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Did you know your butt contains the largest muscle in your body? It’s called the gluteus maximus. But (pun intended), it’s not only the largest, it’s also the most powerful! It’s your body’s main support system and shock absorber. Moreover, it powers your movements. There is great force within your booty, you just have to know how to activate it. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to activate their glutes and/or they have weak glutes that don’t live up to their full potential. That’s why we are here.
Below, we are going to be discussing everything there is to know about glute activation. This includes what exactly is glute activation, the importance of glute activation, glute activation exercises and when to do them, and more. We also have a full-length, follow along 12-minute glute activation warm up using a booty band for you. This is not only great for those who don’t know how to activate their glutes properly, but it is also great for advanced trainees looking for a quick and effective glute-based warm up before their next lower body workout.
Without further ado, let’s begin…
You probably don’t need us to tell you what your glute muscles are…but we will anyway.
Your glutes (gluteal muscles) are a group of three muscles that make up your buttocks (your booty). They consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. These three muscles start at your ilium and sacrum (the top of your pelvic girdle and bottom of your spine) and insert into your femur.
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three and it makes up the shape of your butt. The other two muscles assist in moving. Together, your three glute muscles support and stabilize your hips. They also work with your core to support your spine and maintain posture.
Every time you move your thigh forward, back or in rotation, you are using your glute muscles. This means walking, running, jumping, turning, etc.
Now, a common issue people have is they don’t activate their glutes enough, in daily life or when working out. They let other muscles take over, leading to compensation issues and weak glute muscles, which can cause a number of problems across your body…This is why you are here, reading this glute activation article. We are going to make sure your glutes are firing up when they should be, in and out of the gym (commercial, home, or otherwise).
Glute activation is the practice of activating your glute muscles, both before a workout and during a workout. You want to work on glute activation before a workout, like before these butt lifting exercises, so the glutes are primed to do the work during your workout. Glute activation exercises gets the blood flowing to your glute muscles and helps you build that mind-muscle connection. By doing glute activation warm ups, you will ensure that your glutes are fully active during your workout (for big lifts like squats or deadlifts) and you are not compensating by overusing other muscles involved in the lift.
You can also do glute activation exercises anytime during the day to help weak glutes stay active.
It’s important to note, that even if you know how to activate your glutes during big, compound, lower body exercises, glute activation warm ups are still important. By doing glute activation prior to your workout, your glutes will be warm and ready to roll. If not, your body will naturally recruit other muscles (it’s like your glutes are still asleep), such as the lower back, which can cause strain and pain.
Activating your glutes beforehand is a way to tell your body, “these are the muscles that need to be engaged during my workout - don’t let other muscles take over”.
It should also be noted that glute activation consists of both loosening up tight muscles and priming them with resistance-based exercises, which can come from your bodyweight alone (thanks gravity) or bands. You want to dynamically stretch your glutes and get them contracting when doing your glute activation exercise warm up.
Your glutes are dormant for most of the day, especially if you sit down for prolonged periods of time. Glute activation wakes that booty up. However, it’s not only that, there are a number of reasons why glute activation warm ups are so important before any workout that involves your lower body (leg day, back day, sprinting, running, cycling, sports in general, etc.)
Here are some of the main benefits of glute activation warm ups:
A message to all the men out there:
Don’t feel embarrassed to do glute activation exercises prior to a lower body workout or run. Glute activation is usually geared towards women, but it is just as important for men too! Even if you don’t care about having a nice butt, you want a strong butt because it’s one of the most important muscles in your body for overall performance.
Plus, women like nice butts, just as much as men. We all know this though.
If your glutes are activated when performing an exercise, you should feel them contracting. However, it is easier said than done. You really need to develop a mind-muscle connection with your glutes. Perform the lower body exercise with a light weight load (or just your bodyweight) and really feel them contracting. It’ll be easier to focus with less weight. That feeling should carry through when you go up in weight.
Let’s use squats as an example. If you are only feeling your quads, hamstrings and lower back, then your glutes are not being activated properly. You want your booty to also feel that pump, that contraction, that burn.
If you are still unsure whether your glutes are activating during exercises like squats and deadlifts, then you really need to practice glute activation exercises on a daily basis. They will help you build the mind-muscle connection, which will allow you to use and engage your glutes during your compound lifts.
Another way to tell if your glutes are activated when working out comes after the fact. If your glutes are not sore the next day, but your quads and hamstrings are (and you did exercises like squats), then you did not activate your glutes properly. Again, you need to work on glute activation exercises to get the hang of activating your glutes during compound movements. In any case, don’t feel discouraged if you are having trouble activating your glutes. You will eventually get the hang of it, just keep practicing and keep it top of mind when performing exercises during a workout.
Tip #1: Focus on your form. Poor form may be the cause of your lack of glute activation. Go light and get the form down pat. This may be all you need to get those glutes activated properly.
Tip #2: Squeeze your glutes at the top of the exercises. This will help you with engaging them throughout the movement.
Tip #3: Practice simple glute activation exercises during the day. Even simply squeezing your glutes as you sit and stand can help you develop a mind-muscle connection.
You’ve probably never heard of gluteal amnesia, but it is surprisingly common. Gluteal amnesia, aka dead butt syndrome, means your body has forgotten how to active the glute muscles properly. The good news is it is fixable with glute activation exercises and practice.
Now, you may not have full blown “dead butt”, but if you have trouble activating your glutes, it is likely they are weaker than they should be. Gluteal amnesia basically means you have weak glutes too.
Weak glutes = troubles activating your glutes. The stronger your glutes get, the better you will be at activating them.
What causes weak glutes?
The most common cause is sitting too much. Hence why gluteal amnesia is common. Another reason for weak glutes is poor form, as your glutes are never able to work properly, and thus, get stronger. Lastly, it may even be that your glutes are tight, which means they can’t function properly. This is why glute activation should also entail some dynamic stretches.
Overall, weak glutes cause tight hamstrings and low back pain and discomfort, which is one of the most common signs that you have weak glutes. If after a leg workout your hamstrings are tight and your low back has discomfort (assuming your hamstrings’ flexibility is normal), your glutes are weak and were unactivated, so the low back and hamstrings had to compensate.
So, let’s fix that before we even start our workout next time. Moreover, let’s work on that throughout the week with glute activation practice.
Do glute activation exercises as a warm up. The purpose is to focus on your butt muscles. You will do bodyweight or light resistance band (booty bands, aka mini bands) movements that target the glutes and get them firing. As you hone in on your glute muscles, you should feel the contraction and pump, this means blood is flowing through your butt and you are priming them for the workout to come. This is glute activation.
Glute activation warm up exercises are low intensity. They involve hip extension, hip external rotation, and hip abduction. These hip based movements will activate your glutes as well as improve your hip’s range of motion. Hip mobility is also crucial for being able to perform an exercises like squats correctly, and thus, engage your glutes properly. So, you are killing two birds with one stone here.
Hip external rotation warm up exercise examples: Clamshells and fire hydrants (throw some stretch-based movements in too like the 90/90s)
Hip abduction warm up exercise examples: lateral walks and side lysing leg lifts.
All of these glute activation examples can be done with or without bands.
To help you learn how to activate your glutes properly with a glute activation warm up, we have asked coach Paulina Kairys (ambassador of SET FOR SET) to put together a follow along glute activation warm up using booty bands.
Before we get into the glute activation warm up workout, let us explain why we chose to do it with bands and how long a glute activation warm up should be…
Fabric hip bands, aka booty bands, were made for activating the glutes, hence their name. So, it will be very easy for beginners to properly activate their glutes during a warm up. You shouldn’t have any trouble feeling your glutes contracting during glute activation exercises with bands.
It’s also more effective for advanced trainees who need some resistance to get their glutes truly warmed up in an efficient manner. The bands put tension in just the right place.
Overall, we find the light resistance of the booty bands to be perfect for “cold” glute muscles. They are super effective for warming up the glutes and getting the blood flowing. Moreover, they help with mobility as they make engaging stabilizer muscles easier.
Note: Booty bands are also fantastic during big lifts like squats as they put tension on the glutes, which essentially puts glute activation during the lift on automation. Squatting with fabric hip bands is so common because of this. They really double down on the ability to activate the glutes during lower body movements, both during your warm up and workout. You don’t always have to squat with booty bands, but throwing in 3-4 sets of booty band squats will be beneficial on your journey to stronger glutes.
If you are going into your workout completely cold, meaning you just got off your butt and you have done much moving prior to starting, then aim for 10-15 minutes. However, if you just did a jog or your biked to your workout for example, you could shorten it down to 5 minutes.
All in all, aim for 3-4 exercises for 2-4 rounds. Keep the repetitions to 8-12 each set.
As a glute activation warm up consists of exercises that are low intensity and light resistance, you should really minimize rest time between rounds. You don’t really need to rest much at all. The point is to get the blood flowing, which also requires your heart rate to be up. It’s not going to be skyrocketed, it’s just up higher than resting and maintained at that rate.
As you follow along with Paulina for this booty band glute activation warm up, you will get clear instructions on how to perform each booty band warm up exercise. She is great at teaching form technique in a simple to understand manner. Your glutes are surely going to be activated with this one.
BOOTY BAND WARM UP ROUTINE FOR GLUTE ACTIVATION & HIP MOBILITY
4 exercises x 3 rounds:
1. Lateral Banded Walk x 10 steps each way
2. Monster Walk x 10 steps forward and 10 steps backward
3. Squat Pulse with Abduction x 10 reps
4. Glute Bridges x 10 reps
For beginners, glute activation exercises will build muscle and strength. After all, both bodyweight and band glute activation exercises are resistance based movements.
For those who are more advanced, glute activation is meant to warm up and maintain. They will also help keep that butt toned!
You should do glute activation warm ups before every lower body workout. This applies to those who know how to properly activate their glutes during workouts too! Glute activation is for everyone, man and woman. It’s necessary just like warming up before a workout is necessary. It is a warm up after all! Warm ups are essential for performing at your best during a workout or when playing sports.
For those who have trouble activating their glutes, you can also do glute activation warm ups, like the full length follow along one by Paulina above, during the day, every day! Do it in the morning or take a break from sitting and do a few glute activation exercises!
Once you've done your glute activation exercises, follow them up with these 8 Best Gluteus Maximus Exercises for maximal glute growth!
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