These exercises will activate your glutes so they can grow stronger and you can avoid injury. 

You know about the importance of warming-up before working out to get your muscles feeling looser, work through your range of motion and mentally prep for your training session. While a mix of cardio and mobility training before working out is always advised, a good warm-up shouldn’t neglect muscle activation – particularly of the glutes.

Why these muscles in particular? Well, it all comes down to counteracting the impact of sitting down. 

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The benefits of glute activation

The gluteus maximus are the biggest muscles in the body, which is why they’re often referred to as the ‘powerhouse’. They help keep your core, hips, and back in alignment, and are responsible for helping to keep you upright and putting one leg in front of the other when you walk or run. 

Unfortunately, modern life isn’t designed with our glutes in mind. The body performs best at the activities it does most often – so in the case of a modern-day desk worker, your body has mastered the art of sitting down. “We spend so long without the glutes working or moving that we need to almost wake the muscles up,” says Emma Obayuvana,fitness trainer from the Strong Women Collective.  

It is in this all-too-common seated position that the hip flexor muscles shorten and the glute muscles become less loaded. That means that when you then jump into your workout to perform lower-body strengthening exercises, your glute muscles might not be primed to take the load. But it’s also about setting up the neurological pathways, too: “For me, activation is about establishing a mind to muscle connection,” says Emma. “It is frustrating when you’re just not feeling an exercise like you should. Activation allows you to get into your body and think about form.”

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Think of it this way: activation is to your muscles, as coffee is to your brain – helping them to ‘wake up’, in a sense. In a 2017 study in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that “gluteal activation exercises as part of a warm-up will facilitate the use of the gluteal muscle group during activity.” Essentially, this means that activating your muscles puts more emphasis on your glutes in your training, making them stronger and helping you avoid pain and injury. 

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How to activate your glutes

While glute activation is ideal to do before performing lower-body moves to really make sure you are targeting the muscles, it is also important that you activate the glutes before you run. This is because the glutes can properly stabilise the hips and avoid ‘knee valgus’ (when the knees rotate inwards). 

Doing activation alongside mobility training will also “support your joints so you can truly move through a full active range of motion,” says Emma. 

So how do you do it? Using these isolation moves to target the glutes. “I like to use a resistance band, placed just above my knees, to really target the glute quickly, but they are still effective without,” says Emma. “If you don’t have any bands to add, work with tempo by going a little slower and really focus on the mind to muscle connection.”

Glute bridge

  1. Lie on your back with your feet placed on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Your heels should be about your hand’s length away from your bum. 
  2. Tuck your tailbone under so your pubic bone is being pulled up towards the ceiling. 
  3. Keeping that posterior pelvic tilt, lift your hips up off the floor as high as they can go so you are in a bridge-like position. Squeeze your glutes and try to keep your weight in the heels of your feet. 
  4. Slowly lower back to the ground. 

Repeat 20 times.  

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Single leg glute bridge

  1. Beginning in the same position as before, tuck your left knee in towards your chest and hold onto it with your right hand. Place your left hand behind your head. 
  2. Keeping your tailbone tucked, press through your right heel to lift into a bridge position. Remember to squeeze your glutes at the top. 
  3. Slowly lower back down. 

Repeat 10 times each side. 

Side-lying clams

  1. Lie on your right-hand side with your right arm either straight out on the floor or bent to prop up your head.
  2. With your left leg placed flush against your right leg, so your knees and ankles are aligned, bend both knees to a 45º angle. 
  3. Squeeze your left glute as you lift your left knee away from your right knee. Your hips should stay straight and your ankles should still be touching. 
  4. Slowly lower back down. 

Repeat 15 times on each side. 

Crab walks

  1. Standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart, hinge at your hips so your back is straight. 
  2. With a slight bend in your knees, take a wide step with your right foot to the right-hand side. If you don’t have a band, bend the knees a little more so you are in a squat position for extra resistance. 
  3. Step your left leg in so you are back to the starting position. 

Repeat 10 times each side. 

Fire hydrant

  1. Come into a hands and knees position with your hips over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists. 
  2. Keeping your core engaged so your hips don’t move to the side, squeeze your right glute to lift your right leg out to the right-hand side, trying to get your calf parallel with the walls. 
  3. Squeeze at the top, then lower back down. 

Repeat 15 times each side. 

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