Speed & Agility Training Zone!

Train the Gluteal Muscles to Fire More Effectively

By Bill Parisi CSCS, Founder Parisi Franchise Systems Inc.
Co-Author: Dr. Joe Camisa PT, DPT CSCS ACSM EP-C

Research by several authors has shown that the level of neural connectivity and the ability to recruit the gluteal muscles is minimal, compared to that of many other muscle groups in the body. This can be illustrated by viewing a picture of the Homunculus, which depicts a person whose body part size corresponds to the amount of space occupied in the motor cortex of the brain for muscle groups in that area.

The term "Gluteal Amnesia," was coined by a famous clinician, Dr. Vladimir Janda, who believed that from being sedentary, as well as following injury to the hips or low back, the gluteal muscles will become inhibited and essentially go to sleep (A.K.A. "sleeping giant syndrome"). Dr. Janda argued that when the gluteus maximus is inhibited one will excessively call upon the hamstrings, posterior fibers of adductor magnus and the lumbar extensors to help generate hip extension force. This was proven with hard science by Dr. Stuart McGill, a world renowned Ph. D. in biomechanics and leading expert in the world of spine injury, spine rehab and core performance training. Insufficient recruitment or poor hip extension motor control can lead to hamstring strains, adductor magnus strains (sometimes referred to as high hamstring strains) and low back injuries.

Excessive gluteal muscle atrophy is common in many older adults. As we age and become more sedentary, most people are not routinely thinking about or training to fire their gluteals. Additionally, because of the gluteus maximus’ key role in athletics with sprinting (hip extension) and change of direction (hip external rotation), inhibition to this muscle will hinder performance on the field.

Athletes should generate a considerable portion of their hip extension power for sprinting from the gluteals. The hamstrings and adductor magnus act as synergists to the glutes, meaning they assist them in performing hip extension in the sprinting stride. The lumbar extensors are isometrically active, along with other core muscles to tune the abdominal brace and resist motion at the spine. This minimizes energy leaks for greater power output at the hips and into the ground. Therefore, if the glutes are inhibited in any way, overall hip extension power and speed are reduced. Moreover, the erector spinae will likely alter their role from spinal stabilizer to compensatory lumbar extensor, in an effort to increase displacement of the femur behind the torso.

Compensation will also occur from the hip extension synergists (adductor magnus and hamstrings), which will be forced to pick up the slack and work overtime. The core muscles should always be active to stop spinal movement and strength in all the hip extensors. This is vital for success with basic movement patterns, as well as high-level athletic tasks, such as sprinting. The gluteals though are like the Marines for hip extension; they go in first and should be the prime mover with assistance from the other branches (adductor magnus and hamstrings) when reinforcements are needed.

So if you are already working on gluteal firing with clients, then give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. However, if you have someone with chronic hamstring strains for example, and you are only focusing on improving strength at the hamstrings, you may not be addressing the actual cause of the problem. Assuring adequate recruitment and strength in the gluteal muscles will both prevent and help allow recovery from injury at the hamstrings, as well as the adductor and low back.

Look out for our video next month where we go over some strategies on how to achieve success with gluteal firing and recruitment for functional tasks. We will cover preliminary ways to bias the gluteals for correcting faulty hip extension/rotation motor patterns, as well as progression to gluteal firing and postural control specific for sprinting.

For more information about Bill Parisi and the Parisi Speed School, check out ParisiSchool.com.

(August 2016)