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Failing to Use Glutes

Whatever (lower body) exercise I do, I always try to remember the typical glute cues, ie. push though heel, squeeze glutes throughout and especially at lockout, keep knee over ankle (I even try to put the knee behind the ankle)…etc… Whatever glute cue there is, I’ve read it and I’m using it.

And I perform glute activation exercises (bird dogs, bodyweight glute bridges, side-lying clams…etc…) before each lower body session. It’s not as if I have no mind-muscle connection with my glutes - I can squeeze each one rock solid independently of each other.

I can even ‘feel’ my glutes when doing squats/lunges/slideboard lunges/deadlifts/single leg deadlifts/step ups. HOWEVER, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to explain this - but it feels like I’m only feeling my glutes when doing these exercises, because I’m squeezing them. Not because they’re actually doing any work. To give an example, if you did a biceps curl whilst squeezing your glutes, you’d still ‘feel’ your glutes whilst doing the movement - but the glutes aren’t contributing to it.

So when I’m doing all of these lower body exercises, I’m squeezing the life out of my glutes, yet I can just tell that my quads are doing all the work. My quads are the ones getting DOMS, even if I get a ‘pump’ in both my glutes and quads. The quads are the ones doing the work - the glutes are just along for the ride, and I can only feel them because I’m conciously squeezing them. If I didn’t squeeze/contract my glutes, it would make no difference to the exercise, but if I didn’t squeeze/contract my quads - I’d never be able to stand back up!!

How do I change this situation so I get my glutes actually performing the exercises?

In a similar situation i would:

  • forget about any glute whatsoever, no clue, no contraction, think about a very nice girlfriend you had…
  • use 35% less load
  • never lock knees or come close, no full ROM forget the 20% easy part where legs get close to being straight
  • well it goes without saying squat real deep and stop at the bottom, no easy bouncing back up
  • when exhausted break for about 12 sec. go again
  • go real slow, lowering is a good 5 sec.
  • rush to leg press repeat, well idealy a partner wheels you there
  • continue with lower back extension
  • all these real slow
  • that needs loads of water

If needed do the lower back extensions using only your non dominant leg, superset that with anything lower body compound, plus repeat.

This is likely to wake up a glute or 2.

Thanks, will try this next workout.

Oh yeah - I also forgot to mention that I always do my squats/lunges to below parallel, too…

Interesting. I had a similar experience. If it helps I recently got olympic shoes and the first time I squatted with the my glutes were sore the next day. The next time I squatted half way through a rep it just clicked, and my glutes started firing during the movement. Now I don’t have to think about it.

TBH I’m not sure how you can recreate this, since it really was an accident. But I would suggest to keep squeezing them sum’ bitches until it becomes a natural part of your squats; it becomes notable when you DOn’t do it. Good luck :slight_smile:

stretch your hip flexors hard for at least a couple minutes daily

you always have interesting problems

Yeh, I stretch my hip flexors daily as well, have been doing so for 5 years at least. Lol, nothing ever changes.

Anyway, so I can comment on the DOMS now, since I did slide-board reverse lunges yesterday: predictably, there is no glute DOMS, but the brunt of the DOMS is on the adductors, which are actually quite painful.

Anyway, I crave glute DOMS, however, not adductor DOMS. Unfortunately, due to some SI joint instability, the amount of axial pressure I can place on my spine is limited. Bilateral squats and deadlifts are now out of the question - I paid good money for a physio and his advice seemed to be working so I don’t want to break his trust and start going crazy on the bilateral lifts.

Single legged stuff is fine though due to the decreased loading - can you guys tell me the single legged exercise that gave you the most intense glute DOMS?

I had this problem a year ago. I could not feel my glutes working even when doing lunges. I started stretching my hip flexors every day but it did nothing for me. What helped me was doing bodyweight glute bridge focusing on squeezing the glutes and using them to initiate the movement. It was really difficult during the first month because my hamstrings and my adductors were always taking over; sometimes, I remember lying on the floor and glute bridging for as long as 10 minutes, focusing on feeling the glutes. It helped me create a beginning of mind-to-muscle connection. Now I can do RDL’s and feel those in the glutes (even achieve a pump in this area, in fact) while I only felt them in my hamstrings back in the days. However, it took a long f-in time to achieve a correct MMC because I had quite a severe case of glute amnesia. That said, the good side is the MMC will keep on improving over-time.

Bear also in mind that while working the lower body, it is important to feel the glutes but also the hams and the quads. Indeed, what you should aim for is a balanced MMC, not an overpowering glute MMC because in terms of body proportions, it could lead to the “very big ass but toothpick-looking legs” type.

Finally, remember while working the lower body that you must keep your knees out if you want to optimize glute activation. Even while doing a romanian dead lift, your knees can cave in; I only noticed it a month or so ago. It took a minute to fix it and it activated my glutes much more.

cheers, sicklifting - are you meant to keep your knee out when doing single legged exercises such as lunges/split squats as well?

I need to base my lower body workouts on single legged stuff because of SI joint instability (can’t heap tonnes of weight on my back). Are there any tips for achieving very high glute activation with single legged exercises?

[quote]alternate wrote:
cheers, sicklifting - are you meant to keep your knee out when doing single legged exercises such as lunges/split squats as well?

I need to base my lower body workouts on single legged stuff because of SI joint instability (can’t heap tonnes of weight on my back). Are there any tips for achieving very high glute activation with single legged exercises? [/quote]

Have you ever tried bulgarian split squats (where you elevate your back foot on a bench)? Those gave me the most amazing glute DOMS (thoroughly from top to bottom). If you go deep enough and use a decently heavy weight, using straps if needed for heavy DBs, I think it should work. Disclaimer: I use a BB on my back but I don’t think holding dumbbells in your hand would change it much.

I think you’re overthinking the issue. If you’re extending the hips, you’re necessarily using the glutes. Just because you don’t feel them doesn’t mean you aren’t using them. I have little sensation in mine even when I train them directly. If I focus haed, I feel them more along the backs of my things where they insert into the femurs than in the actual butt area, and I would mistake the sensation as coming from my hamstrings if I didn’t know better. If you want to use your glutes more, do leg press or hack squat with a high foot position instead of squats and lunges.

[quote]belligerent wrote:
I think you’re overthinking the issue. If you’re extending the hips, you’re necessarily using the glutes. Just because you don’t feel them doesn’t mean you aren’t using them. I have little sensation in mine even when I train them directly. If I focus haed, I feel them more along the backs of my things where they insert into the femurs than in the actual butt area, and I would mistake the sensation as coming from my hamstrings if I didn’t know better. If you want to use your glutes more, do leg press or hack squat with a high foot position instead of squats and lunges.[/quote]

Apparently, when your glutes are weak, your hamstrings and adductors can take over the role of extending the hips from the glutes. So while you may be extending the hips, the glutes can basically play no part in that if they’re weak.

I also have SI joint dysfunction to a certain degree as it prevents me from performing barbell glute bridge or hip thrust. I did those for 3-4 months and my lower back was killing me all that time. Now that I stopped doing them I don’t have any pain in the SI joint area anymore. That said, I can perform other bilateral lower body quite safely.

When you are doing a lunge or a single-leg-RDL, the risk that your knees cave in also exist, albeit less as you might simply fall like a leaf if the knee of the working leg caves in too much. However, the advise still stands: push your knees out even when doing unilateral lower body movement.

Perform bodyweight glute bridges every day for 5-10 minutes, focusing on the quality of the contraction. This way, your MMC will only keeps on getting better, which will help you feel the glutes while performing other exercises.
I also noticed slow concentric makes it easier for me to use them whereas lifting the weight fast can (but no always do) activates quads, hams and erector spinae more.

Finally, when doing lower body exercise, don’t forget to squeeze the abs. Squeezing the abs and pushing the knees out are probably the two most important cues IMO. I will also note that as far as I’m concerned, leg press does not really activates glutes; squats, RDLs and lunges do it much more.