a nice ass.  It's on her "Must Do Soon" list, which means she will get to it by about 2024... by which time said ass will probably reside somewhere south of her knees.]

I can't remember where I first heard the term "glute activation." But the notion was vaguely alarming. Could my glute muscles be sitting around (so to speak) just waiting to be the gym or on the trail or even in the supermarket, yet feeling too shy and inhibited to show up for the party?  Afraid to step into the spotlight, nudged aside by other more confident muscles like quads who feel like they get to takeover whenever they feel like it, even if the poor wallflower glutes would do a way better job of it?

Well, I never got official about testing anything, and I was too lazy to embark on a whole glute strengthening program, but one thing I did experiment with that I'd like to pass on:

Think About Your Ass.

Weirdly, the more I do this in a variety of exercisey situations, the more I find the glutes are feeling more spunky and confident and are pitching in more than they used to.

I already make a spectacle of myself at the gym, so while the sight of me occasionally slapping my own butt on the elliptical or giving it a quick squeeze as I slide into a leg press machine might look odd, it's no weirder than my silently screaming along to my playlist or dancing on the treadmill or any number of other strange things I do there.

I even notice a biomechanical difference just by remembering to stick the ol' hiney out a bit more than I used to whenever I bend over, whether it's to pick up a heavy weight at the gym, or just re-test the validity of the five second rule when I toss my lunchtime salad too enthusiastically.

One odd thing: sometimes I'll catch the right side sleeping while the left side is working just fine.  A quick grab or slap and I can turn the other cheek... on. (Sorry!)

So what about you guys, what do you think about your butts, are they strong and active?

Statue: Thomas
Butt construction: animalkitty

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