Buttocks. Booty. Buns. Behind. Whatever you like to call it, this area of the body is always a point of fitness focus. The official name is the glutes or gluteals.
Strong hips and glutes are critically important in athletic performance. However, it’s not just strength that must be considered during training. Flexibility and stability also play an important role.
Athletes who want to achieve a high level of performance cannot afford to neglect these areas in their training program. In my experience, I have trained plenty of athletes with great hip strength. Yet they lacked the flexibility and stability to move on the field or court.
There are three main muscles that drive the hip:
- The gluteus maximus
- The gluteus medius
- The gluteus minimus
The gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle of the buttocks. Its main function is to extend the hip. When an athlete is running and the knee is coming up to the chest, this is called knee flexion. Hip extension is just the opposite. Hip extension is when the hip and glutes are driving the force down through the ground and back to propel the athlete forward.
The gluteus medius lies under the gluteus maximus near the hip. Its main function is to hold the pelvis upright when walking and especially when running. That’s why when you walk, run, or even sprint for long periods of time you can become sore in this area. Also, the gluteus medius is activated to a greater degree when performing single-leg movements (more on this later).
The gluteus minimus lies under and assists the gluteus medius in most movements, especially in rotating the hip joint inward, such as when one brings the knees together.
Why do we need glutes?
Your hip joint is one of the main reasons you need strong, flexible and stable glutes. This joint is where the thighbone (or femur) attaches to the pelvis. Your glutes play an important part in moving the hip joint and ultimately help improve athletic performance.
The importance of squats and squat variations.
Front squats work the hips. There are also power cleans and hang cleans plus Olympic lifts for explosiveness. These are all bilateral (both legs) movements. On the other hand, anatomical evidence for unilateral (single-leg) movements is overwhelming for improving performance. Here’s a key point: Besides single-leg movements being great for isolating the hips, they are also great for helping to prevent knee injuries.
NOTE: If you are 45 or older, performing bilateral (both legs) back squats can be stressful on the lower back. This is where unilateral (single-leg) squatting can be effective in taking the stress off the lumbar area and putting it directly on the hips and glutes.
How should athletes select exercises to promote hip and glute strength, explosiveness, stability, and flexibility?
Here’s the general rule: Choose single-leg movements over double-leg movements, but neglect neither. To solve for this, you could train bilateral leg exercises the first workout of the week. During the next workout, train single-leg movements. Keep in mind that the gluteus medius is important when doing single-leg movements. This is because the gluteus medius plays a big role in stabilizing the hips. With single-leg movements, body weight becomes a very important part of the resistance. An athlete learning to control his or her own body weight is a precursor to doing heavy bilateral legwork.
Examples of single-leg exercises for strength and stabilization:
- The Unsupported Single-Leg Squat: When performing this movement, be sure to take the hips and glutes back as if you were sitting in a chair, and keep the knee in line with the second and third toe.
- The Supported Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat: For this movement, make sure to keep the chest and shoulders up, back, and over the hips.
- The Single-Leg Dead Lift: When performing this exercise, you must try to keep the entire back from the cervical spine to the sacrum-as straight as possible.
The following exercise can help with flexibility:
Hip-Overs Or Around The World: You can do this exercise using a foam-roll. Athletes can turn sideways at the foam-roll with the ankle going over and back 25 to 50 times, or the athlete can face the foam-roll having the hips and leg going forward and back another 25 to 50 times. This creates a lot of Range of Motion (ROM), plus this movement is not only in the sagital plane but also in the frontal and transverse planes.
Europa Sports Products Fitness/Wellness Coordinator
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Appalachian State University (1984-1990), Strength & Conditioning Coach Charlotte Hornets NBA team (1990-2001), Certified NSCA, CSCS*D