Fire Up Those Glutes
Over the past few years, industry leaders have emphasized preparatory activation of the gluteal muscles to enhance both injury prevention and training effects. Awareness was heightened as a result of research which determined poor gluteal recruitment subsequent to lower extremity injury, and from the teachings of the late Vladimir Janda who suggested the gluteus maximus is reciprocally inhibited by a tight psoas as is found in the anterior pelvic posture distortion. Although this is not revolutionary information, it has yet to be integrated into the fitness culture on a broad scale as pieces of the puzzle are still coming together. For example, researchers have yet to determine the most effective movements and loading characteristics through which to optimize glute muscle recruitment. The most recent study looked at the effectiveness of closed-chain exercise in recruiting gluteus medius (GM)
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic measured EMG in the GM in five closed-chain weight-bearing exercises to determine which is most effective. The GM is both an abductor and adductor of the hip, giving it a primary role in stabilization when standing on one leg. Recent evidence links poor GM function to ACL injuries, IT Band syndromes, and patellofemoral pain, the most common form of chronic knee pain in adults.
Twenty healthy young men and women with no history of lower extremity injury participated in the study. Researcher collected EMG readings from the GM during 5 activities: bilateral standing, single leg standing on a stable base and on an Airex pad, and a single leg squat both on stable footing and on the Airex pad.
As expected there was greater GM activity when the individual moved from a bilateral to single leg stance. However, the EMG recordings for both squatting and standing on the stable and unstable surfaces were similar. Although the authors reported a trend towards greater activation on the Airex pad it may not be appropriate to speculate that an unstable surface is any better than a properly loaded single leg squat to improve hip stability. Regardless, this is the first study to report the GM EMG during dynamic functional movement patterns.
Previous studies have determined isometric closed-chain activities to be more effective in activating GM when compared to open-chain exercises (i.e. side lying leg lifts, or standing hip abduction). Based on this information, fitness professionals should include more single leg exercises if they wish to improve hip stability.
Krause, D.A., et al (2009) Electromyographic Analysis of the Gluteus Medius in Five Weight-Bearing Exercises. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 23(9): 2689-2694.