Unconventional Glute Training

Functional training has gotten a bad rap within the last few years.

To many, it paints a picture of inventive trainers utilizing a wide range of unorthodox training toys, such as Bosu balls or other instability devices, while their client performs a bunch of goofy-looking exercises.

In reality, functional simply means training the body as it is intended to move outside of the four-walled confines of the gym.

When it comes to training the glutes, being armed with the knowledge of their various functions is one of the best weapons in combating weakness, dysfunction and flabbiness.

I don’t know about you, but that third reason alone is good enough to make me want to train optimally.

In this article, we’ll discuss the anatomy and role of the three muscles that collectivelly make up what we know as the “glutes”; the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus.

The gluteus maximus is by far the most powerful of the three. It originates from the posterior gluteal line, a rough landmark on the ilium (one of the bones that make up the pelvis), as well as the back of the sacrum, the sacrotuberous ligament and the thoracolumbar fascia. The fibers of this muscle are directed downward and laterally, inserting onto the iliotibial band as part of the tensor fascia lata, as well as the greater trochanter of the femur.

Posterior view of the GMax, GMed and GMin

Concentrically, the gluteus maximus assists in hip extension, external rotation, abduction and adduction. The upper fibers of the gluteus maximus are in charge of externally rotating the femur (turning your leg outwards or away from the midline of your body) and hip abduction, while the lower fibers aid in hip adduction. Isometrically, the GMax helps stabilize the knee via the illiotibial band. It also adds stability to the sacroiliac joint via its attachment to the thoracolumbar fascia.

The gluteus medius is located deep to the gluteus maximus. It originates from the anterior gluteal line on the ilium and the gluteal aponeurosis, inserting into the greater trochanter of the femur. It serves to externally and internally rotate the femur, as well as aid in hip abduction and extension.

As you’ll see, the gluteus medius is also known to play a huge role in stabilizing the pelvis during gait and unilateral activities.

Lastly, we have the gluteus minimus, the smallest of the bunch. This fan-shaped muscle sits below the gluteus medius, originating from between the anterior and inferior gluteal lines (of the ilium) and inserting at the greater trochanter of the femur. Its actions are similar to the gluteus medius: hip internal rotation, hip abduction, pelvic stability.

Look Good, Move Better

Your glutes are the most powerful muscle group in your body. Together, they make you run, jump, land, sprint, shuttle, and throw faster.

They contribute to trunk stability through their insertion into the thoracolumbar fascia, allowing force to be transmitted more efficiently between your upper and lower extremities. 

Yet, despite their impressive roles in sports and training, the importance of the glutes extends far beyond improved athletic performance.

In fact, many of the most common pathologies that arise in the gym or in the field can be tracked down to weak or dysfunctional glutes.

When glute function is impaired, other muscles must work overtime to compensate for their lackluster performance. 

Take the muscles of your lower back, for example. A loaded hip hinge places stress on the powerful hip extensors (gluteus maximus, hamstrings) while recruiting the spinal extensors as stabilizers.

In the case of weak, atrophied glutes, or poor movement patterns, the spinal extensors will take on most of the load, which can eventually lead to lower back disabilities such as muscle strains or herniated discs.

The SI joint, a significant joint for load transfer, is located between your sacrum and ilium of the pelvis. The gluteus maximus, together with the latissimus dorsi and other global trunk stabilizers, contributes to its stability. A dysfunctional SI joint can result in chronic low-back pain, loss of mobility, and other more severe conditions over time.

The gluteus medius and minimus (also known as the hip stabilizers) play a vital role in lower-body joint stability.

The ability of the knee cap to sustain a centered position within the knee joint is facilitated by these two gluteal muscles. When they’re weak or inhibited, the knee cap may deviate laterally, resulting in patello-femoral syndrome.

Weak glutes can also contribute to instability at the ankle joint, which can potentially lead to inversion ankle sprains and Achilles tendinopathy.

Below are some of my favourite exercises to build a bullet-proof backside that will keep you training injury-free for longer.

Airborne Lunge

The Airborne Lunge is much easier to learn and perform than a pistol squat, but it provides the same benefits of single-leg training, such as strengthening the hip stabilizers, as well as decreasing the bilateral strength deficit.

Let me preface by saying this exercise can be pretty challenging at first, so make sure that you’ve developed enough proficiency in other single-leg squat variations like bulgarian split-squat and lunges.

There are many ways to master this exercise. My preferred method is by working with a low box of a desired height depending on your desired range of motion (this will come down to proficiency with the movement, as well as mobility restrictions.

You can also incorporate eccentric-only sets into your training, which will allow you to overload the target muscles while increasing single-leg strength and stability.

Regardless of the variation you choose, you will certainly feel your glutes working to keep your knee in line, as well as to extend your hip.

Loading this movement with the landmine set-up can also help with its execution. The landmine itself can be used as a counterbalance, and leaning slightly into the bar can help on the descent. 

Glute-focused Step-ups

Step-up are often either underrated or butchered to the point of deeming the exercise futile.

The whole premise of its effectiveness lies in pushing through with the working leg, so whenever I see people using their back leg to get an off-the-floor boost I shake my head in discontent.

For that reason, I recommend sticking to a box height that allows for the working leg to do all the work.

Bringing the supporting leg further back and leaning forward so that your torso angle matches you leg will switch the focus from the quadriceps to the glutes and hamstrings. Make sure to control the eccentric to really hammer on the eccentric-loading benefits.

Chaos Single-leg RDL

Adding instability to your lower-body training is a great way to fire up the hip stabilizers. The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a tough unilateral hinge variation as is, with room for modification depending on your specific weakness.

Having the support leg on a band is more challenging than placing it on a bench, but less challenging than a free-standing single-leg deadlift.

The band oscillations really force you to hone in on the execution of the lift, making this a tremendously effective exercise for targeting the hip stabilizers and hip extensors.

Focus on proper foot positioning; this will help with balance the most. Activate the tripod foot and make sure to limit your range of motion so that you are only hinging at the hips, but not flexing your spine.

Drive through the entire foot, making sure to engage the glutes at the top without hyperextending the lower back.

Eccentric-overload Single-leg Hip Thrust

I’m a huge fan of eccentric training, but that’s a topic for another article. I decided to include this exercise on the list for the following reasons:

  • Eccentric overloading allows you to build eccentric strength, which can lead to muscle gains in the target musculature. Even if you’re not strong enough to load single-leg hip thrusts, you can still reap the benefits of overload with this approach, so long as your technique is on point.
  • A lot of lifters struggle to feel their glutes working in the single-leg hip thrust. This top-loaded, eccentric-only variation allows the lifter to slow down the lift, which tends to help with mind-muscle connection and overall execution.

You’ll want to go much, much lighter than just half of your regular hip thrust weight. I suggest starting out with just the bar to get a feel for the movement. Having your feet closer together also helps with stability.

Push through both feet as you normally would, then bring one knee up while keeping your hips leveled. Aim to lower the weight in a slow and controlled fashion: time under tension is key here, so take at least 2-3 seconds on the way down.

Side Plank Hip Abduction

There are numerous hip abduction exercises to choose from, but this side plank variation is a favourite of mine due to its ability to target both the lateral trunk musculature, as well as the hip abductors on both sides (though the bottom leg is favoured).

Aim to keep a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, and keep both legs stacked as you perform the abduction.

Dead-stop RDL

A glute-training article would be incomplete without some variation of bilateral hip extension.

Enter the dead-stop RDL.

This variation of a Romanian deadlift allows you to get the same benefits from a regular RDL, plus a few.

By initiating the rep from the bottom, you effectively reduce the assistance you get from the stretch-reflex cycle, which means you’re using less momentum to lift the weight back up.

Additionally, by restricting the movement to a set range of motion and controlling the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift, you’re forced to stay tight throughout, which puts your lower back in a safer position and in turn anihilates your hamstrings and glutes.

Be mindful of your technique but as explosive as you can on the concentric.

I hope this article shed some light on what the role of the glutes are in training and sports, as well as some unconventional ways in which you can enhance their strength, shape and functionality.

About The Author

Barbara M.

Since 2013, Barbara has been helping women of all fitness backgrounds get stronger, leaner and more confident, both inside and outside the gym.

Her passion lies in educating, empowering and encouraging women to find out what they’re capable of, and more.

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