The concept of “core training” has become so diluted that it’s difficult to define it today. Many personal trainers, trainees, athletic trainers and even some physical therapists consider “core training” to be strengthening the abdominal muscles only (the rectus abdominus, the obliques and the transverse abdominus). The problem with that theory is, the back and gluteal muscles are vital components of core stability as well, but they are often forgotten—or they were never understood in the first place.
This month I’ll focus on one of the gluteal muscles of the hip, the gluteus maximus. (The smaller gluteus medius will be the topic of another column.) Known as the glute, the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. It’s a powerful muscle that extends and hyperextends the hip as well as externally rotates the lower extremity. It also tilts the pelvis backward, or posteriorly. When the pelvis tilts backward, pressure is taken off the joints in the spine in the lower back. Maintaining movement in the hip can help avoid low-back pain, and limited hip motion can contribute to it.
So, development of the gluteus maximus can help prevent back pain, and it can also keep the hip mobile. There are several ways to strengthen and develop the glutes. One of the most effective is a type of back squat known as power squats. The stance can be a little wider than normal for these, or it can be very wide. Excessive ranges of motion are rarely a good thing in training. When using a wider squat stance, you should sit back into the squat “as if sitting back on a toilet,” as some strength coaches describe it. That puts the workload on the glutes and inner-thigh muscles, but the hamstrings, quadriceps and back muscles still perform work.
Powerlifters usually have very developed glutes because their style of squat requires it. I have discussed the relationship between the depth of the squat and hip pain in previous columns. One of the main depth concerns is a type of hip impingement, technically known as a CAM femoroacetabular impingement, or FAI. The problem is extra bone formed near the ball of the ball-and-socket hip joint. The extra bone hits, or impacts, the socket and chips away cartilage and bone. The only way to avoid the problem is to squat less deeply so the impact in the socket is lessened or eliminated.
Other common exercises that develop the glute include hyperextensions, or back raises, glute/ham raises and Romanian deadlifts. Traditional squats, front squats and lunges and lunge walks also develop the glutes. They’re effective, but they place a demand on the lower back as well. That’s a nonissue for most trainees; however, some people have low-back pain and are not able to perform the exercises above. What’s the solution for them?
There are machines that attempt to target the glutes. In fact, standing hip machines that allow hip extension and hyperextension, flexion, adduction and abduction have been in gyms for decades and are useful. Nautilus tried to target the glutes and hams with a machine in which you would lie on your back, place the pad behind your knee and then push your knee down into hip extension. More recent years have seen the arrival of various “butt blasters,” hyperextension machines in which you are positioned facedown across a pad and then press your foot against another pad toward the ceiling. Unfortunately, if trainees have low-back pain from facet joints and disk herniations as well as sacroiliac joint pain, that exercise may cause pain as well. They may be able to tolerate using light weight on butt blasters. There is another variation that is performed in the standing position, which seems to be the most tolerable for trainees with low-back pain.
Try one or more of these exercises to strengthen your gluteus maximus and contribute to your core stability.
Train smart; then train hard.
—Joseph M. Horrigan
Editor’s note: Visit www.SoftTissueCenter.com for reprints of Horrigan’s past Sportsmedicine columns that have appeared in IRON MAN. You can order the books, Strength, Conditioning and Injury Prevention for Hockey by Joseph Horrigan, D.C., and E.J. “Doc” Kreis, D.A., and the 7-Minute Rotator Cuff Solution by Horrigan and Jerry Robinson from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008 or at www.Home-Gym.com.