Gluteal training is a staple of any strength and conditioning and physical therapy program. Trainers and PTs utilize any tool at their disposal to assist with glut strength (bands, tubing, hip thrust benches, etc.). But why do we strengthening the posterior chain? How do we know if we are actually training the gluts? How can we ensure glut strength lasts? Lets see if we can figure all this out.
In general think of the gluteal muscles as a group of three muscles: minimus, medius, and maximus. To further add to the posterior chain stability group we have several smaller muscles, which control the local or intrinsic motions of the hip: pirformis, gemelli, and obetaror muscle groups. Even though all these muscles serve to stabilize the hip and therefore the spine, they serve different purposes.
Gluteus maximus is a triplanar controller. It controls hip extension, abduction, and external rotation. All three are typically weak planes of motion to control. The gluteus minimus along with the glut medius abduct the thigh. The minimus acts as an internal rotator of the thigh while the medius both internally and externally rotates the thigh. The gemellie and oberator muscle groups act as the rotator cuff of the hip helping maintain the femoral head in the hip socket. The video below is a great visual reference for gluteal function.
In general gluts are extensors, rotators and abductors of the leg. They help produce the power needed to perform triple extension positions (sprint). They also produce the control to maintain the femoral head centered in the hip socket. Lastly they ensure that spine does not take disproportional loads with movement. Thus you can see why they get so much attention. If dysfunctional they cause serious limitations. However, simply training on top of dysfunction will not lead to optimal glut strength.
A great way to think about glut dysfunction is the common loss of pelvic posterior depression (down and back of the pelvis). If your pelvis can never get into posterior depression you are never placing your body into a position where the glut muscles can be properly recruited (i.e. fire lumbar extensors vs gluts). When one has excessive lumbar lordosis they will lack the mechanical capacity and neuromuscular control of posterior depression.
You then will compensate with paraspinal recruitment and/or hamstring recruitment. The often discussed dysfunctional cross pattern of anterior pelvic tilt posture causing tight hip flexors and weak gluteus muscles fits this view point. What is missed is the fact that it is more than a simple anterior tilt of the pelvis causing glut weakness. It is the fact of the lack of control of posterior depression never places the pelvis into a position promote glut control.
Here is a posture where the ribs are behind the pelvis and tilted backwards. This loads the lumbar spine with extension vs the pelvis preventing glut control.
This is a posture where the ribs are now forward of the pelvis and tilt posterior. Again this would abnormally load the lumbar spine and force a more hip flexion moment with vertical loading. Again the pelvis would not be able to access posterior depression.
Stretching the hip flexors and doing glut bridges helps but does not get to the true cause of the glut weakness. So how can you tell if you have posterior depression of the pelvis or are you utilizing the spine instead? How can you train it and improve it? Well lets get to it in the next part on the series of glut training.