The prevailing theory is that your glutes are “asleep” and need to be “activated” before doing any exercise to enhance exercise performance. But do you need to lie on the floor with your mini band before every session?
Glute activation is not necessary before exercise as it does not improve performance acutely and doesn’t enhance glute activation or strength chronically.
While glute activation may not be necessary, is there a place for these drills in your quest to build a bigger butt?
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Is Glute Activation Necessary To Build Huge Glutes?
You likely have thousands of social media videos telling and showing you must perform a specific 3 exercise banded glute circuit before you lift weights. Otherwise, your glutes won’t work when training them.
If your glutes were truly “asleep,” as some claim, you wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone walk. But let’s see what the current research suggests. Two studies suggest performing a glute activation circuit before jumping or sprinting leads to greater jump power output and faster sprint times .
However, there are a couple of inherent problems with these studies. Firstly, Crow and colleagues compared the seven-exercise glute circuit against two other average warm-up protocols . Essentially, it was the best out of three insufficient warm-ups before jumping.
Further, only peak power was measured, which may not indicate any change in jump performance. Peak power measurements can be difficult to keep accurate when the countermovement depth isn’t standardized. More distance traveled allows higher velocities and more time to produce force.
For Barry and colleagues, they used the same glute activation warm-up. But their results aren’t very inspiring, showing a small significant effect with a difference of 0.02 seconds in the 10 m sprint .
The same research team used a similar glute activation warm-up to find a reduction in jump height from 30 sec to 8 min after completing the activation . That’s not a good look for the “glute amnesia” crowd.
Finally, a study by Healy & Harrison used the same glute activation warm-up as the previous studies and found no acute improvement in drop jump performance compared to a dynamic warm-up . However, these studies are all acute performance studies. What about longer-term glute activation programs?
Does Glute Activation Build Muscle?
While not directly measuring glute muscle growth, 3x per week for 6 weeks of glute activation training did not enhance glute muscle activation or strength . We could likely defer from this information that adding glute activation to a training program will not directly spur more muscle growth.
But what about the mind-muscle connection? For example, subjects displayed greater triceps activation when instructed to focus on the triceps during the bench press . Feeling a muscle working is an integral part of the muscle-building process.
This is where I see glute activation drills fitting into a training program. Not to “wake up” the glutes. But to teach you the feeling of your glutes working through various exercises. The goal is to transfer that feeling to your glute-dominant exercises.
For example, if you can feel your glutes working during bodyweight glute bridges, you can retain that movement and feeling as you start adding load or are performing squats or Romanian deadlifts.
Glute activation may seem necessary for “turning your glutes on.” However, glute activation drills don’t seem to confer any additional benefit over a proper warm-up. The only advantage, in my opinion, is teaching you how to squeeze and activate your glutes when lifting to strengthen the mind-muscle connection if you don’t have it.
1. Crow, J. F., Buttifant, D., Kearny, S. G., & Hrysomallis, C. (2012). Low load exercises targeting the gluteal muscle group acutely enhance explosive power output in elite athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(2), 438-442.
2. Barry, L., Kenny, I., & Comyns, T. (2016). Performance effects of repetition specific gluteal activation protocols on acceleration in male rugby union players. Journal of human kinetics, 54(1), 33-42.
3. Comyns, T., Kenny, I., & Scales, G. (2015). Effects of a low-load gluteal warm-up on explosive jump performance. Journal of human kinetics, 46, 177.
4. Healy, R., & Harrison, A. J. (2014). The effects of a unilateral gluteal activation protocol on single leg drop jump performance. Sports Biomechanics, 13(1), 33-46.
5. Cochrane, D. J., Harnett, M. C., & Pinfold, S. C. (2017). Does short-term gluteal activation enhance muscle performance?. Research in Sports Medicine, 25(2), 156-165.
6. Paoli, A., Mancin, L., Saoncella, M., Grigoletto, D., Pacelli, F. Q., Zamparo, P., … & Marcolin, G. (2019). Mind-muscle connection: effects of verbal instructions on muscle activity during bench press exercise. European Journal of Translational Myology, 29(2).