10 Aug The Most Important Muscle For Athleticism And Performance

glutemaxWhat muscle do you think is critical for performance in kettlebell training, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, or to achieve ultimate athleticism in any sport?

It should be pretty obvious that would be the gluteus maximus.

If you fail to tap into the power of this muscle, you’ll greatly limit your training performance and results.

We really can’t emphasize the importance of the glutes enough in performance training and for developing the ultimate athletic body.

Look at any strong, powerful athlete and the common factor they share is having strong, powerful glutes.

It’s a hallmark feature of a well conditioned athlete.

While the gluteus maximus is the “big player” of the gluteal muscle group, there are other important muscles there, as well.

The “glutes” consist of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus.

But, the gluteus maximus (GM) is the largest muscle in the human body and it’s also the strongest.

GluteMaxThe GM is a one joint muscle and originates from the sacrum and a small portion of the pelvis (the ilium).

The muscle inserts into the ileotibial band, while the more inferior fibers insert into the greater tuberosity of the femur (the upper leg bone).

This muscle is a powerful hip extensor, while it also contributes to hip abduction and lateral (or external) rotation.

But, hip extension is the most significant function of the GM, which brings us to the function in various sports and functional activities.

KETTLEBELL TRAINING

The GM is highly active in all of these kettlebell fundamentals:

  • the kettlebell swing (and, if you’re not firing the GM here, you aren’t swinging)
  • the kettlebell clean
  • the kettlebell snatch
  • the turkish get up
  • the goblet squat
  • the kettlebell press (if you perform the press properly, it’s highly activated)

There’s a term called, gluteal amnesia, which is where people forget how to properly activate their glutes.

Kettlebell training helps prevent this dysfunction as the exercises require forceful glute contraction for successful performance.

THE POWERLIFTS

  • the barbell back squat
  • the deadlift (highly active)
  • the bench press (again, if you perform this properly – the GM is active)

Strong glutes are a major part of full body strength with all the big lifts.

THE OLYMPIC LIFTS

  • the snatch
  • the clean and jerk

If you don’t have powerful glutes with the Olympic lifts, you won’t be very successful as the hip extension explosiveness is so essential in the 1st and 2nd pulls.

BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES

Here’s just a few important bodyweight exercises that involve glute contraction.

  • plank (unfortunately, MANY people miss the glute contraction here)
  • squats
  • bird dogs
  • push ups
  • burpees
  • box jumps
  • hand stand push ups
  • *glute bridge (one of my very favorites to activate the glutes)

FUNCTIONAL or SPORTS ACTIVITIES

  • walking (the GM is a critical part of the normal gait cycle)
  • sit to stand
  • stair climbing
  • squatting
  • running
  • jumping
  • striking
  • stabilizing
  • basketball
  • soccer
  • football
  • martial arts
  • and, the list goes on…

In addition to functional and sports performance, let’s face it, developing a strong set of glutes does a hell of a lot for aesthetics.

KEY EXERCISES FOR THE GM

According to EMG specialist and glute expert, Bret Contreras, there is nothing as significant to maximally activate the glutes like the barbell hip thrust.

Here’s a short video below demonstrating good technique with the barbell hip thrust.

Basically, the barbell hip thrust (according to EMG data) is the king of glute activation.

Here are the numbers for some of the most highly active exercises, as revealed by EMG analysis:

  • Barbell hip thrust – 134 (superior glute) 62.6 (mid glute) 72.9 (lower glute)
  • Barbell deadlift – 81.5 (superior glute) 37.0 (mid glute) 85.6 (lower glute)
  • Barbell squat – 59.0 (superior glute) 25.4 (mid glute) 71.1 (lower glute)
  • Bodyweight high step up – 72.0 (superior glute) 15.4 (mid glute) 37.0 (lower glute)
  • Bodyweight glute bridge – 29.1 (superior glute) 13.1 (mid glute) 17.3 (lower glute)

(Source: Strong Curves by Bret Contreras, p. 34)

Clearly, the barbell hip thrust has the most activation of the GM, with the exception of the barbell deadlift which has a slightly higher activation of the lower fibers.

And, it should be mentioned that the kettlebell swing is highly active, as well.

In speaking with Bret about this, he mentioned he has done some EMG work, which demonstrated a very high activation of the GM during the swing, although I have not seen his numbers (and they were not contained in his book).

Pavel Tsatsouline reported an 80% MVC (max voluntary contraction) was measured in the lab when he performed a two-handed kettlebell swing using a 32kg kettlebell.

And, when this was done as a one-hand swing, the MVC was 100%, so the kettlebell swing, whether performed with one hand or two hands is highly effective for recruiting the firing of the GM.

(Source: Simple and Sinister by Pavel, p. 31)

THE BOTTOM LINE + GLUTE ACTIVATION SESSION

The bottom line is that the gluteus maximus is very important in all functional activities, sports, strength and performance training, and for body aesthetics.

If we fail to maximize the progression and development of our hip strength and power, we’re missing out big time.

I put together a very effective, simple pre-workout session to “program” the hip extension movement and activate the firing of our glutes.

This works because it gets us to “feel” what it’s like to activate our glutes prior to a training session and hopefully carryover to the session.

And, it should make the glute activation become “automatic” and conditioned when we train, so we don’t have to think about it.

What I mean is that when we perform a kettlebell swing, for example, at the finish of the swing the glutes should be maximally or near maximally contracted (Pavel’s number’s above).

Surprisingly, this doesn’t always occur as people tend to lose the glute contraction at the top.

To prevent this, here’s the program.

Let’s call it the “glute activation session” because that’s the goal of this simple pre-workout session.

  1. Glute bridges, 3 sets of 10 (pause for 2 seconds at the top of the bridge and hold the position)
  2. Bird dogs, 2 sets of 10 (keep the foot in a dorsiflexed – or toes up – position)
  3. Planks, 2 minute hold, 1-2 sets (don’t forget to squeeze the glutes hard during the plank)

glute bridgeAs I mentioned, I’m a big fan of the glute bridge exercise (pictured above) because I’ve had so much personal success with it.

When I had a major injury to my low back many years ago, it was the consistency of performing this exercise that I attribute to my rehab from the injury.

And, for activating the glutes, it’s a fantastic drill.

I’ve found that all 3 of exercises are very effective in teaching and learning how to “program” the gluteus maximus.

If you’re struggling with activating the glutes or simply want to make sure you’re firing the GM appropriately, try this simple session.

We need strong, powerful glute activation in everything we do related to sport and performance.

We’ll feel stronger and more powerful, we’ll perform better, and even look better by tapping into our hip power.

Scott Iardella writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff!  
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