Activating the Glutes – Wednesday Wisdom

Continuing in this series of articles, this week we are going to look at how activation exercises can be when performed before explosive lifts such as kettlebell swings, barbell and functional bag explosive lifts such as high pulls and other Olympic lifting variations.

As you are aware, one the fundamental principles that the FTI cover in the one-day mobility course, is the importance of activating our crucial stabiliser muscle groups with simple floor and body weight exercises before commencing a functional training workout. In a recent study, researchers from St Mary’s University in Twickenham, UK evaluated the effect of gluteal activation exercise on the performance of an explosive barbell high pull.

In this study, a group of elite male rugby union players performed either an isolated gluteal activation exercise (prone plank with hip extension) or a compound activation exercise (squats and lunges) before performing an explosive high-pull. Using surface electromyography to track the levels of glutes and hamstring activation, the researchers observed a trend towards increased force in the gluteus maximus and hamstrings during the explosive barbell high pull following the isolated glute activation exercise (prone plank + hip extension) but not in the compound activation exercises (squats and lunges). What these results suggest is first, isolated activation exercises such as the supine hip extension and in this case, a plank + hip extension may be more effective choices when prescribing pre-workout activation exercises. The researchers speculate that the reason pre-activation exercises increase neural drive during explosive compound lifts such as the barbell high pull is due to an increase corticomotor excitability in the brain, which then primes gluteal performance in the following exercise.

The results of this study, also support the theory that neural drive can be enhanced with activation exercises before explosive exercise performance by prescribing isolated glute activation exercises. Applying these results may help your client will experience enhanced exercise performance. Perhaps more importantly, for those clients suffering from gluteal amnesia (inability to activate their glutes), these results strongly support the use of pre-workout activation exercises as a method of increasing muscle recruitment and movement quality during functional exercise.

Reference:

  1. Parr, M., Price, P. D., & Cleather, D. J. (2017). Effect of a gluteal activation warm-up on explosive exercise performance. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 3(1).

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