Have you reached your full potential on your squat and deadlift? Do you wish there was an easy way to add ten to fifteen pounds onto your lifts without having to start an intense squat or deadlift cycle? We’ve found a way to do it and it doesn’t even involve you taking out a barbell or weights!
The secret to adding these extra pounds and hitting new PRs is to strengthen your butt. That’s it! Too many athletes today are not utilizing the full potential of the largest and (arguably) the strongest muscle in the human body – the glute. As a result, they are not only lifting below their full potential but they are also potentially setting themselves up for completely avoidable back, knee, hip, and/or ankle pain.
The muscle we normally refer to as “the butt” or “the glute” is actually made up of three main muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus have similar functions. With the knee extended, they abduct the thigh. With the hips flexed, they internally rotate the thigh and with the hips extended they externally rotate the thigh. Both the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus are, as the names suggest, smaller muscles than the gluteus maximus .
The human gluteus maximus is a distinctive muscle in terms of size, anatomy and function compared to apes and other non-human primates. In fact, it is a larger muscle in humans than in any other species . It is connected to the coccyx, as well as other surrounding bones. The gluteus maximus muscle is responsible for movement of the hip and thigh. Rising from a sitting position, climbing stairs, and staying in an erect position are all aided by this muscle . It also plays a major role in the maintenance of a healthy spine. If this gluteus maximus is not being utilized during any of these movements (commonly referred to as an “inactive glute”), the body will compensate for it’s lack of contribution in other ways; this compensation is what can leads to the lower back and knee pain .
Unfortunately, with the majority of our population spending a large amount of time in an office chair or seated on a couch watching television, our butts have forgotten how to contribute to our movement in a meaningful way. The largest muscle in our body has become weak and has adapted to the stretched position that it can often be found when we are seated. So why is it important that we find a way to activate this muscle and utilize it in our daily movements again?
If you picture the Golden Gate Bridge, you want to drive over that bridge because all of its cables are doing their correct job. If some of those cables were too short and some were too long, you wouldn’t want to drive over that bridge. If all of the muscles in our glute (the cables) are not active and some are shorter or longer than others in places they shouldn’t be, our bridge (or body as a whole) is not as safe or as strong as it could be.
One option to fix this problem would be to compensate using the muscles surrounding that non-working butt muscle. Essentially reinforcing the bridge by adding to the existing structure without fixing the original issue is certainly the easy (and often quickest) fix. However, this will, more often than not, lead to major issues down the road.
Option two is one where we “go back to the blueprint and repair the cables to their original design, thus restoring the optimal structural integrity to the bridge based on how it was engineered to function best .” This approach, while clearly the better approach, involves time and patience – something that does not come easy to many athletes.
In order to repair our “butt cables”, we need to make sure our glutes are properly activating when we are performing movements that should normally involve this strong muscle. This means we may have to perform some simple, non-glamorous exercises before we even add weight to a bar. The fact is, you can do hundreds of squats and not actively flex the main hip stabilizers or glutes. You’re only using part of your potential and setting yourself up for potential injury. What needs to happen is that your body needs to be able to locate and activate the glute muscles. We activate these muscles by training them with smaller, non-sexy exercises.
The glute activation exercises that have the biggest benefits are, often, not as glamorous and picture worthy as the deadlift and squat moments that might be posted to Instagram and Facebook, but they will help restore the body’s proper alignment and avoid injury. In the end, being able to utilize the strongest muscle (our butt) in our body to its full potential will eventually result in PR after PR without the risk of injury.
 Lieberman, Daniel E., et al. “The human gluteus maximus and its role in running.” Journal of Experimental Biology 209.11 (2006): 2143-2155.
 Wilson, Judy, et al. “A structure review of the role of gluteus maximus in rehabilitation.” NZ J Physiother 33 (2005): 95-100.