Hip extension is one of the most important motions in all of sports. Not only does hip extension provide us the drive and acceleration needed in running, it also has strong injury prevention importance. Often, people will be inhibited in the gluteals causing faulty movement patterns, poor performance, and an increased injury risk.
The gluteals are composed of 3 muscles (see picture below). The gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. They all contribute to some degree of hip extension because of their location on the more posterior aspect of the pelvis, but the medius and minimus also contribute to hip abduction and frontal plane stability. This means the gluteals are extremely important in function, not only at the hip, but the lumbar spine and knee. The knee and lumbar spine will take the brunt of faulty contribution of these hip muscles.
First, we need to determine how the gluteals are functioning. I personally like the Hip Bridge with Leg Extension Hold. This exercise targets the gluteus maximus as a hip extensor, and the gluteus medius/minimus as stabilizers to secure the pelvis in the single leg position. Watch the following video to learn how to test yourself:
**After completing that test, ask yourself these questions:
- Did your hip fully extend and allow your body to be straight from the knee to shoulder?
- Did you feel excess arching and/or stress in the lower back?
- Did the hip on the extended leg side drop towards the ground?
- Did you feel excess strain and/or cramping in the hamstrings?
If you answered yes to one or several of these questions, chances are you have some degree of glute inhibition. This means that for some reason, the nervous system has down-regulated it’s signal to these muscles, or has up-regulated the signal elsewhere to complete the movement. Most everyone can complete this movement, but are we completing it with the correct muscles in a way that promotes proper function?
For the purpose of this article, we are going to talk specifically about the gluteus maximus and hip extension. You can view one of my older posts that takes into consideration the stability aspect of the gluteus medius and minimus, here.
The first step is to look at the antagonist. In this case we are talking about the hip flexor. Oftentimes, an up-regulated and hypertonic or tight hip flexor will cause restriction into extension and the gluteus maximus to shut down. Try this basic hip flexor stretch to address any tightness first.
Next, let’s teach the body how to properly extend the hip using the gluteus maximus. This can be done with a very simple exercise called forearm hip extension (with bent knee). Although it doesn’t look like a challenging exercise, the importance is to keep the lumbar spine from extending while focusing on pure gluteus maximus contraction. In other words, your butt should be the only muscle doing the work. Complete for 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Once you have mastered pure hip extension using the gluteus maximus, we can move on to hip bridging variations. Our focus remains the same as we contract the glute to cause the movement. A great hip bridging progression that gradually increases in difficulty is as follows: hip lift, cook hip lift, single leg hip lift, and single leg hip lift on foam roller. Remember to master each one before moving on to the next. We aren’t looking to do the hardest one and call it a day, but perfect the movement using strictly hip extension. Watch the following video and complete 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions for as long as needed before moving on to the next variation.
Now, we can place our newly developed, proper hip extension into a more functional pattern. The reaching single leg deadlift allows us to get onto our feet, while using the gluteus maximus (and, medius and minimus too!) to control single leg movement that has greater carryover to athletics, especially running. Strive to keep the moving leg and body aligned throughout the exercise and once you’re at the bottom of the movement, drive from the gluteus maximus to raise back up. Using only hip extension is the tricky part, as people usually want to call upon their spine extensors to return to the starting position. Here is a clip of this valuable exercise which can be done with weight in the hands or as part of your warm-up with only bodyweight. Again, complete 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Now, that you have a basic understanding of how you are function in terms of hip extension. Make sure you put the time into each exercise. We aren’t looking for the hardest exercise, but the right exercise that makes the difference. Consciously think about contracting the gluteus maximus on each repetition to create this motion. Once we build the correct neural connection and pattern using the glute, injury risk decreases and performance may be enhanced. Until then we are functioning at half capacity without the significant benefits of this powerhouse muscle.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART