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How to activate the glutes best? Peak muscle activity of acceleration-specific pre-activation and traditional strength training exercises

Review written by Dr Stacey Hardin info

Key Points

  1. The highest peak glute max activity was found in the hip thrust exercise (143% MVIC).
  2. The highest peak glute med activity was found in the resisted prone hip abduction (149% MVIC).
  3. Acceleration-specific activation exercises (high tendon stretch of the synergistic interaction of both legs during contralateral hip flexion and ipsilateral hip extension) may provide superior activation of this specific activation pattern which may transfer to horizontal acceleration performance.

BACKGROUND & OBJECTIVE

The concept of “muscle activation” or “activation” exercises prior to activity is commonly explored. Various training methods, including isometric training, have been suggested as effective methods to enhance acceleration performance through mechanisms such as tendon stiffness (1). One critique of many traditional pre-activation exercises is that they do not mimic the specific activation patterns that are present during horizontal acceleration.

The term “acceleration-specificity” is used throughout the study to describe high muscle activity, high tendon stretch of the synergistic interaction of both legs during contralateral hip flexion and ipsilateral hip extension.

The objective of this study was to examine gluteal activity of four acceleration-specific exercises and to compare gluteus maximus and gluteus medius activation to more traditionally selected activation exercises.

Various training methods have been suggested as effective methods to enhance acceleration performance through mechanisms such as tendon stiffness.
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With low joint stress and minimal equipment needs, the exercises appear to be appropriate and beneficial for horizontal acceleration pre-activation of the gluteal muscles.

METHODS

  • 24 individuals (13 males, 11 females, 26 years) from various athletic backgrounds, with a mean strength training experience of 5.5±3.0 years, participated in this study.

  • Electromyographic (EMG) activity of two acceleration-specific exercises was investigated and compared to two traditional strength training exercises (*) targeting the gluteus maximus and medius.

  • The four gluteus maximus exercises were 1) half-kneeling glute squeeze, 2) resisted knee split compared to 3) hip thrust and 4) split squat (See Video 1).

VIDEO 1 - GLUTEUS MAXIMUS EXERCISES https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WixSoJNg13k

  • The four gluteus medius exercises were 1) resisted prone hip abduction, 2) isometric clam, compared to 3) side-plank with leg abduction and 4) resisted side-stepping (see Video 2).

VIDEO 2 - GLUTEUS MEDIUS EXERCISES https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD2EHM6enng

RESULTS

Gluteus maximus: The resisted knee split and the half-kneeling glute squeeze elicited higher peak gluteus maximus activity than the split squat. No significant differences were found between the hip thrust, resisted knee split and half-kneeling glute squeeze. The highest activity of the glute max was achieved by 12/24 participants during the hip thrust.

Gluteus medius: The resisted prone hip abduction elicited significantly higher gluteus medius activity compared to resisted side-stepping and a moderate effect relative to the side plank. The highest activity of the glute med was achieved by 18/24 participants during resisted prone hip abduction. See Figure 1 for the peak EMG activities for each exercise.

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LIMITATIONS

  • Readers should acknowledge the heterogeneous population in this study. A more homogenous group may reveal different results.

  • Due to the nature of surface EMG, evaluation of hip flexor activity was not possible during this study; however, the activity of the hip flexor and its contribution to horizontal acceleration is important to understand.

  • Finally, the exact carryover between the activation exercises and horizontal acceleration performance needs to be further explored.

CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS

This study may be best used by the reader to select exercises which target the muscles of interest for a specific activity or activation.

For readers looking to target the glute max, the highest peak glute max activity averaged over all participants was found in the hip thrust exercise (143% MVIC) with no significant difference to the resisted knee split and half-kneeling glute squeeze. The hip thrust and the resisted knee split elicited significantly higher peak EMG activity than the split squat. 42% of all participants achieved the highest peak glute max activity during one of the acceleration-specific exercises.

For readers looking to target the glute med, the highest peak glute med activity averaged over all participants was found in the resisted prone hip abduction (149% MVIC) with a significant difference compared to resisted side-stepping and the side-plank with leg abduction. 83% of all participants achieved the highest peak glute med activity during one of the acceleration-specific exercises.

The acceleration-specific exercises completed in this study mirror the specific activation pattern of the gluteal muscle during horizontal acceleration activities. With low joint stress and minimal equipment needs, the exercises appear to be appropriate and beneficial for horizontal acceleration pre-activation of the gluteal muscles.

There may also be a use for high-intensity isometric exercises, such as the resisted prone hip abduction, during early-stage rehab with the goal of maintaining motor unit recruitment and preventing post-injury activation deficits while respecting factors such as range of motion restrictions (2).

+STUDY REFERENCE

Goller M, Quittmann O, Alt T (2024) How to activate the glutes best? Peak muscle activity of acceleration-specific pre-activation and traditional strength training exercises. European journal of applied physiology, Advance online publication.

SUPPORTING REFERENCE

  1. Bohm, S., Mersmann, F., & Arampatzis, A. (2015). Human tendon adaptation in response to mechanical loading: a systematic review and meta-analysis of exercise intervention studies on healthy adults. Sports medicine - open, 1(1), 7.
  2. Macdonald, B., McAleer, S., Kelly, S., Chakraverty, R., Johnston, M., & Pollock, N. (2019). Hamstring rehabilitation in elite track and field athletes: applying the British Athletics Muscle Injury Classification in clinical practice. British journal of sports medicine, 53(23), 1464–1473.
How to activate the… By Dr Stacey Hardin