How important is Glute Activation?
Author: Rory Finch
Introduction Through evolution, the Gluteus Maximus (GM) has developed as a means to walk, run, lunge and jump. The GM is a prime extensor and an external rotator of the hip. The importance of GM in sports performance is heavily sourced in Strength & Conditioning (S&C) programming and rehabilitative studies as a means to improve strength, power and lower body locomotion. However, outside of research the importance of GM in isolated programs is often forgotten.
The increase in poor locomotive control, lower back pain and hamstring strains over time has been reported to link to the increase in sedentary lifestyles resulting gluteal amnesia (reduction in size) (Jenkins, 1998, Sahrmann, 2002, Ireland et al., 2003). Although, there is limited research to date that may challenge or agree with these claims. Reduction of GM strength and activation in clinical assessment has been seen to lead to overcompensation the hamstrings (strains), lower back muscles (quadratus lumborum, erector spinae), Lumbar vertebrae disc (irritation/herniation).
The mechanical and architectural structure of the GM The mechanical and architectural structure of the GM holds factors that work hand in hand to explain the function that differs from other muscles. However, the GM has a wider range of motion (ROM) to cover compared to other joints. This suggests that the characteristics of the GM and the make-up of the muscle is unique and highly important to meet the demands of the hip. The physiological cross-sectional area of the GM has long bi-pennate fibre arrangement that packs sarcomere fibre angled in-series from the tendon junction. Neurologically, the GM has a relatively high innervation ratio that links with the high excitability of type IIx fibres (fast twitch) dominant makeup. This means that when stimulated, the more motor units can be switched on at a faster rate thus recruiting more muscle fibres leading to greater force output.
Agreement/disagreement The role of the GM in traditional S&C exercises has recently been investigated of which has instigated research by our therapists. Carpinelli (2008) proposed that the size principle has been interpreted incorrectly following the “lift more to recruit more” motto often scene within gyms and coaches. Moreover, a previous study carried out by Hollmans & Tureke (2016) suggests that weighted exercises do activate a huge amount of GM.
A study recently carried out by one of our therapists investigated the comparison of GM activation across a range of traditional strength and rehabilitation exercises. Furthermore, the results of the study challenged the theory of “lift more to recruit more” and supported Carpinelli's statement. It was evident that GM recruitment was 19% greater in the concentric phase (ascending) in S&C (30%BW) compared to rehab (unweighted) exercises. However, during brief isometric contractions at the peak of each exercise provided 12% more GM activation in rehab exercises compared to S&C exercises.
From the data highlighted above, exercise prescription must follow a similar protocol to ensure recruitment and activation levels are as high as possible. Thus, high activation can result in improved locomotion, posture and gait. Furthermore, the potential to increase in sports performance is hypothesised. Unfortunately, there is no research out there to prove this of which we propose this idea to create a sound training program that can be used within and out of sports.
If you are finding your training plateauing or dealing with pain that is limiting everyday activity be sure to contact us and see how we can get you back on track!