I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if your glutes aren’t actually firing you would probably not be able to stand up particularly well, or best case, scenario, stand up but not be able to move too much. Also, if your glutes aren’t actually firing then a personal trainer or physio will probably not be the professional you’ll need to see… You’ll need a neurologist. While we're at it, the glutes (or gluteals) are a large set of muscles, so for a professional to say to their client that their glutes "aren't firing" is pretty fear inducing. As the glutes are the umbrella terms for gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius muscles, to label someone with glutes that don't fire is incredibly non-specific/ambiguous/lazy.
Now that I’ve addressed the elephant that I brought into the room, let’s talk about what might actually be happening. The glutes do get some stick for being lazy, slow and/or switched off but the likelihood is one of two things is happening… One, they are weak or two, the way your body creates some movements (movement strategies) might not utilise them efficiently, which often ends up with them becoming weak. So in reality, they’re probably just weak….And you know what? That’s ok., because you can positively affect that. This can happen for a number of reasons, like, previous injuries that create new compensatory movement patterns that serve a purpose whilst structures are healing but remain, despite the healing being completed. It can also occur due to structural limitations of the performer (eg hip joint shape/orientation, soft tissue mobility at a genetic level etc) or due to how movements have been learnt historically.
The limitations of the biomechanical model of movement, is that it has been interpreted to mean everyone should move the same way, and that everyone is built the same way. We all know that’s not the case. But saying that, in my opinion, there are some non-negotiables in terms of movement but, critically, there are lots of variations in movement which are acceptable, and often useful for the structural context of the performer. A lot of the fallacies are aimed at the glutes and what they’re not doing. The fun thing is that in the huge majority of cases some very simple, non-sexy exercises are incredibly effective at strengthening a weak set of glutes and you certainly don’t need 10 different exercises hitting them from every-which-way… But, as I mentioned this isn’t sexy and in the age of social media non-sexy doesn’t sell.
So, what might drive weak glutes? In the large majority one or many of these factors tend to apply. The list isn’t exhaustive but it does pick up most of those with weak glutes.
A history of
- Hip pain/injury
- Thigh pain/injury
- Knee pain/injury
- Calf pain/injury
- Ankle pain/injury
- Back pain/injury
Other potential contributors
- Significant restricted ankle dorsiflexion
- Hallux rigidus
- Hip dysplasia
- Anteverted hip joint
We’ll go into these, and more, specific points at some stage in the future, but for now it’s a good starting place to decide whether any of these points may apply to you. How they may still affect you, and if therefore they may require revisiting..... and if someone tells you that your glutes aren't firing then hopefully this article has equipped you with some information as to question the statement.
Thanks for reading
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