By: Clint Russell, DPT
Why is it so important to have a strong backside? The glutes are responsible for hip stability in closed chained movement and are the primary extensor of the hip, more on the second one later… I’d like as you read this to place one foot on the floor, and squeeze your butt on that same side. Pay attention to what happens to your knee. Glute contraction externally rotates the hip, which pushes the knees out. When a coach tells you knees out, this is really what they want. This external rotation allows us to create torque through the floor.
If an athlete suffers from weak glutes, this will manifest itself in several ways. We will use the squat as our test movement. In a squat you will see an an ability to drive the knees out at the bottom. We teach to drive out at the beginning of the movement, in which case you will see them collapse inward when the athlete begins the concentric phase of the movement. The second way this will show up is what I call the squat morning. As I said before, the glute is the primary extensor of the hip, along with the hamstrings. The quads are knee extensors. At the beginning of the concentric phase of movement the knee will extend before the hip. The quads are shortening, but the glutes and hamstrings are unable to keep up, so the leg begins to straighten with the hip angle either not changing or changing at a much slower rate. The result is the chest caves forward.
The way I prefer to fix movement when an athlete can’t respond to cues is to simply stick them in a position where they are forced to do the movement properly. Hence why at CrossFit Coronado do so much lunging. A front rack lunge serves to fix the major movement faults that appear in the squat. The load in front of the body limits the forward lean, and isolating one leg forces glute activation in order to create hip stability.
With the glutes being the primary hip extender, they are responsible for eccentrically controlling hip flexion. When you bend over, gravity exerts a force pulling your torso downwards, so you hip extensors must lower you down under control. If your glutes and hamstrings are weak, then you are going to compensate by flexing at the lumbar spine. This puts you more at risk for a back injury, especially as you get older. Some of the most common back injuries occur in the US from picking up accidentally dropped objects. That happens for two reasons, years of faulty mechanics combined with weakness. As your coaches, we will not accept either of these and must do whatever is necessary to squash them.
At One Life Physical Therapy, we are about making you move better. Better means always improving mechanics and squashing imbalances. We are about to embark on a glute strengthening extravaganza! Standby!