Glute training is an increasingly popular addition to strength training programs and ‘glute activation’ is often talked about in training.
The most common schools of thought on muscle activation are to either “squeeze” something when you perform a movement or perform another exercise before the main movement.
The problem with these methods is that they don’t guarantee you’ll get more glute activation in your squat, and there’s no way of telling whether the method has actually worked.
Fortunately there is another way…
A true functional approach to glute activation looks at the movement as it happens, observes how the individual performs the squat and then predicts muscle activation from the movement itself.
To understand how this works we need to look at the squat from a movement perspective.
How Movement Works In The Squat
The first thing that happens in the squat is that we make a concious decision to squat.
Our body will then select the skill of squatting, which is a skill we will know from training.
Next a pre-movement muscle contraction sequence will happen to prepare for the squat – think bracing.
The next thing that happens is that muscles that are holding us up (eg quads) will relax to allow gravity to drive us down into the squat.
Then, based on our technique, our bones will move causing joints to feel movement and muscles will be stretched across those joints.
As our muscles lengthen across joints they become eccentrically loaded and therefore able to contribute to the deceleration of the squat and then contribute to the opposite movement – getting out of the squat.
So how the bones move dictates which muscles are lengthened and therefore which muscles will help us get out of the squat.
Hitting The Glutes In The Squat
If we take this thought process and apply it to glutes, we know that glutes respond to hip flexion, adduction and internal rotation as this is the position in which they are lengthened the most.
In the squat hip flexion is driven by gravity, and we feel a squeeze at the front of our hip.
As we descend in the squat our hips will abduct (legs move apart, knees out) and sometimes externally rotate too. This is usually down to technique and is a popular technique to find range in the squat.
However, as we get closer to the bottom of the squat the knees will move inward slightly and the femur will also rotate inward, creating hip internal rotation and adduction, grabbing your glute.
This is all down to the movement of the foot and ankle at the bottom of the squat, and it’s this movement that triggers the adduction and internal rotation at the hip that is vital for optimally hitting the glutes.
Ankle Movement In The Squat
Ankle movement is an important part of the squat, especially when it comes to glute activation.
At some point in your squat your ankles will probably evert (fall in) and it’s the timing of this movement that’s important for glute activation. If you evert early at the ankle in the squat you probably wont be hitting your glutes as well as you could. If you don’t really evert at the ankle at all in your squat, you’re probably not getting your glutes as much as you could either.
Ankle eversion should happen at the bottom of the squat at the point where power is needed, and this ankle motion is usually followed by an internal rotation of the tiba and femur.
If this sequence is correct your glutes will be in a good position to fire and will therefore be more likely to contribute to your squat.
Learn More About Movement Analysis
Clearly there’s a great amount of detail in movement analysis and optimising the squat for maximum glute activation, but the bottom line is that if you want to get more glute in your squat you need to focus on how you’re performing the movement and look at the movement of the hips, knees and ankles in relation to each other and the bar.
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